Montessori Matters - Storytelling: The 5 Great Lessons

By SJMS Teacher Jessika Ch 1

Dr. Maria Montessori observed that elementary aged children are drawn outward. She explained the transition from Children’s House to Elementary awareness as “intelligence being extroverted.”  At this stage, children want to know everything, and their reasoning mind is activated. In order to satisfy their great curiosity, Dr. Montessori instructed teachers, “Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions.” (To Educate the Human Potential)

Storytelling is a great way to give the elementary student an understanding of the whole universe. This is why my favorite Montessori materials are the Five Great Lessons. Dr. Montessori and her son Mario created the stories after she heard a child ask “Who is God?” They are at the heart of all the lessons that students will receive in the elementary classroom and integrate all the subjects in our classroom. This investigation into the interconnectedness of the human experience of the Universe is known as Cosmic Education. 

The 5 Great Lessons are: 
1. The Story of the Universe (God Who Has No Hands) - the prelude to Geology, Geography, Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry studies.  
2. The Coming of Life - the prelude to Biology, Zoology, and Botany.  
3. The Story of Humans - the prelude to Biology, Archeology, History, and Art studies. 
4. The Story of Language - the prelude to Ancient History, Culture, and Language Arts.  
5. The Story of Numbers - the prelude to  Ancient History, Culture, and Mathematics. 

The Stories are traditionally told at the beginning of the school year. Today, teachers customize the stories and retell it in their own words. They are told with various demonstrations and visual representations.  Here is a sample of the beginning of the original First Great Lesson as retold by Mario Montessori:

God Who Has No Hands

From the very beginning, people have been aware of God. They could feel Him though they could not see Him, and they were always asking in their different languages who He was and where He was to be found. "Who is God?" they asked their wise men. "He's the most perfect of beings," was the answer. "But what does He look like? Does He have a body like us?" "No, He has not got a body. He has no eyes to see with, no hands to work with and no feet to walk with, but He sees everything and knows everything, even our most secret thoughts." "And where is He?"  "He is in heaven and on this earth. He is everywhere." "What can he do?" "Whatever He wishes." "But what has God actually done?" "What He has done is all that has ever happened. He is the Creator and Master Who has made everything, and all things He has made obey His will. He cares and provides for them all, and keeps the whole of His creation in the most wonderful harmony and order."  (December 1958 issue of the AMI publication 'Communications')

(Children’s House is the Montessori Equivilant to Pre-School through Kindergarten.)