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Nurturing Curiosity, Creativity, and Imagination

“Mommy, why are there no more dinosaurs in the world today?” “Where do potatoes come from?” “Why is the sky blue?” If you’re a parent, such questions are a daily dose of wonder, but have you ever really considered how these everyday questions are connected to an expansive concept of the world?

Montessori education prompts children to connect the dots. You might have heard of ‘Cosmic Education’ during parent-teacher meetings or casual Montessori chitchats. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it?

At its heart, cosmic education is all about emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything. Dr. Montessori saw science and history as two lenses to view the captivating tale of our universe’s continuous unfolding.

It’s not just a fancy term or a subject in the Montessori curriculum. It’s a holistic approach that blends subjects like astronomy, chemistry, and biology. The aim? To stoke the embers of curiosity in our children and show them the magnificent web of life, where everything has its unique place.

From Potatoes to the Universe: It’s All Connected!

Mario Montessori wrote about his grandmother (Maria Montessori) and the concept of Cosmic Education in his book, Education for Human Development. He reflected on how his grandmother could effortlessly tie present moments to distant past events. Picture this: She’s peeling potatoes and, out of the blue, starts pondering about humankind’s journey of discovering the potato. A simple veggie makes her wonder about ancient civilizations and their agricultural practices!

Her unique gift was to make such connections, laying the groundwork for Cosmic Education. This allowed for merging the past with the present, making everyday activities feel like epic tales.

Think about how peeling potatoes could lead to tales of the potato’s journey from the New World to European dining tables. That’s the Montessori magic!

Swimming with the Salmon: Every Story Has a Lesson

Maria Montessori prompts us to ponder the salmon’s life cycle. These fish are born in freshwater, venture into the vast ocean, and, against all odds, find their way back home. It’s a biology lesson and a narrative of nature’s balance and magic.

Cosmic Education gives such stories context, teaching children the beauty and complexity of our world. Everything has a story and purpose, whether a humble potato or a migrating salmon.

Humans: The Cosmic Contributors

While salmon follow nature’s script, we humans can write our own. We can reach for the stars or recklessly consume our planet’s resources. Montessori’s Cosmic Education emphasizes our unique cosmic task: to cherish and protect our home.

More than Just School Lessons

Montessori’s Cosmic Education is more than just school lessons; it’s a philosophy. It’s about seeing the bigger picture, understanding our role in the universe, and acting responsibly. Children are not passive vessels to be filled with knowledge; they are young explorers hungry to understand their place in the cosmos.

Traditional education often starts with details, moving from basic concepts to the big picture. But Montessori flips this. Why? Because children are naturally curious about the universe, the stars, and the history of the world.

Once they see the grand tapestry, they’re eager to explore each thread.

For instance, instead of merely teaching kids about plants, Montessori education might start with the story of how the world began. Rather than giving them the right answers, a Montessori teacher will ask students to think about how they imagine our universe might have come to be. Some children may know the story from Genesis. Others may express a simple version of the concept of the Big Bang. Other ideas may include the concept of an oscillating universe that contracts and expands.

Montessori teachers tend to inspire a sense of wonder and nurture children’s curiosity and imagination.

For example, many years ago, we visited Wilmington Montessori School in Delaware to take photos for Tomorrow’s Child magazine. While there, we came across a wonderful lesson presented by one of their Elementary teachers. In a dark room, lit by the repeating flash of a strobe light, he popped a large black weather balloon filled with confetti and glitter, as he told the story of what scientists believe happened with the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. The expression on the children’s faces, eyes wide and mouths open in surprise, they got a lesson that I am sure they remember to this day.

They were fascinated as their teacher described the concepts of all the atoms rapidly expanding away from the initial point of the Big Bang and swirling out into the distance, gradually forming stars, galaxies, planets, and the universe we know today.

My husband, Tim, is a Montessori educator. He often says that Montessori teachers ask children the right questions rather than give them the right answers.

I know that my children’s teachers offered them lots of information. But I also remember that the teachers didn’t tell them that there was one right answer. Their teachers encouraged them to question and look for alternative possible explanations but to always go to the best sources.

Montessori teachers tend to inspire a sense of wonder and nurture children’s curiosity and imagination.

So, in addition to learning how to read and write, clean a table, fold a napkin, sweep, and use a mop, they come away with some sense of the earth, the dance of the sun and the rain, and how it nurtures life. Once kids see this grand narrative, they’re naturally curious about the details: photosynthesis, the role of roots, and more.

Why Should You Care?

We often lose sight of the bigger picture in today’s fast-paced world, but our children need to grow up with a broader vision, understanding how things work and why they matter. They need to realize that every action, no matter how small, has consequences in this interconnected world.

I’ll never forget the day my four-year-old daughter announced that she had figured out where hamburger came from and refused to ever eat it again. For many years, she was a strict vegetarian, and, forty years later, she still won’t eat meat. A few years later, she was writing the president of the United States and the government of Japan, pleading with them to work together to stop fishing boats from hunting whales. She knew whales were beautiful, intelligent creatures and couldn’t understand how anyone could deliberately kill them. She was an activist then and still is today in her career as a forensic psychologist.

As parents, we aim to prepare our children for tests, careers, and life. We want them to be responsible adults, aware of their impact, and driven by purpose. Montessori’s Cosmic Education lays the foundation for this holistic growth.

So, dive into the story the next time your child asks about potatoes, stars, or the buzzing bee. Connect the dots. The universe is a grand, beautiful tapestry, and every thread, including your child, has a role to play. Montessori’s Cosmic Education is the compass that can guide them through it. 

Joyce St. Giermaine is the Executive Director of the Montessori Foundation. Her background includes a lifetime of work in association management, law, Banking, and institutional advancement. A lifelong learner, she is an accomplished photographer, editor, and graphic designer. Joyce is a former Montessori parent and grandparent.