The Timeline of Life - Montessori's Second Great Lesson
We are about to start our study of the Timeline of Life. This is the Second Great Lesson presented in the Montessori Elementary classroom.
As with all of the Great Lessons, we begin with an impressionistic story. When we read the story about the coming of life, all of the students settled in and were attentive. They all love to hear a good story. We started with the question, “Remember the story of how the Earth came to be?” This invited the children to think back to all they had learned during the First Great Lesson. The story continued—”think back to when the Earth was born; just a drop of light and heat, full of commotion and confusion. And in all that, each particle was given a set of laws.”
Now the sun, air, rocks, and water have a turn to discuss their respective behavior. Water describes the water cycle, air describes the atmosphere and winds, and the rocks describe the lithosphere. All are doing exactly what they are supposed to do, but the oceans are filling with mineral salts.
It is at this point in the story that life is introduced. Tiny particles appeared. These particles began to eat the mineral salts. Some built shells around their bodies. When they died, the shells fell to the ocean floor with the salts trapped in them.
“Time passed and layer upon layer of these tiny shells built up. They were like the pages of a book. Some of these pages that were laid down long before we were born were left for us to read to tell us what happened long, long ago.” Through time the water became cleaner and capable of supporting more life forms. The story weaves through the different periods of each era starting with the Cambrian Period of the Paleozoic Era. As we move through the different eras, new life forms are introduced and some, like the trilobites, die off.
The entire timeline is 10-12 feet long. At the very end, we reach humans. Humans are introduced with great enthusiasm. Humans have large brains and “the power to think and imagine.” They also have “an enormous amount of love.” Humans can love others including
people they will never meet or see. The last few words of the lesson state, “Now we are part of the story.”
A common theme in the Great Lessons and in Maria Montessori’s writing is the importance of appreciating those who came before us and to remember that we will have an impact on those who follow us. We are all part of the story.
We’ll share our journey through the Timeline of Life throughout the year!