Five Great Lessons: #1 The Coming of the Universe

Five Great Lessons: #1 The Coming of the Universe

Montessori elementary has five signature lessons at the core of the curricula that are told each year for the six years of elementary.  The lessons generally cover the origins of all things: the beginning of the universe, the beginning of life, the beginning of humans, the beginning of writing and the beginning of numbers.  I’ve been so excited all summer, because our local enrichment program has a science class and they agreed to teach the lessons in a six week session.

In the past two weeks, we had the first two sessions that covered the First Great Lesson.  Part 1 was the coming of the universe and Part 2 was the formation of the Earth.  I’ll share the experience here but you’ll have to forgive the photos.  There is a large window in the room that is in direct alignment with the sun at the time of day of the class.

The Big Bang

In the beginning, there was nothing until suddenly there was something!  A great bang… from the pop of a black balloon with golden star confetti flying everywhere.  Of course this is just an impressionistic concept of what the big bang was like.  It is a dramatic way to catch the children’s attention and get them thinking of the suddenness of everything.

The Great Expanding Universe

After the Big Bang, the particles of the universe began expanding at a rapid rate, and continue to expand today.  After using their arms to demonstrate the act of expansion, they all reversed the action, bringing their hands back together to the point of the big bang, to see how the scientists came to the understand the concept of an initial explosion.

Formation of the Galaxies

Thanks to gravity, some of the particles began to swirl around each other, forming into galaxies.  The children experienced this concept by putting some of the confetti into a bowl of water and watching as they began to clump together into groups.  This was a *really* hard shot to get.  Who would have thought asking a group of kids to put flecks of plastic into a bowl of water would be so riveting?!

Our Solar System Forms

To experience the solar system, I made these rice-filled balloons for each of our planets.  We used a 75cm yellow yoga ball for the sun.  This part of the class got a little chaotic.  Give a bunch of balls to a group of kids and you don’t exactly get orderly orbits!

Space-Time-Gravity Machine

To get a better idea of how orbits happen, Teacher Mike brought out a fancy Space-Time-Gravity machine, otherwise known as a stretchy fabric and weighted object that creates just the right scenario to cause a marble to rotate around the center weight.  Now, the real miracle of this task is getting all the kids to cooperate in holding the fabric just right to make it happen.  You can see the action here in this video clip:  Space-Time-Gravity Machine.

Formation of the Earth

One clump of the swirling dust around our sun coalesced into what is now our Earth.  The process depended on the nature of elements and how they settle according to their density.  An empty jar was filled with water (colored red), molasses and cooking oil.  The liquids of course immediately settled with the molasses below the water and the oil above.  But the children each took a turn shaking it up , so seeing it resettle in the same order was really impressive to them.

States of Matter

The Earth then formed in various layers of differing states of matter.  The solid inner core, the liquid molten outer core, solid outer crust with liquid oceans and a gaseous atmosphere.  The children played a game to represent the states of matter.  When the teacher called “Solid!,” they grouped together, touching elbows.  When he called “Liquid!,” they moved among each other, shaking hands one to the next.  And when he called “Gas!,” the ignored each other, moving in a straight path until they bounced off something and changing direction.


Volcanoes had a huge role in the formation of the Earth as we know it.  After a brief discussion of plate tectonics using paper napkins, the kids split up into two groups to make volcanoes.  One volcano was built around a bottle of cola and the other around a jar with baking soda.  They were then taken outside for epic explosions.I sadly did not get a picture of the cola/mentos explosion, which was really great but my phone decided to run out of space just as it happened, but it worked really well and was surprisingly fast.  I had expected the mentos to take longer to react to the cola, but it was nearly instant.  The classic baking soda/vinegar was pretty great too, with the red coloring and a little dish soap for volume.

And thus… the universe and Earth were prepared and ready for LIFE!  Coming up next.

This is the first part of a series of posts on the Montessori Five Great Lessons homeschool-style. The other lessons are here:

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