We continued our study of the Montessori Five Great Lessons with a two week exploration of the Coming of Life to Earth. The Coming of Life focuses on the historical evolution of Life from early bacteria and other single-celled organisms to the formations of plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. The lesson ends just at the advent of humans.

The guide that we used strongly encouraged providing real examples of living plants and animals to compare to the fossils and pictures of ancient life. So we started the first class as a field trip across the parking lot to a stream where there were salmon swimming upstream to spawn. This is a major annual event in the region we live in and something these children definitely relate to. If you look very closely at the second photo along the top just below the darkness you can see two red/orange/black strips of fish working their way past the shallow rocks.

We then returned to the classroom where Teacher Mike showed a picture of a 900,000 year old fossil of a salmon found not too far from where we are today. A perfect regional tie-in of the present to the past.

Next there was a discussion about fossils, how they are formed, how they are found and the different types. Our local Burke Museum provided awesome educational boxes full of fossils, casts and images for hands on exploration. Each child received a bag of fossils and were encouraged to explore them, draw pictures, compare and share. Every piece had a label and each bag came with a legend describing the fossils. The children were particular pleased with the fossilized poop!

Next the Timeline of Life was brought out to explore the various eras. The intention was to focus on the first half of the timeline in the first class and save the second half for the following week. But the children were so enamored of the work they couldn’t be held back. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of finger-pointing and a lot of “hey! Look at this!”

After working a bit with real fossils, the kids were then given a chance to make their own using playdoh, a plastic animal and Plaster of Paris. They had to wait until the second week for the plaster to set and then they had an eye-opening experience of what an archeological dig might be light as they tried to dig out the impression without breaking it or leaving bits of playdoh behind.

For the end of the first class, the kids explored some of the larger specimens from the Burke Box, including a jawbone of an animal that I’ve forgotten the name of, a large piece of petrified wood and a cast of a sloth’s claw.

The second week started with another look at the Timeline of Life, focusing on the dinosaurs, modern mammals and birds. The Timeline was used to talk about the “K-T extension event” and also to find when flowering plants first appeared.

Specimens from the second Burke Box were then distributed to the children. They used books and a laptop to explore more details and paper to make notes and draw pictures. As they finished exploring their own pieces, they naturally began to mingle and share their discoveries with others in the class.

Finally each child had a chance to get up on stage and present their specimen and what they had learned about it to the entire class. It’s amazing to see how capable and willing they all were to make their oral presentations. Everything was on the fly and everyone was engaged. The children had now had four weeks to get to know each other and come to trust each other and not one child refused to get up on stage.

If you’d like to see more about the Burke Boxes, you can see the inventory of each one on their website. We used the “Fossils” and “Age of Dinosaurs” boxes but oh, how I wish we could have had them all!

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

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