Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Montessori Cosmic Education and the Planes of Development

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    • #3155
      Jennifer Morgan

      What do you think about the Planes of Development as described in this newsletter to the network?


    • #3156
      Imogene Drummond

      I love this! It is compelling, exciting and deeply meaningful. This is exactly what our world needs! Hopefully, it will educate children, and also lead to other educational organizations and systems integrating some similar ideas–especially the idea of personal responsibility in the context of an evolving universe. Thanks for posting this!

    • #3157
      Michael Duffy

      I think Betsy Coe’s schema for lining up the Planes of Development and Cosmic Education matches our own ideas about the way we develop the Big History story in Montessori – sensorially at the 3-6 age level, intellectually at the 6-12 level, and practically at the middle/high school level. There are definitely practical implications for students who become aware of the Cosmic Education / Big History story, and those are most appropriately addressed at the middle / high school level. The intellectual acquisition of the overall story at the elementary level may be earlier than envisioned by Big History proponents, but we believe it is appropriate for students this age. Obviously, they can’t acquire as deep and understanding of the story as older students, but they should at least have a firm grasp of the overall story by the time they leave Montessori upper elementary classrooms.
      Michael and D’Neil

    • #3159
      Kyle Herman

      How exciting to see this forum making the explicit connection between Big History and Montessori’s Cosmic Curriculum. This is the most important work that needs to be done in Montessori education right now because the philosophy and practice for primary and elementary is well established and fairly consistent, but the same is not true for secondary programs. I agree that in the third plane, the shift toward personal responsibility and action must take place, but it’s important to keep in mind that especially for public Montessori high schools, Big History and Cosmic Education must inform the intellectual development of adolescents as well as their practical experiences in the “supreme reality of social life.”

      I think Montessori educators at this level (and again, most notably in a public school setting) have to remain committed to weaving together the cosmic story with the otherwise disconnected threads of isolated subjects in high school. A typical teenager in high school – even one who has had the benefit of a Montessori education in primary and elementary – can easily become myopic when dealing with the academic demands at this level, losing sight of the cosmic story that so inspired their imaginations in the second plane.

      Despite Montessori’s injunctions to the contrary, academic pressures increase immensely at this age. Many students become primarily concerned with GPAs and SAT scores, getting a high enough grade in Pre-Calculus or Physics, and making sure their transcript can hold its own in the highly competitive arena of college admissions. As educators, we also get swept away in this current, doing our best to prepare our Montessori students for their pursuits after high school.

      To counteract this tendency, and to ensure that Montessori outcomes remain predominant over standardized education’s outcomes, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on Big History and Cosmic Education in every Montessori adolescent training program. The Montessori world needs to be more candid about the reality that public adolescent programs are opening and need much more philosophical guidance in how they reconcile Montessori philosophy and state standards.

      The truth is that these public programs cannot achieve the optimum experience of a private Erdkinder program (optimum only because they are free from the mandates of state standards, but certainly not ideal in their limited socioeconomic demographics). This is not to say that we ought not strive to incorporate the Erdkinder model as much as we possibly can in a public school setting, but rather, it is to say that the academic focus in these programs – which can easily become paramount despite the staff’s best efforts – must be seen through the lens of Cosmic Education. In this way, we can ensure that even if a teenager in high school does not get to experience the valorization engendered by running a farm or building a shed or managing a hotel, they will at least experience the intellectual enlightenment that comes from seeing themselves as an integral part of the cosmos, from being reminded that they are the inheritors of every human accomplishment and innovation that has come before them, and these human accomplishments are represented by and told through the story of every subject they study in high school, from Chemistry to Language Arts, from World History to Anatomy, from Chorus to Algebra II.

      We cannot ignore the fact that our students are being made to earn credits in all of these courses, which takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy during the school day, so we must infuse all of the subjects with the grand cosmic story that holds them together and gives them deep meaning and significance. Secondary Montessori education is the next frontier in our mission to bring Montessori’s vision to fruition, and Big History as an extension of Cosmic Education can help us retain philosophical integrity in any setting, public or private, but it must become a much more prominent component of our training and programming decisions at this level.

    • #3161
      Michael Duffy

      Kyle makes a very valid point about the need for the middle school / high school Montessori level to put sufficient emphasis on the intellectual content of Cosmic Education. We can’t assume that even those students coming from Montessori elementary are totally familiar with the details of the Cosmic Education story that helps them unify all their learning. And students at this higher level can achieve a much deeper understanding of the elements of the various chapters of the story. As Kyle rightly notes, we shouldn’t let academic pressures distract teachers or students from the goal of putting all knowledge into the context of the Cosmic Education / Big History narrative. That said, it is appropriate to look for practical applications of the lessons of Cosmic Education for students at this level, as Betsy notes.

    • #3196
      Dr. Betsy Coe

      Cosmic education in Montessori is a spiral curriculum. We carry forth the sensorial experiences of first plane to the elementary plane and then take both the sensorial and intellectual work to the adolescent programs. In our adolescent programs and teacher education course we revisit all the great lessons again each year from different perspectives and especially with a focus of the past with gratitude for all that came before us, the present impact we can make (personal responsibility), and our legacy for the future. There are several different programs available on the internet that support this work with adolescents like Big Picture History and 100people.com.

    • #3197
      Sam Guarnaccia

      What a wonderful conversation!

      In the Universe Story, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme say “Education might well be defined as knowing the story of the universe, of the planet Earth, of life systems, and of consciousness, all as a single story, and recognizing the human role in the story.” When I read Maria Montessori’s summary of the Planes of Development, three remarkable connections arose in my mind.

      The extraordinary theory of human development known as Spiral Dynamics, the work of Clare W. Graves and later, of Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, as a grand context in which to understand early, middle, and adolescent educational dynamics; Ken Wilber’s Integral work in the All Quadrant/All Level approach to understanding human development; and the phenomenal global treaty that articulates the ‘highest tier’, most developed, mature, and universal ‘constitution’ for human-Earth relations, the Earth Charter.

      Betsy Coe’s mention that Montessori is a ‘spiral curriculum’, is a good segue into Spiral Dynamics. Briefly, Graves definition of his ‘point of view’ is that what is called now Spiral Dynamics is: ‘The Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of Adult Biophychosocial Systems Development.’ The fact that it is ‘adult’, is that all the data, and there is an enormous amount, is from adult studies. Nevertheless, the system of understanding is critical to having an adult population and ‘higher educational processes’ prepared to support and further the advances of successful ‘planes of development’ education.

      A few notes on Spiral Dynamics: The spiral of development proceeds by differentiation and integration… Memes:”a basic stage of development that can be expressed in any activity”…. not types OF people, but types IN people…..
      Six-First tier stages: Beige—Archaic-instinctual; Purple—Magical-Animistic; Red—Power, Ego; Blue—Mythic Order (one right way, fundamentalism); Orange—Scientific achievement; Green—The sensitive self, pluralistic relativism.
      Second Tier: Yellow—integrative; Turquoise—Holistic.

      The Prime Directive ‘The health of the entire spiral’ each MEME…‘each level of consciousness and wave of existence—is, in its healthy form, an absolutely necessary and desirable element of the overall spiral, of the overall spectrum of consciousness.’

      I would argue that the importance of the ‘consciousness’, and ‘spiritual preparation’ of the teacher, extends to the larger collectives of local…and global culture, and the ‘responsibility’ to recognize and support the healthy expressions of persons at all levels on the spiral.

      Some notes on Ken Wilber in A Theory of Everything: he discusses: ‘The Waves of Existence’ A cross cultural mapping of all the states, structures, memes, types, levels, stages, and waves of human consciousness…..Development as declining egocentrism From egocentric….to ethnocentric…..to worldcentric.
      A ‘full-spectrum approach to understanding development Through waves of development, flow many different lines or streams of development.

      Movement through each wave is—transcend and include.
      All Quadrant/All Level: Points of view—Modes of understanding—Perspectives. We look at the interior of the individual (UL-upper left); the exterior of the individual-(UR-upper right); interior collective (LL-lower left); and exterior collective (LR-lower right).
      “reality is composed of neither wholes nor parts, but whole/parts, or holons.”
      Second tier thinking: “HolonEverything flows with everything else in living systems; second tier stitches together particles, people, functions and nodes into networks and stratified levels (nested hierarchies and holarchies)….”….”that flow in a big picture of cosmic order.”
      These integral and comprehensive perspectives all help us to ‘reinvent humanity at the species level’ (Thomas Berry), and to prepare us to receive and multiply the benefits of Cosmic Education in young people.

      The Earth Charter—a treaty of AQAL, level 8 (turquoise) understanding of substance and function. See: http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/
      All the principles of the Earth Charter flow from the ‘highest’ levels of the ‘spiral’, of consciousness and responsibility. Using and teaching the Earth Charter principles and language, especially in Plane 3, is powerful.

    • #3198

      Thanks Sam for making these links to the Earth Charter, Ken Wilbur, Thomas Berry, and Spiral Dynamics. The Network is all about making these links across different lineages, seeing the common threads. Teaching the Earth Charter in Plane Three makes a lot of sense at the Secondary Level — building upon the understanding fostered in the prior planes and bringing that understanding to fulfillment inside of personal and collective responsibility. Just wondering Kyle and Betsy, do you think that teaching the Earth Charter at the Secondary Level is a good idea . . . maybe you’re doing it already.


      • #3199
        Kyle Herman

        I’ve not heard of the Earth Charter before, but from what I see after poking around a bit, it appears as though it would dovetail with Big History’s “unofficial” 9th threshold, Futures. The entire curriculum of Big History leads the student to the present day, in order to appreciate where they came from, how they got here, and what their contribution can be, so as to instill a sense of custodianship of the natural world and seriously grapple with the ecological crises that beleaguer our planet (here is where the paramount objectives of Big History and Cosmic Education fall right in line – think: Cosmic Task). The Earth Charter is something I’ll have to investigate further, but prima facie it seems very well suited for use in the third plane to support Cosmic Education.

    • #3204
      Jennifer Morgan

      Robert Athickal of Tarumitra, India, added a comment into the Activity Stream suggesting that the “Earth Charter could be the binding force to dovetail the efforts.” I’ve added the Earth Charter to the resource section for all to read. Developing the Earth Charter was a global effort from 1995 to 2000 that resulted in a powerfully moving document that would indeed be appropriate for the Secondary Level. In one clear and concise document it pulls together the Community of Life; Ecological Integrity; Social and Economic Justice; and Democracy, Non-Violence and Peace.

      The opening beautifully situates everything in the context of an Evolving Universe:

      “Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.”

      The full text is here and it would indeed be a superb document for the secondary level and an exploration of Cosmic Task.


    • #3206
      Kyle Herman

      Thank you for sharing these resources with me. I’m eager to research them and see how they can support our school in our mission to maintain Montessori authenticity. It’s fair to say that I’m frustrated with our school district, but there are no surprises – getting the industrialized model of education to recognize anything other than their one-size-fits-all blueprint will always be difficult work, but my colleagues and I enjoy being Montessori crusaders…to a certain extent.
      Perhaps an even more immediate challenge that we face is with Ball State, who holds our charter.

      At this point, it seems that they have lost touch with the Montessori approach to education, and all they want to see are better test scores. Last year, we eked out a short-term renewal of our charter based on a comprehensive plan that our Director and staff put together that attempted to demonstrate all of the unique and authentic ways that we assess student progress and growth. Ball State has already pulled several charters and closed down schools without much notice, so our staff all feels a certain degree of trepidation regarding our future. We have worked so hard to open this school and establish credibility in our community over the last 15 years, and now it all comes down to test scores, or so it seems from our vantage point. So, we find ourselves doing ISTEP practice and Algebra ECA prep instead of working in the garden or painting our tool shed or building a shelter house on our back four acres.

      Yes, I feel frustration, but I also feel somewhat duplicitous in trying to appease Ball State with practices that we know are not ideal. Also, I feel like the Montessori community writ large is reluctant to really throw all of their weight behind the development of more adolescent programs. So many Montessori schools end at elementary school (if they go that far), which leaves the whole third plane of development in traditional education’s hands. I feel that if there were more training programs for this level, more articles being written, more presentations than two or three at conferences, that we could actually establish a presence in middle and high school, which would go a long way toward establishing Montessori credibility at this level; the result of that would be that schools such as ours would have more leeway in demonstrating success outside the narrow and ineffective means of test scores, as we would have so many other schools to point to. As it is, it sometimes feels like we’re on an island, particularly when it comes to our status as a chartered public school.

      I realize I’ve kind of hijacked this thread, but I’ve basically been having this discussion only with my colleagues, and I guess I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to share our challenges with people outside of our community, especially people as experienced and authoritative as you and Mr. Duffy. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I am more grateful than you know.

    • #3207
      Dr. Betsy Coe

      I, too, am interested in learning more about Earth Charter and how it can apply to our secondary program.

      Kyle, yes it is very frustrated with the demands that your school district making on your program. There is work to be done at every level of Montessori when it comes to navigating the testing culture. The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (www.public-montessori.org) supported by AMS and AMI has been formed to advocate for Montessori publically funded schools be more authentic. I have adolescents programs that have navigated the culture well with their school district and others who struggle. In my experience Montessori organizations or teacher education programs usually cannot tell a school district what to do unless they are a current practicum site. That is why in 1990 David Kahn and I wrote a document call Essential Elements of Successful Montessori Schools in the Public Sector which all Montessori organizations endorsed. It needs to be updated which I believe the National Center will be doing. The last AMS conference in Dallas, which I co-chaired had two adolescent workshops options at each time period which is a nice portion of the conference that serves at least 8 different tracks of levels (one being Montessori public school). So as the number of adolescent programs grow there are more and more opportunities for more resources as you suggested we need. I believe the Montessori community is working on it; it is frustrating when we trying to change the paradigm of educational values.

    • #3208
      Terri MacKenzie

      Several things impress and encourage me as I read the excellent piece on planes of development and the comments so far. The whole concept of planes (fields, spirals, whatever) is so pertinent to everything DTJN is about. But, beyond that, how wonderful for me, formed in the “school” of Teilhard de Chardin-Thomas Berry-Miriam Macgillis-Brian Swimme-Mary Evelyn Tucker, etc., to realize how many other approaches exist; the message needn’t be — and isn’t — a “monoculture”! Here, too, diversity brings strength. This is both enlightening and challenging (or maybe frustrating) as it’s hard to find time to explore these other paths, all so enticing! It’s also heartening to discover that things familiar to me (like the Earth Charter) are sometimes new to others, so I don’t have everything to learn!

    • #3223

      These guidelines are really beautiful and poetic. I like how the material of each stage builds on what’s come before. I’m something of a rebel, however, and my approach would probably be a little different. My background as an educator is only as a Sunday school teacher (Unitarian), so take what I say with a grain of salt. The way these three planes move from sensation to intellect to purpose reminds me of popular psychological ideas, in which a child is a fresh mind that develops morality and other higher cognition later. In my way of looking at it, even very young children engage the world on a moral level thanks to their social instincts. Their minds, as I see it, are fresh but also ancient. So I’d try introducing intellectual instruction (stories) and life purposes (society) a little earlier. But I do love how school “subjects” are styled as “stories” or “lessons.” That’s a great way to think about them.

    • #3224
      Jennifer Morgan

      Terri — I can certainly relate to what you’re saying . . . that the discovery of other lineages is at once challenging (as in overwhelming) and exciting. Overwhelming in the sense that it’s so hard to take it all in . . . exciting in that it demonstrates the pervasiveness of a global impulse to understand a grand narrative of our origin. Over the next few weeks, we’ll start to define some of these different lineages and name the principle resources produced by each one that have inspired so many.

      Jonathan — Thanks for your comment too. Also a critique, the Montessori philosophy is grounded very much in the idea that the minds of young children are at once fresh and ancient (as you so well articulated). Montessori well understood that development comes from the inside out, that education is more than anything an evocation and nurturing of processes that are already present in the child. Her ideas were developed after years of observation, trained as she was in scientific methodology as part of her medical training. The term “popular psychological ideas” doesn’t really do justice to the depth of her research, writing, and the practice of this approach in Montessori classrooms around the world for over seven decades. But being a rebel is good. And your book, Grandmother Fish, is wonderful in the way that it focuses on movement and mimicking our ancestors as a way of coming into communion with them. I love that!

    • #3226
      Imogene Drummond

      What a fascinating and informative conversation! I’m impressed and excited by the connections you all are making between diverse ideas/theories and practices. It is extremely heartening to learn how deeply the Montessori Cosmic Education is founded on and integrated with the story of the universe. I agree with Michael Duffy that children need to experience the cosmic story at an early age in order to integrate it later in their lives; and with Kyle Herman that academic focus for teens needs to be seen through the lens of Cosmic Education. Your comments make so much sense. Betsy Coe and Sam Guarnaccia’s ideas about planes of development, spiral dynamics, waves of development, and learning are exceptional, heady, and inspired! As life and learning are dynamic and non-linear, the idea of a spiral curriculum, waves and planes resonates with me deeply. In my opinion, The Earth Charter is the result of a lot of highly conscious, far-sighted thought and work. I think incorporating it in schools is a brilliant way to make learning/education and The Earth Charter more integrated in our lives.

      Thank you all for such enlightened and stimulating comments. Learning about ways the story of the universe is informing education, and of connections between diverse areas is uplifting and encouraging! A truly exceptional forum!

    • #3227

      Hi Jennifer, I have a lot of respect for Montessori education and didn’t mean to dismiss it, but I sure hope there’s more than one right way to teach kids. In particular, my Grandmother Fish book teaches evolution to preschoolers, and by Montessori standards evolution is a theory that shouldn’t be taught until grade school. Maybe I’m over-optimistic about preschoolers’ ability to learn this concept. I guess I’ll find out as I get more feedback on the book. Time will tell, and if I’m all wrong, I’ll be sure to come back here and let everyone know.

    • #3228
      Michael Duffy

      I think your attempt to expose “pre-school” age children to the concept of evolution is great, particularly with an enchanting story book. I don’t know whether these young children will fully understand the concept of shared ancestry, but it can’t hurt to expose them to it for whatever level they can internalize it. Even if they don’t fully “get it,” you are laying the foundation for lots of later work and understanding, the way Montessori primary education for 3-6 year olds does in lots of areas.
      Keep up the good work.

    • #3229
      Terri MacKenzie

      Concerning when to begin fostering if not facts about evolution, perhaps more importantly, the sense of cosmic awe and perspective: I quote from Madeleine L’Engle. (The entire piece concerns her understanding of God.):

      “One time, when I was little more than a baby, I was taken to visit my grandmother, who was living in a cottage on a nearly uninhabited stretch of beach in northern Florida. All I remember of this visit is being picked up from my crib in what seemed the middle of the night and carried from my bedroom and out of doors, where I had my first look at the stars . . .
      The night sky, the constant rolling of breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars, all made an indelible impression on me. I was intuitively aware not only of a beauty I had never seen before but also that the world was far greater than the protected limits of the small child’s world . . . I had a total, if not very conscious, moment of revelation; I saw creation bursting the bounds of daily restriction, and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension.
      . . .
      This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and since it was the first, it has been the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.”

      Perhaps Madeleine was exceptional in her reaction to that experience — or perhaps that experience helped her to become exceptional.

    • #3230
      Kyle Herman

      I can’t help but chime in here because it seems to me that the main sticking point is the association of Montessori’s conclusions about human development with popular psychology when the two are in many ways at odds. Jonathan, your “rebel” approach to questioning the validity of all prevailing theories and challenging the rigid notion of One Right Way is actually an approach that served Montessori’s groundbreaking work in education extremely well. But I do think that Michael’s points speak to the ways in which your approach overlaps with Montessori’s. Perhaps it’s really a Socratic issue of defining our terms. What does Montessori mean by “sensation” and “intellect?”

      Montessori argued – contrary to popular opinion then, and in many cases, even now – that children are not empty vessels that progressively become capable of “holding” more and more information as they get older. Rather, she used the cosmic metaphor of a nebula to describe the psychic potentialities of the child. The mind – even in the “unconscious” stage of development – is a nebula with the potential to bring forth concentration, imagination, language, math, morality, and so on. These potentialities exist and need not be “given” or “introduced” to the child; rather, all the child needs is an environment prepared to maximize the plan of Nature.

      One great example that she uses is language – the child does not need instruction in grammar and vocabulary and verb conjugations and tenses and so on in order to begin speaking her native language. Rather, the potential to absorb language from the environment already exists in the mind of the child from birth. In a sense, you can think of that processing of language as intellect, but all of that complex processing actually occurs through the senses first. The child hears language first. The child intuits tone of voice and inflection, feels it and absorbs it first before intellectually understanding it. The auditory experience of language activates the unconscious cognitive processing that we may call “intellect.” So, it’s not that the child has no intellect at first, but rather, the very young child in this “Absorbent Mind” phase is not consciously exercising her intellect. Instead, the child’s initial sensorial exploration of the world forms her innate psychic nebulae into distinct manifestations, such as the utterances of her native language as opposed to any other.

      So, with these definitions of “sense” and “intellect,” we can hopefully better appreciate the divergent perspectives in Montessori developmental psychology and “popular” theories. Jonathan, I agree with Michael that introducing the cosmic language and the cosmic awe at this young age will serve pre-school age children very well, as it (the story, the language, the tone of voice that communicates awe and wonder) all becomes part of the prepared environment that will maximize the Laws of Nature that will guide these young children’s development. They may have a conscious memory of this story, just as Madeline L’Engle retains a conscious impression of the majesty and brilliance of the stars in the night sky. Others may have no conscious memory of it; however, even these children will most certainly have an impression made on their psyche. Even if they can’t remember the point of origin, children who have had the benefit of absorbing awe and wonder from a prepared environment will almost certainly be more sensitive to these types of experiences later…and they will be more inclined to study them deeper in later years, when their intellect has grown even stronger through conscious exercise and thus can further illuminate the realities of what once were only nebulous feelings impressed profoundly in their absorbent minds.

    • #3237
      Jennifer Morgan

      I’m so moved this morning, reading these comments . . . part of my Sunday morning “liturgy” . . . I stand in awe of all of you. Thanks so much Michael (for your encouragement and seeing the big picture), Kyle (for the dive into Montessori pedagogy), Terri (for bringing awe as experienced through the senses front and center as foundational to learning), Imogene (for your encouragement and understanding of creativity), Betsy (for starting the whole conversation by linking planes of development with Cosmic Education), Sam (for connecting the Earth Charter to the third plane . . . sparking many conversations at Fisk Farm, Isle la Motte, VT, where I was last week), and Jonathan (for sparking a fascinating interchange about early childhood). I hope Jonathan, that there’s an expanded understanding about the senses in the first plane. And . . . that the child doesn’t have to understand everything is so important to remember . . . thanks Michael. When I was working on my books and sharing every line with my then six year old son, I regularly asked him — “Do you think this part is too hard for children to understand?” His response was often . . . “They don’t need to understand everything the first time they read it. They will read it again and understand more!”

    • #3238
      Orla Hazra

      It is wonderful to have parallel models to integrate and make our classroom experiences richer, appropriate and transformative.
      The Earth Charter is a crucial document because it outlines principles for life practice based on the understanding of our evolutionary universe and integral understanding. I have used it in retreat settings and with a few school teacher training programmes and one CSR programme only after spending extensive time with the story…the understanding has to be there before the integral principles can be practiced. The Earth Charter Plus 10 conference was in India a few years ago…a simultaneous one with others around the world. I had submitted a paper showing Tarumitra as a model of honoring the Earth charter in both understanding and practice but it was not accepted. The conference was devoted to ‘environmental ‘practices of various schools and a few industries and some arts but I doubt if the children knew at a fundamental level ‘why’ they were doing what they were doing, becuase the integral understanding is not there. Once they graduate and move out of school they will enter corporations with visions and practices not based on the understanding of our integral nature. Ireland has the highest number of Green flag Schools (see FEE international programme)yet also the 6th highest carbon footprint. The major cause of death there in young men now is suicide…so using homiletic language and practices to care for Earth, without the integral understanding is not good. The Montessori Cosmic Education would be a perfect place to embellish life through the principles of the Earth Charter.

    • #3253
      Jennifer Morgan

      Thanks so much Orla for beautifully tying together the two sides to education (and cosmology) that must be present is order for it to work — namely understanding and practice.

      A question for the Montessorians and all really . . . does it make sense to further develop the Montessori Cosmic Education curriculum to include the other levels, (including particular chapters for public Montessori schools). Michael, your book is used in practically all Montessori elementary classrooms around the world. Information from Big History and the depth of the Thomas Berry lineage (including Earth Charter) would be particularly important for the third plane. Kyle, you would be a great person to work on this. Is there any material thus far that integrates these three lineages — Montessori, Big History and Thomas Berry/Brian Swimme — in the third plane?

    • #3557
      Orla Hazra

      Good Morning, Namaste from India!  This morning I attended the AMS sponsored course taught by our own DTJ member Michael Duffy named ‘Using Cosmic Education to teach Peace and Social Justice’.  Michael stressed the importance of Maria Montessori’s original vision of Cosmic Education and how that signature pedagogy supports and fosters integral understanding….and a resulting life practice of peace and social justice.  The Montessori method of cosmic education recognizes that each child has a cosmic task. From our understanding (in this case of our common ancestry based on our Universe Story/Big History etc) we have a cosmic task based on our common ancestry, unity in diversity and our interdependence.  My interest is in cosmology…the two sided process of understanding and practice that we pass on through the generations.  It is either integral or ‘Cartesian’.  Michael offered the global community the original integral vision of Montessori and her pedagogical method to foster it in schools.  It is only through an integral cosmology that young people today will be able to understand and practice lives supporting Earths flourishing with peace and justice for all.  In the question and answer session Michael conveyed the importance of fostering ‘understanding’ and not ‘guilt’ in relation to life practices e.g.  what are the consequences of consumptive behaviors for environmental and social justice issues….always coming back to understanding …so that the child develops skills of discernment based not on ‘shoulds’ but on an integral understanding…and each age group has interventions based on their capacity for understanding (these levels/panes of development are part of the DTJ conversation already)


      Thank you DTJ network for facilitating and promoting the various strands active around the planet for promoting integral understanding ..our hope for the future as we each practice our cosmic task supporting the flourishing of all.

    • #3626


      Reading the “planes” document – it sounds great!  Yes, we can begin to cover basic ideas (that all life is one family tree, that we evolved from earlier life, etc.) before grade school.  In working with my own kids, the basic concept of our evolution was easy to communicate (I mainly relied on “Our Family Tree” by Peters).  Jennifer’s books are useful too, for older kids than kindergarten.  I’ll check out Jonathan’s book.



    • #3915
      Syneva Barrett

      I agree that Montessori’s Cosmic Education is developed across the ages. Last year I spoke with a great Montessorian, Larry Schaeffer about the advanced courses I was developing for Montessori teachers interested in deepening their knowledge of the 5 Great Lessons. Larry said, “Every three year old looks at the world with reverence. Go on a walk with a three year old and you will see they have reverence for the dandelion, the grasshopper, the sunshine… Our job as Montessorians is to help the children extend that reverence throughout their whole childhood and, hopefully their whole life.” Larry’s way of explaining it really struck me. Of course, to truly help extend that reverence in children, the teacher must have it in herself/himself. This is part of the spiritual preparation of the adult that happens in training. Once you start looking at the  world and the Universe through that lens, it changes the way you look at everything!

      Jonathan, reading your thoughts about the “ancient” young child reminded me of my conversation with Larry. It’s true that young children can be very wise (such as feeling reverence for all living things, natural interest in and care for the Earth etc.) The elementary children certainly do start the work of thinking about the cosmic questions – Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? That they will continue to explore in secondary – and hopefully their whole lives!  I think where Montessori differed is she felt the young child needs a firm grounding in their own reality before they were ready to use imagination.  Of course exploring the Universe, evolution etc… requires a lot of imagination so that was reserved for elementary.  In my own experience as a child, I remember being very confused about whether unicorns were real or not.  In my defense, a horse with a horn seems a lot more plausible as reality than a dinosaur.  

      The other challenge with young children is that they have no concept of time that is why in Montessori schools history is a subject that starts in elementary.    We start by exploring clocks, calendars etc.  Then go to the impressionist materials like the long black line which represents the whole history of the Earth and shows the very tiny portion of the Earth’s history that humans have been present.  Our history curriculum continues from there in order of time.

    • #3939

      Thanks for the context, Syneva. Maybe Montessori was right and maybe evolution is too abstract a concept for preschoolers. Grandmother Fish will be out in a couple months, and I’ll keep an ear open for feedback along those lines. If a bunch of parents get back to me that their preschoolers couldn’t handle the concept, then I’ll have learned something important from this experiment. I tried to make the story play out like a preschool-level story, but my years of game design experience tell me that you can never be sure how the target audience is going to react to a creative product. Thanks again for your comments.

    • #4173
      Andrea Lulka

      What a beautiful conversation is happening here!


      This is my first time contributing to the Network, and I’m here because Jennifer thought I could add some insight. I feel that the original document does a wonderful high-level job of explaining the importance of understanding the Planes of Development when creating or implementing any kind of Montessori (or in more general terms, child development when creating any kind of evidence-based) curricula, pedagogy and program. One of the things that makes Montessori unique and incredibly powerful is the continuum of the program – that there is something in place that meets the child at his/her place in time from birth all the way through age 18 (for now). If I knew how to insert images, I would share the charts that Dr. Montessori created around the Planes.


      When we train in Montessori, we train to work with particular age groups, because we must understand that age group deeply and thoroughly in order to serve them. With the understanding that content always comes after approach, philosophy and most importantly the support of the self-construction of the child, the content to which the children are exposed in the earlier levels creates a very solid base of concrete knowledge and information in terms of the cosmic story. This allows the child to explode into a fascinating exploration of the universe and its story as he/she transitions into the elementary years, and this exploration, once begun, does not really ever end…


      We begin in Nido and Toddler (ages 0-2.5/3) by allowing the child ample time to simply BE. To explore their relationship with the world in very concrete terms. At around 9 months of age, the child begins to understand that s/he is a separate being, still connected to all other things. This happens through movement and through the senses. The sensori-motor experience is of prime importance here, and the Montessori approach to this age level emphasizes independent exploration of natural objects along with deep connection to the child’s caregivers.


      In the Casa (3-6), we begin to explore more deeply. The first ‘official’ exposure to the cosmic story through the materials is the sandpaper globe, which shows a child a unified vision of Earth – land and water alone, which the child explores through sight and touch. We move on to the geopolitical structures and boundaries, while simultaneously exploring the basic elements of water, air, earth and fire. This gives the child an integrated exploration of the beauty of both the natural world and the diversity of human existence and culture. When we get to the point of exploring various land and water formations, the children can easily make the connection that transportation, shelter, food and clothing will be affected by geography. We talk about how different animals can only be found in certain parts of the world, and we examine closely the parts and function of these parts of the 5 classes of vertebrates. Now, all of this is done in full integration with exploration of movement, sensorial impressions, mathematics, oral and written language, the creative spirit, the relationship between community and self, the natural world itself (by actually being outside!), and so much more. There is nothing that stands alone in a quality Montessori environment.


      All of these things and studies will lead the child to a natural understanding of evolution once they begin their work with the timelines and hear the Story of the Coming of Life in the Elementary, because they already have a context in which the new information will fit very nicely. They know (even if they have not articulated the knowledge) that the pectoral fin of the fish is placed on the body in the same way as the wings of a bird, the forelegs of a salamander a horse and a lizard, and the arms of a human. They know that the tadpole loses its tail along the way. They know that anteaters have a long tongue so they can get in the anthills, and that polar bears have think, hollow, transparent strands of fur to keep the heat in because they live in very cold places. It would therefore be no surprise to hear that mammals evolved from fish, which evolved from bacteria, or that the environment guides evolution, and that the living beings within ecosystems depends on each other for life. And once a child knows this – deeply and truly as Montessori kids tend to do – it is very very easy for them to step into a role of stewardship. Dr. Steven Hughes says that Montessori creates brains that are primed for systemic thinking. Which means that as they work through the Elementary, the children are learning how systems work in every possible way – how everything is connected to everything else… and that something includes their own selves.

      As they reach the adolescent years, we continue the cosmic story by giving the teenager ways to connect to nature, to their community and to the greater stories of humanity and the universe at large. Their main work is to create a personal and social identity, and to do so with the deep understanding that a Montessori child has of his/her place in the universe is a powerful powerful thing indeed. So we give them opportunities to challenge themselves, to prove their inherent worth, and to be valued by their community (both the classroom community and the community at large) so they can value themselves as well. My son is beginning this work now, and it is thrilling to watch as he unfolds the various aspects of his personality and explores how and who he wants to be in this lifetime. We also give them quiet time – which they rarely get nowadays – to meditate and process and allow their bodies and brains to rest and grow and integrate the incredible changes they are experiencing. These quiet times actually connect them to their community and environment in much deeper ways. 


      What excites me most though, about Cosmic Education in the Montessori way is the way it heightens the natural sense of awe and wonder with which we are born, level by level, age by age, never letting the momentum slip, challenging and creating and connecting. The only way we can do that is to truly understand each and every child in front of us – the various tenets of Montessori philosophy (the Planes, the Sensitive Periods, the Universal Human Tendencies and so forth) give us a starting point from which to find the universal and the uniqueness of each child… and that is the single most beautiful connection I have ever encountered in my life.

      Thank-you for including me in the Network! 

    • #4174
      Jennifer Morgan

      Thanks so much for this overview Andrea, and for grounding it in a nurturing of what’s already there . . . a natural and profound sense of awe.  As Teilhard de Chardin said, this is what can give us the “zest for life” because what could be a more amazing adventure the greatest adventure of all . . . a transforming universe . . . and we’re part of it!

    • #4184
      Kyle Herman


      Thank you for sharing such a thorough explication of each plane of development, how one builds on the other, and how an understanding of evolution in a Montessori environment seems quite natural rather than bizarre or foreign.  

      I really like the idea of the child in 3-6 first experiencing the planet through the sandpaper globe of land and water alone.  How powerful that the first impression of the planet is purely physical and not from an anthropocentric perspective!  

      You mention “quiet times” for adolescents, and I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what this looks like in your experience.  How do you present the concept to them?  Does everyone have quiet time together, or is it a personal decision rather than a collective activity?  What conditions and methods have worked best to support this process?

      I am curious because our program has struggled to find a way to make this important reflection time feel autonomous rather than mandated, genuine rather than artificial.  At this point, we have abandoned whole group activities and have a space in our commons reserved for independent, quiet reflection.  Teens can use this space at any point during the day that they have open work time.  It has worked well so far, but it seems to me that everyone should practice going inward, being still in both mind and body, but the people who need to practice it the most don’t choose to do it on their own.  I find this conundrum to be quite perplexing, so any insight you could offer would be much appreciated. 

    • #4185
      Syneva Barrett

      Hi Kyle,

      I saw your question for Andrea and thought I would respond too.  Katie Ibes and I have been doing work on Montessori Renewal Courses.  As a part of those courses, we introduce a variety of mindfulness exercises and reflective activities.  Some of those we do as a whole group, some as a small group and some as an individual.  I think all are important.  You are right that the whole group can sometimes be more difficult to manage, but it’s also important to provide direction and opportunity for students who wouldn’t otherwise choose it on their own.  I was a complete failure at yoga the first few times I tried it.  If I was alone I would dissolve into giggles as some of the poses seemed so ridiculous.  It was actually in doing a ceremony that involved 108 sun salutations that I finally connected.  So, I would encourage you to keep trying and offering a variety of things. 

      One idea is a self-reflective journal.  We had daily prompts, but only required students to do 3 throughout the week (as opposed to 5).  Some students did choose to do 5.  Others did 3.  One did less than 3.  Sometimes it’s also what  you name things.  I go to a class called Breathing, Listening and Discovery.  It struck me what an approachable name that is (I can breathe, I can listen, I can discover!) as compared to meditation which is a loaded term that many feel they’ve already failed at in past attempts.  I’ve also found students very responsive to open art invitations creating a piece in response to a topic is often very self-reflective.  Last summer in class I put out a variety of art materials and had a slide show from Hubble going.  The students were pondering Montessori’s cosmic questions of Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where do I come from? and reveling in the awe and wonder of our connection to the Universe.  The works of art they created were awesome.  In summary, don’t give up and offer a variety of activities in small group, whole group and individual formats.   

    • #4188
      Andrea Lulka

      Great question, Kyle, and I’m happy to share my perspective, with the caveat that my studies of the third plane are very extensive and my practical experience is quite limited. To be honest, it’s a little intimidating to be writing this on a thread in which Dr. Betsy Coe is participating, because so much of my own work has been informed by hers.

      A little bit of context first, since I see you have the NAMTA training and am not sure if you know how the AMS is structurally different in terms of the actual curriculum… The curriculum used most widely in AMS centers was created by Dr. Coe and is laid out in three streams: natural world, social world and personal world – all the academic subjects are given within the first two streams in as integrated a way as possible. The Personal World is all about the development of identity, reflection, the creation of our stories, our social being, and really when you get down to it, the work of Valorization. When I created the program for our Middle School, I included studies in child development, loads of journalling, and what is called Solo Time – I don’t know if this in an AMS-wide concept, or one specific to the CMStep training. 

      Solo Time is what you’re asking about. It consists of a 30 minute period of silent, non-academic, non-electronic activity. We light a candle, turn the lights down, and put out puzzles, mazes, colouring sheets, magnets, knitting… students are welcome to walk, meditate, do yoga… anything that puts them in a mindful state as well as a state of flow – it is the two together that create the most powerful experience. It is important that it be done as a group – it is an extension of the silence game – it reinforces the idea that as a group, we can create peace, and that it takes all of us – we all have a place and space in the group. There is a story we read at the beginning of the year to introduce the concept, and if needed, again throughout. We start with a shorter time period and build up to 30 minutes. It was a big shock for me when at the third Solo Time of the year, my students asked to keep going. It is important that the teachers also participate, as we are part of the community, and as who we are is the biggest lesson we give. I had very few students for a very short period of time, so I never got to quite experiment enough with how many times a week would have been optimal in my environment. I know of schools that do it once, twice, or three times a week. Very few do it daily – it’s just too hard to get it in there with everything else we have to do. I’ve seen it done in a large public school classroom, and it was just astounding how easily the students had learned to slip into it.


      In addition to this, we do daily journalling – always with a prompt (which can be as vague as “explore any occurrence that stands out in your day today as being significant” or as specific as “reflect on three things that struck you about the lesson on fundamental needs”). The journalling can take place at any time during the work period, so is not necessarily done in silence.


      I hope this is a little bit helpful, and am happy to clarify or expand on anything – it seems to me that what I’ve written is a bit disjointed.


      Syvena, I love your ideas too. It is so important to provide lots of creative opportunities at this age, and I think we forget that sometimes, because we get caught up in the academic pressures. I also agree that what we name things is very important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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