Montessori Elementary Homeschool Blog - with documentation of our infant Montessori, toddler Montessori, and primary Montessori experiences; as well as preparation for the upcoming adolescent Montessori homeschool years.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Montessori Astronomy

Something you do not hear me say often at all: "In today's world, we have some needs that are different from Montessori's time and AMI has yet to fully catch up in this regard." (that is the FIRST time I have publicly said those words!). I do not speak here of calculators in the classroom, or computers, or technology at all - at least directly. I do speak of a preparation for particular studies which Montessori said nothing about - because she had no idea that such a short time after her death, human beings would actually LEAVE the planet Earth, even walk on the moon itself. The race to the moon began after her death.

Astronomy is supposed to be part of the AMI elementary Montessori geography album - but honestly, I don't see it. The tiny bit where it actually could be introduced - it was removed! (not by Montessori) There is a chart that shows the planets in their orbits that used to be part of the Story of God with no Hands. It was removed to focus on other details; however the chart is still available for when the children are doing follow-ups with the story or they hear the story again and begin to ask questions about the other planets.
(UPDATE to clarify: If you are sitting there in an AMI training, you will pick up on the nuances where astronomy comes in - what I state here is about separating myself from that training and seeing what is *actually* present in the albums as they stand. So I can use these albums and "get to" astronomy by following the various interests of the children, because I am trained; the albums alone don't "get there".).

But I never got around to actually doing that planets chart with my son - he found astronomy another way: through HISTORY. He was studying the Ancient Egyptians (including a bit on their form of worship and understanding about how the sun moves through the sky), which led to studying their interactions with other cultures, such as the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans, which led to discovering a real beautiful book (whose title escapes me!) about gods, goddesses and... constellations. He was HOOKED.

So we have read through portions of H.A. Rey's books on astronomy (yes, that is the Curious George author!); we looked at the night sky, the day sky; got out the Target dollar flashcards on astronomy; pulled out the cheap-o telescope that came with our original cheap-o microscope (that both worked great! go figure!); signed up for the Classical Astronomy newsletter (free, but now defunct); and got in on the first and only few issues of the Celestial Almanack. We did pull in a curriculum to use, but we used it as "story-time" and developed our own follow-up activities (many of which matched the suggested activities anyway): Signs and Seasons. We also purchased from the same company the sun-shades so we could safely view the sun during daytime hours, a comic book style book on time and astronomy, and their book Moonfinder which is gorgeous!
Not an affiliate link -
just a book we love :) 

What I appreciate about this curriculum is that the author speaks to real people who live in a real time and place; not writing just to write. And he focuses on what the children can experience for themselves: viewing the night and day sky with the naked eye, or at most with a pair of binoculars. Studying the sky in a way that our ancestors would have; connecting us with the first people to look at the stars and wonder; to piece together the patterns and establish what we now knows as time, rhythms, seasons. From these we have mathematics, history, geometry, languages, and more. True Cosmic Education.

Thus inspired, I began piecing together a Montessori astronomy study, that should not become the be-all-end-all in Montessori astronomy, but be a framework of keys to provide the children.

I am still fine-tuning it - to be sure it is a framework, that it provides the keys needed by the children of today who may have a father on the space station, or an uncle on the upcoming manned mission to Mars. Perhaps one of our children will be setting up a colony on the moon or even on Mars.

AMI albums provide keys. A beautiful framework. Nothing peripheral; so that the children can go in any direction they need to, with all tools accessible to them, and the adults are neither hindered by bulky album presentations nor hinder the children's work with handing over too much information.

While AMI albums do not address astronomy at all at the primary level, I do think it totally appropriate to introduce the phases of the moon (see the Moonfinder book!) and some of the basic constellations - as well as the rhthyms of day and night, seasons, weather patterns - these things are important because they happen to the children - they are things the child can see and experience.

I personally would not suggest discussing planets with a primary child, because it's just that: discussion. They can't SEE the planets (at least in any way different to them from seeing a star - they all look like stars to them).

But at elementary we can get into the beautiful details!

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