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, November 25, 2013

Montessori Astronomy - Elementary

I am having the absolute worst time finding the time and the proper resources to finalize the AMI-style astronomy supplement. I'm just not satisfied with it - to the point of "it's not even in a share-able format even if I'm not satisfied with it." In the end, I think I am trying to justify others' experiences that may be valid for a few children, but are not necessarily valid for the universal child.

So to try to bring myself back into this, I am organizing some thoughts on our own experiences in light of AMI Montessori training and observations in various Montessori schools on this topic.

Previous Montessori Trails on Astronomy:
Non-Montessori Resources we have used: 

Montessori Experiences, Presentations, Materials Specific to Astronomy: 
  • God With No Hands (First Great Lesson for the elementary age)
  • Geography (elementary): Sun and Earth chapter

Various Montessori studies that led to astronomy - but were not specifically astronomy at the out-set: 
  • History studies (ancient history ---> worship of gods ---> constellations and planet names ---> clocks and calendars (through history and names of days, months) ---> ASTRONOMY
  • Mathematics - history of math, use of math
  • Geometry - shapes, patterns, degrees, circles, angles
  • Language - basic language skills
  • Geography - land/water forms, formation of our own planet, form and matter
Paying close attention, you'll see that we didn't really use many Montessori materials or specific experiences. This is exactly as it should be: lay the foundation with the properly prepared environment and the key presentations - and the child will "get there". 

We've not used fancy equipment beyond the sunshades and occasional use of binoculars (and a very cheap telescope that only works during the day). 

We've not even used computer-based items except for watching a few DVDs. It is has been hands-on (eyes-on???) exploration of the night and daytime sky, predicting what we will see, following-up, lots of reading and lots of map-making (Legoboy likes his maps). But yes, several trips to observatories and planetariums - and THEIR high-tech equipment ;) 

But I have been in Montessori homeschools - and I know that those parents without Montessori training really need more guidance on these topics. You typically don't have just children within one age range (primary or elementary or adolescence) - but are spread out across several planes of development, with few or one child in each. So yes - difference between school and homeschool in the environment again. Not a bad thing - just a truth that needs to be addressed. 

My son and I haven't even used 3-part cards and beautiful booklets and charts found at the various online printable sites. He created some of his own with stickers and information from books. For US, that worked great! I will include that experience as a suggestion in the Montessori Elementary Astronomy Supplement. 

Other thoughts: 
  • Almost all my observations in schools on astronomy have been contrived - the children may have learned something, but in no different manner than they would have learned it at another school - and the information didn't stick with them any better than if they'd learned it elsewhere. 
  • The Montessori primary level astronomy options available also seem contrived or more appropriate for lower elementary, or just plain fluffy. There are some REALLY great activities in there! But I find those ones more appropriate for the elementary age. Why? Because primary children are very concrete - and need to focus on what they can actually experience: seeing the stars, perhaps some of the very obvious constellations, phases of the moon, beautiful sunrises/sets --- but mostly focusing on the weather patterns and outer layers of our own planet. Study home first - move into outer space in the imaginative "big picture" elementary years. 
  • I am trying to create something that fits in with what is already available. That is likely my biggest mistake. I need to focus on the keys - get it pulled together - and let individual families decide how/if they would like to utilize other resources. 
  • ALL OTHER SOLIDLY scientific and age-appropriate materials introduce astronomy in upper elementary or middle school (the depth of astronomy - you can certainly get into phases of the moon and the patterns of the sun in earlier ages). Not that we Montessorians follow non-Montessori scope and sequences very closely (since most of them are not based on careful observation). But there is something here.... When Dr. Nebel, who is more Montessori-like than he knows, doesn't get into astronomy with the children until volume 3 for grades 6-8 --- well, I start taking notice. 
  • And then there are local educational requirements - which, again, Montessori tends to be far ahead of, but even pulling down their requirements 3-4 grades (before Common Core), brings astronomy barely into the beginning of upper elementary. 

What I am taking from my own notes laid out as above: 
  • consider the "keys" to modern life understanding of astronomy, along with historical development from what was observable through to what is inferred. What is key so that a homeschool family can hone in on the necessary pieces - and leave room for exploration, interest, follow-up (or leaving out the extras for the sake of time/space and FOCUS)
  • primary level: focus on only what is observable - experience-able - by the young child
  • lower elementary: take what we have in the albums and provide specific follow-ups for the most clear connections into astronomy, along with tips for the child whose interest entirely goes there. 
  • upper elementary: move into Montessori-style presentations that cover the typical local educational requirements for astronomy through middle school

Ok, time to get on with this!!!


  1. Great post! I'll be revisiting it often :) As you might have noticed, I saved my KT Montessori Astronomy album and did it in lower elementary instead. It fit in will with the First Great Lesson which sparked the astronomy bug. My kids go to bed around 7:00 and rarely saw the night sky in primary! Talk about "only doing what was observable"...they had very little idea what the night sky looked like!

    Kal-El and I have made a couple of trips to the observatory and as you suggested, used THEIR equipment. We pick at it as his interest comes and goes. Again, when he is older I think he will SEE the night sky more frequently, LOL.

    Okay, every time I look in your sidebar you have another blog I didn't know about. I don't know what to call it, but I think you have a problem :)

    Love Dr. Nebel :)

    Excited to check out the book list deeper.

    Frankly, there is so MUCH to do every day and SO MUCH they are interested in it is a relief that Astronomy can wait.

    1. We continue to find that astronomy pops up in blips here and there in our other studies (Babylonians - circles - degrees - leading to clocks and time, for example) --- so that there seem to be an endless set of in-roads into it, so that at any time a child's interest is piqued, there's another path into it right then or coming up very shortly.

      The outline for this project feels more solid now, so say some prayers that it comes along :)
      (still finishing up that biology classification....)