The Story of Numbers

The Five Great Lessons are a group of impressionistic stories that are meant to provide elementary Montessori students with a “big picture” of the world and life. At this stage of development, children are becoming aware of the world and their place in it. For a child, the Great Lessons are more than just educational and inspirational stories. They spark the imagination and lead students to contemplate not only the past, but the future. These lessons are bold, exciting, and are designed to awaken a child's imagination and curiosity. The child is struck with the wonder of creation, thrilled with new ideas, and awed by the inventiveness and innovation of the human spirit. It is through the telling (and re-telling) of these important Cosmic lessons that students are motivated to further research and work in the Montessori classroom.
Each of the Great Lessons serves to initiate student exploration and discovery. While children develop an awareness of the natural world and its laws, they are also moved to explore topics such as history, geography, math, science and language. Most importantly, the Great Lessons develop in Montessori students reverence and gratitude for those who have come before us.

The Five Great Lessons are traditionally presented every year so that children see them more than one time. Unlike the 3-6 environment, where the child is introduced first to "small" ideas that gradually widen into larger concepts, the elementary child is introduced right away to large concepts —the largest of all being the beginning of the universe. Then they can be shown how all the smaller ideas fit into the larger framework. The Five Great Lessons are used to paint a broad picture before moving to more specific study. They are: 
  • First: Coming of the Universe and the Earth 
  • Second: Coming of Life 
  • Third: Coming of Human Beings 
  • Fourth: Communication in Signs (Story of Language) 
  • and the Fifth Great Lesson is The Story of Numbers.
The child who enters the Lower Elementary classroom already has a breadth of experience with mathematics materials. Some are even moving from the use of manipulative materials to more abstract work (working in their head or on paper and able to understand the math processes without materials to manipulate). The Story of Numbers explores the evolution of mathematics; it offers the elementary student a context for working with numbers. This lesson begins with the earliest civilizations, who often only had "one", "two", and "more than two" as their numeric system. It continues with a look at different numbering systems throughout the centuries, culminating in the decimal system that we use today. The children will hear the story of the Egyptians and how they used additive notation with numbers. They will hear the tale of how the Hindus invented the zero but the Romans used zero to be a place holder in their number system. The Mayans used a vertical place value system. Of course, history is being explored through each of these supporting tales. And then perhaps some side stories: Our calendar has twelve months, but this is not true of every culture. Different cultures keep track of time in different ways. A Chinese child is one year at birth while a European child has to wait a whole year to be one. Time zones help us keep track of time. If we did not have time zones, some people would have light at 8 PM and some would have night. The Story of Numbers and follow-up work can cover all of the following:
  • Mathematics: operations, fractions, decimals, multiples, squares, cubes, percentages, ratio, probability, intro to algebra 
  • Numbers: origins of numbers and systems, bases, types of numbers, scientific notation, mathematicians 
  • Geometry: congruence, similarity, nomenclature of lines, angles, shapes, solids, measurement, theorems 
  • Application: story problems, measurement, estimation, graphs, patterning, rounding, money concepts 
The Great Lessons link these tools back to the bigger picture. Because of the importance and wealth of information that can be discovered in each lesson, the Montessori Guide gives ample time in between for research on the topics presented in the lessons. The story becomes the springboard but not the focus. The stories can be referred to throughout the year when new topics are introduced, as a way of providing unity and cohesion to such a wide variety of studies.

Our upcoming Elementary parent night on February 7th will focus on the Story of Language and the follow up work of the children.

We hope to see you there!

Sue Pritzker, Head of School
Childpeace Montessori School