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April 25, 2022

Supporting the Montessori Fifth Great Lesson

Growing up I had a love/hate relationship with maths. In elementary school, I remember resenting the topic, being bored and uninterested. I can still remember the tears that came along with long sessions of drilling multiplication facts in preparation for a math test. Why was this important? How was this relevant to the world? Why should I care? None of these questions were ever answered for me. As I grew, I came to realize I liked the order and rules that math was structured around. That didn't make me any good at the subject, but at least it made sense. 

I wanted my children to have a different relationship with math than I did. And, it's one reason that I sincerely love the Montessori method and materials around math. One thing in particular that I love is that in the elementary years, maths are not done in vacuum. Montessori's cosmic education, through the Great Lessons, gives context to the subject. It sparks interest and gives children a reason to care about why we spend time memorizing multiplication time tables and doing long division. 

Montessori Fifth Great Lesson

I am no expert in this area, so I want to be clear that I'm only sharing how we approached the lesson. My children have heard this story in various environments including home and school. The fifth great lesson tells the history of numbers - of how humans moved from counting notches on sticks or lining up stones to complex and abstract number work. I prepared myself for this lesson with a few materials including:
After I told the story, we had a variety of work here to support some follow up on numbers and math. 

Fifth Great Lesson Follow Up Activities

Of course they still had their regular math work, but this was more about sparking interest and context than it was learning specific mathematical concepts. We spent about 6 weeks with follow up materials available for this lesson. 


Of course we followed up the Montessori story of numbers with our favorite thing books. They just are a great way to spark that interest and give another's perspective about why maths are important in our world. Here are the books we worked through:






We tried to incorporate some math and art together! We worked through some of This is Not a Maths Book together. We also used 1/2 fraction pieces and a compass to make yearly calendars, coloring and labeling them. 

Other Activities

  • Math word problems with real money
  • Using a geoboard to explore shapes 
  • Playing lots of math fact games
  • Fun math pajamas! (These were from Piccolina)
  • playing with numbers - writing really big ones and learning their names, like a googol

Obviously during this time we also had our regular math work, but it was fun to try some different things during this time too. I think it made math feel a lot more real to both the kids and really sparked some interest beyond their traditional work and materials. 

Have you presented the fifth great lesson?


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