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November 30, 2023

Montessori Cosmic Education and Family Vacation

Over this past year, our family has been embarking on what we call "The Year of the Mississippi." It's been a series of trips, both local and travel, learning experiences, books, and more centered around the Mississippi River. For us, it's been an interesting way to bring Montessori cosmic education home and really explore deeply as a family. 

You see we live near the Mississippi. There is hardly a day that goes by where we don't see the river. It shapes our everyday lives and yet, it is so much bigger than we are and extends so much farther than our children realized - not only geographically, but historically and culturally. It really was cosmic education in action. 

Cosmic Education and Montessori Family Vacation

In the elementary years, Montessori education is cosmic education. This is the belief that children of this age (ages 6-12) are deeply interested in seeing and knowing the bigger connections between themselves and the world around them. Nothing is learned in isolation, but within the framework of the bigger picture. We don't just teach reading, writing, or math in isolation, for example! No, first we have to talk about how humans came to be, the history of math, and so much more in the great lessons. They are learning that everything is connected. There is math in history, there is history is writing, there is culture is language, and on and on. 

The interconnectedness of cosmic education leads itself directly to family life. For us, we wanted to share how something so common to us - the river - has influenced humanity for thousands of years. So planing a trip like this I recommend: 
  • Something relevant to your children as a jumping off point
  • Big work - something that can span a period of time
  • Research and involvement - let your kids help you find destinations and things to do

Why Now?

With 5 kids, it's hard to find anything that really speaks to the developmental needs of everyone. But, this trip happened at the perfect time for us. Right now, we have two kids that are solidly in the second plane of development - the age of cosmic education - and one that is just slightly into the third but still interested enough in being with family. If we had waited until more of the children were older, our third plane child may or may not have been as receptive. 

So, if you're considering a trip of this nature, make it during the second plane of development! This is the age where children are so deeply interested in making these connections, in seeing the bigger picture, and following big work through to the end.  

Our Trip Highlights

In our study of the Mississippi we landed on the idea that we should visit the beginning, middle, and end of the river. There are TONS of other cities we could have landed on when making our final decisions, and I'm not going to outline every single thing we did. But we decided on three places: 

  1. Bemidji, Minnesota: This is the closest "city" to the headwaters. It was a full day trip at Itasca State Park, and we could have stayed there longer. Bemidji has a few fun things for families to do, the Headwaters Science Center, Paul Bunyon Park (with a beautiful accessible playground), and a couple decent beaches for northern Minnesota. The headwaters themselves steal the show and it is super fun to walk around in them! 
  2. St. Louis, Missouri: We decided to stay here because we have close friends in the city who we could stay with. Memphis was another close contender. St. Louis had a lot of super fun things for our family to do, more than we could do during our stay. We loved Forest Park and how almost all of the museums were free. The City Museum was an incredible experience for the older kids. And, the Gateway Arch and museum exceed my expectations. 
  3. New Orleans, Louisiana: We knew we wanted to get as close to the end of the river as we could, and NOLA did not disappoint. The history, food, and culture in NOLA was so incredible. This was easily my favorite of the places we visited.  There was more than we could possibly do in a few days time, but some highlights included Audubon Aquarium, the National WWIII museum, and just wandering around in the French Quarter. 

I hope this inspires you to think about how you can make the experience with your elementary children more Montessori friendly. How can you bring the idea of cosmic education to your vacation? How can you make connections to the wider world? How can you show them the here and now, while sharing the why, how, and then? 

Montessori is an aid to life, and this is just one more aspect that we can use to influence our parenting and family decisions. 

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