The Montessori Time Line of Life: Big Work for Big Intellectual Appetites

By Annika Voynow, Assistant Head of Inly School

By offering the child the story of the universe, we give him something a thousand times more wonderful and mysterious to grasp with his imagination, in a cosmic drama no fable can rival.
—Dr. Maria Montessori

Each year, at the beginning of school, the Lower Elementary students are immersed in stories and studies of the origins of our universe, our planet, early plants and animals and early humans. These impressionistic stories serve as a foundation for the science and cultural lessons that will follow throughout the year.


After learning about the formation of our universe and planet, as well as hearing creation stories told by many cultures, the students are introduced to the Time Line of Life. As the teachers roll out this impressive timeline, they tell the children a breathtaking story of the history of life on our planet. This time line illustrates the beginnings of life on Earth, from the earliest single-celled organisms through the appearance of modern man. Emphasized throughout the story is the job of each living thing and how each serves a critical and individual purpose. The students see the great variety of animals and plants and can see similarities to the living things they know today. The students above have begun to recreate the Time Line of Life.

This lesson can take the students and the class onto many paths of learning. Immediately, the children wish to build the timeline themselves. Often wishing to do further research about particular eras or animals—the Jurassic Period often being particularly popular. This work can also serve as an introduction to the five kingdoms, the study of botany, understanding animal habitats and adaptation, fossils and archeology, and a study of early humans.

Elementary students are at a stage when they are particular interested in big ideas. They want to know how things work, where they came from, and why. They love big words and exploring what they mean. The big work of exploring The Time Line of Life, is both social and intellectual—a perfect match for our Elementary students.


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