By Elise Hunke-Stone
“Timelines are not meant to give children all the facts, but are intended to stoke the reasoning mind.”
- Merrett Krahn, MNW Elementary Course Assistant
Dr. Montessori recognized that elementary children had a special sensitivity for the acquisition of culture. One way we feed this need is through the introduction of timelines. Timelines allow teachers to present information as part of a large-scale narrative that unfolds the origins of the earth, life, human communities, and modern history, all within the context of the wholeness of life. By providing children with an overview of key principles, timelines help them to unlock the many mysteries the universe and to organize their thoughts and imaginings.
As part of the teacher training program at MNW, elementary students prepare several timelines to be used in their classrooms (the Black Strip, the Hand Timeline, and the Timeline of Life, to name a few). Like many of the Montessori materials, especially those associated with stories, teacher-prepared timelines are purposely limited. They are designed to raise questions for the children to answer for themselves, and are used to inspire research or Going Out (when the elementary children move beyond the classroom in search of information). The teacher-prepared timelines are also catalysts to discussion, speculation, and debate among the children.
MNW elementary students are also given another opportunity to experience timelines via the Student Timeline Project. This coursework is meant to give a glimpse into the life of elementary children, who are free to create timelines of their own interests. Students on the course form small groups, choose a topic of interest, and create a timeline with the same open-ended parameters that will be experienced by children. The project also includes an opportunity to share the finished timeline with peers, and to be an audience for others sharing their timelines. MNW students experience the brainstorming, division of labor, negotiation, problem-solving, compromise, and communication necessary for doing such a project. These are the same skills that the children will develop in their work, and they are valuable skills for success in the adult world as well!
Elementary student, Saragrace describes her experience, “Coming together as a group to create a timeline was more difficult than I thought it would be. Once we decided on our topic, I couldn’t believe how much information we were able to dig up. Discerning what bits of our research to include proved to be hard work as well. I appreciated seeing and learning about the other groups’ timelines. It made me realize how people think differently and that I’ll need to remember to allow the children to dive into the work because they may come up with something I never would have thought about. I’m thankful for the insights I gained from this project.”
We at MNW especially appreciate the opportunity for the students on the course to have some time to share their own passions and interests with us and with each other, while learning how to better serve the children. The Student Timeline Project is a way to integrate the personal and the professional during this busy time of training, and will be remembered fondly when the course is over.