My lesson began casually, pointing out parts like protons and neutrons, and led into a bit of discussion of what each part’s function is. The younger children actually looked a little bored and I could tell they couldn’t quite wrap their minds around what we were talking about. One first year child asked how we knew that these parts even existed. His theory was that someone saw them under a microscope. We discussed his hypothesis and delved into the idea that everything was made up of smaller and smaller parts. Then the biggest question was asked.
“Where did the first part come from?”
That one question from a fifth grader sparked the most wonderful conversation. No longer were these children ranging in ages from six through ten, but inquisitive minds asking the age-old question. These innocent faces were suddenly pondering the very beginnings of all life. The discussion became animated as they talked about their ideas, their religious beliefs and the various brainstorms of how life began.
This is what Montessori education is all about. When an interest is sparked, we go with it. We see where it takes us. We have the freedom to explore and search out the answers to the questions we have. When I planned to give this simple lesson, I could never have imagined that it would turn into such a rich discussion. Now I can’t imagine looking at an atom any other way.