Listen instead of reading:
The Story of Creation – the first Great Story
Just like now, people in the past used to wonder where things came from. They would be sitting outside, listening to all the sounds, the calling of the birds, the crashing of the waves, the whisper of the wind through the grass and they would wonder where all the things they could see came from. They asked each other, “Where does the rain come from?”, “How is it that the sun stays up in the sky, burning all day long?”, “What makes the sea blue on some days and green on others?” and “How do the birds know to build nests in Springtime and the squirrels know to gather nuts in Autumn?”, They wondered where the land they stood on had come from and who lived before their great, great grandparents.
Well, as it turns out that a very, very long time ago there was nothing at all, but as you will see each thing that exists, whether it has a life or not was called into being and given special laws by a great spirit. The animals, insects, rocks and clouds don’t know that they are following special laws, but they do. Whenever the wind blows or the sun shines, the rocks crash or the grass sways they are doing exactly what they should be doing, they are following the laws given to them, so they all have an extraordinary place in our world. When the birds fly, fruit falls from a tree, or a caterpillar turns into a butterfly it is doing exactly what it needs to do, and if you could hear it, the creature would whisper, “I joyfully obey”.
At first, there was chaos and darkness, now we have the light but before it was incredibly dark – a darkness so deep and immense it would make our night time look light. It was so cold it would make ice seem really quite hot. Its really hard to imagine the immensity of the darkness and coldness going on and on forever, but see if you can. In this measureless void, of cold and darkness, the light was created. There appeared in the sky something like a vast, fiery cloud which included all the stars that are found in the sky and the materials to make everything you have ever seen, tasted and heard. The whole universe was in that cloud, and amongst the tiniest of stars was our own sun. But at first, there were no stars, just the fiery cloud of light and heat. So intense was the heat that all of the substances we know – iron, gold, earth, rocks, water – existed as gasses, as insubstantial as air. They were all fused together in one vast, flaming, intensity of light and heat, heat which would make our sun today feel like a piece of ice.
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The raging, fiery cloud of nothingness, too huge to imagine, moved in the immensity of freezing space, which was also nothingness but infinity vaster. The fiery mass was no bigger than a drop of water in that ocean of space.
As this cloud of light and heat moved through empty space, little drops fell from it, as if when you fling some water out of a glass some of it stays together and the rest breaks up into little drops. The countless stars are like the droplets of water flung from the glass, only they have now spread out so that they are millions of miles apart and go round one another in space without meeting.
Indeed, the stars are so far away from us that the little lights we see in the sky at night are light that has travelled for millions of years, from them to us. Do you know how fast light travels? 100 kilometres per hour, 2000 kilometres per hour, 10,000 kilometres per hour? No, it’s much faster than that. It goes at 297,600 kilometres, not per hour, but per second. Imagine how fast that is. That means that in one second light can travel seven times around the whole world! And do you know how big the world is? It is 40,000 kilometres around its equator. If we were to drive at 1000 kilometres per hour continuously, all day and all night, without stopping, it would take us sixteen days to ground the Earth seven times, light can do it in one second, which is as long as it takes to ‘click’ your fingers (click). So you can imagine how far away some of these stars must be if it takes their light 1 million years to reach us.
And, do you know how many stars there are? If each star was shrunk to be the size of a grain of sand the sand would completely cover the whole of Europe many, many times. One of these grains of sand would be our own sun, and our Earth would be one-millionth of a grain of sand, it would just be an invisible speck of nothingness. You might not think that the sun is so much bigger than the Earth, but it is it’s just very, very, far away. The light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach us and if we travelled towards it at one hundred kilometres per hour it would take us more than 106 years to reach it. So you see the sun is one million times bigger than the Earth, so big that just one its flames could contain twenty-two Earths. (Chart 1a -show The Sun and the Earth)
When the great spirit called the fiery cloud to break up into droplets that would become stars, all the details had been planned. Every scrap of the universe, every speck of nothingness which we can’t even see matters a great deal and was given a set of rules to follow. To the little particles which are like smoke, like a vapour, the great spirit said, “As you become cold you will get closer together and become smaller.”, So as the hot, fiery particles cooled they moved more and more slowly, clinging closer and closer together, taking up less and less space.
As the particles of the fiery cloud slowed down some cooled down more than others and depending on how hot or cold each particle is it became a solid, a liquid, or a gas (Expt 1 – Hold up an example of each). Everything in the Universe is in one of these states.
Then the great spirit gave other instructions so that some particles were given a certain love for some particles and a special dislike for other particles. Some particles were attracted towards others and some were not, just like human beings who like some things and dislike others. In this way, the particles combined and formed different groups. (Expt 2 – tear the bits of paper, drop them onto the water surface and watch how some move together, while others don’t).
The great spirit then gave different instructions to each different type of particle, saying to the solids, “You shall cling closely together, you will stay still and not move unless you are pushed”, so that they don’t change their shapes unless a physical force breaks then and if they become broken and a part chips off and you end up with a few solid pieces. The spirit gave different instructions to the liquids, saying, “You shall hold together also, but not so closely, you won’t have any shape of your own, you will flow and spread, filling every hollow and every crevice you reach, you will always push downwards and sideways, but never upwards.” That is why we can put our hands into the water, but we cannot plunge them into rocks. The spirit said, “you will always want to move, always rolling over each other, ” (Expt 3 – roll the ball bearings inside the tumbler). And the spirit said to the gasses, “Your particles will not cling together at all, but will move freely, spreading out in all directions”.
But as the particles were also different individuals they did not all become solids, liquids or gasses at the same time, but changed at different temperatures. So at a certain temperature, some would remain solids, others would be liquids and others would become gaseous. (Expt 4 – heat the solids).
And so, while obeying these laws, the little drop of nothingness that was to become our world went on spinning around itself and the sun in the tremendous cold of space. As time went on the outer surface of the Earth began to dance a “Dance of the Elements”. The particles above the Earth were cooled by all the icy space when particles cool they shrink and hurrying to the Earth to warm themselves, but then the burning fire inside the earth would heat them up so much that they were too hot and longed to be cool again so they went back into space. Like little angels carrying up hot, burning coals into space and returning with cold ice. (Chart 3a -show The dance of the Elements).
How marvellous it is, and how simple. If you become hot you expand and as you expand you soar upwards, like a bubble of air in water. But, if you become cold you shrink and fall, like a grain of sand, sinking to the bottom of the pond. Because of this law, the Earth gradually changed from a ball of fire to the Earth we know. This was the law that the tiny radiant particles obeyed as they danced their dance, particles too minute to be seen or imagined but so numerous as to have produced our world.
For hundreds of millions of years, this dance went on. Finally, the particles settled down, like tired dancers, and one after another they became first liquid and then solid, joining with others, whom they were attracted to form new substances. The heavier ones went near to the heart of the Earth, while the lighter ones floated above them, like oil on water. (Experiment 5 – pour the liquids)
A thin scum was formed on the Earth, like the skin which forms on milk when it is boiled and left to cool. It seemed as if the Earth had taken some shape but the elements inside the Earth still felt very hot and trapped inside, they wanted to get out, they had to follow the law given to them, that if they are hot they need to expand and spread out. There was no place to spread out so they burst out, breaking the skin of the Earth causing a terrible fight. The water that formed on the surface turned immediately into vapour and then up the hot stuff came out from inside the earth. This made lots of ashes. A veil of cloud was drawn to cover the Earth because the Sun did not want to see all the fighting that was happening. (Chart 4a – show The time of the volcanoes)
(Experiment 6 – outside light the volcano) Eventually, the fighting ceased. As everything cooled down more and more gases became liquid and more and more liquids became solids.
The Earth itself shrank and became wrinkled like an old apple that has been left in a cupboard, the wrinkles are the mountains, and the hollows are the oceans. As soon as the rocks cooled down water was able to return to the Earth and it rained and rained and rained. The water, being liquid, filled every hollow and crevice it found in its path and thus the oceans were formed. Above the oceans was the air, the air that we breathe. The clouds had disappeared, the veil was withdrawn, and the Sun shone down, happy to see the Earth, it’s beautiful little daughter, at peace. (Chart 5a -show The final arrangement of rocks and water)
Rocks, water, air; solids, liquids and gases. Today, as it was yesterday and millions of years ago God’s laws are obeyed in a self-same way. The world spins round and round itself and round and round the sun. And today, as it was millions of years ago, the Earth and the elements and the compounds it is made of, whisper with one voice, “I joyfully obey”.
Notes on the Story
- The story is not a specific theory or a factual lesson but a Classic Cosmic fable, containing a blend of mystery, the unknown and truths (e.g. the physical laws, the proportional size of the Sun to the Earth)
- The lofty language appeals to the imagination and intelligence of the child of the second plane
- The story was conceived of by Maria and Mario Montessori during their time spent interned in India, in response to Maria overhearing a child ask, “Who is God?” and “Where is He?” and the mother’s response to these questions.
- AMI Communications 1958 (Dec) contains the original version which is now altered to fit with the charts and experiments.
Experiments accompanying the Story
Older children can help by showing the charts, taking part in the experiments, telling a part of the story which they particularly enjoy and clicking their fingers to demonstrate the length of a second
- Solid, Liquid and Gas
Material Description: Three identical glasses on a tray, one with ice, one with water the third empty
Method : Hold each glass as you refer to it
Aim: To give the impression of the three states of matter
- Likes and Dislikes
Material Description: Ten-inch diameter transparent bowl containing water on a tray and a sheet of inset paper
Method : Tear off pieces of paper and drop onto the surface of the water
Aim: To demonstrate how some particles move to form groups while others do not – demonstrating attraction
- Movement of Liquids
Material Description: A tumbler one-third full of ball-bearings or lead shot
Method: Turn the tumbler on its side and then twist, to show rolling movement
Aim: To show that liquid is made of spheres
- Different solids and their reaction to heat
Material Description: A small, safe hotplate, three small metal dishes each containing a solid of a similar size with a different melting point (e.g. wax, iron and lead shot), tongues, a heatproof mitt and tray and a bucket of sand.
Method : Put all three dishes on the hot plate at the same time, being prepared to move the wax onto the heat proof tray, as soon as it melts
Aim: To show that different solids are solid at different temperatures, they change states at different temperatures
- Light and Heavy Liquids
Material Description: Three different liquids of different colours and with different densities each in a test tube, in a rack, on a tray (e.g. water, honey and oil)
Method: Pour the lighter substance (oil) into the medium (water) and then the heavier (honey)
Aim: To show that heavier materials settle to the bottom while light material floats
- The Volcano
Material Description: Ammonium dichromate and sulphur in a 4:1 ratio in a well in gathered Earth or clay, or a pre-made cone on a large tray, (alternatively a permanent model may be used), gloves, matches, a bucket of sand. Follow local regulations for handling, storing and disposing of chemicals
Method: In an outside space light the mixture, stand back and watch the formation of a cone
Aim: To give an impression of volcanic activity, including the light, smoke and smell given off, (for this reason avoid substitutes such as vinegar and baking powder)
Charts used with the Story
- Impressionistic charts appeal to the imagination and give the impression of unseeable processes.
- Produce and display each chart at the relevant moment in the story and leave for the children to examine later, do not give explanations at this stage
1a The Sun and the Earth
Material Description: The Earth is coloured dark to contrast with the Sun
Aim: To give the impression of the proportions of each (1:1,000,000)
3a The Dance of the Elements
Material Description: Yellow angels (or whatever is culturally appropriate) carry the heat upwards, while blue angels carry the water downwards
Aim: To show the cooling of the Earth
4a The time of the Volcanoes
Material Description: The Earth is show in brown, with dark clouds above
Aim: To show the volcanoes
5a Final arrangement of rocks and water
Material Description: The Earth is coloured in blue
Aim: To show the land and water separated
When and how to present the Story
- This Story creates the opening scene for later work, so give early, in the first few days of the class.
- Prepare the children by telling them two days beforehand that soon you will tell them a very special story, this gives the children freedom to choose if they want to participate, builds anticipation and allows older children to choose whether and how to participate
- Children do not have to listen but may quietly take work or leave during the story, it is essential that children do not interrupt
- Tell the story with enthusiasm and in one sitting
- The story must include the following ‘Cosmic Elements’;
- The immensity of space
- The proportional size of the Earth to the Sun
- Despite the quantity and smallness of each the particles each is taken care of by giving a law to guide them
- References to the states of matter, the movement of the Earth etc.
- Allow children to pick up on the parts of the story they relate to without being concerned that they understand the parts you think are important for them to focus on.
- To prepare yourself the following are useful;
- Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and “The Sea Around Us”
- David Attenburgh DVDs
- Bryan Swimme “The Universe Story” and “The Universe is a Green Dragon”
Follow up work on the Story
Later retell the story, this time you could;
- Name the materials
- Give Chart 2a
2a The Family of the Sun
Material Description: The Planets of our solar system are shown, with relative distances between each one and in proportional size, with the orbits marked in red
Aim: To show planets other than the Earth and their relationship. Give other experiments, for example
Material Description: Two containers, each with crushed ice and a thermometer, salt, timer
Method : Add salt to one container and record the temperature over a period of time
Aim: To show that temperatures are relative, what the child thinks of as cold (ice) can actually be warmer than something else (ice with salt)
Material Description: A bucket containing water on a rope
Method : Holding the rope above you, twirl the bucket
Aim: To demonstrate the balance of two opposing forces in keeping objects in orbit (1) centrifugal force, which pushes the bucket away from you – the movement away from the centre (2) centripetal force, which pushes the bucket towards you – the movement towards the centre
The child could find more information about the Sun, the distances between it and other planets, its temperature, composition and the Solar System, the names of the Planets, sizes and features. To do this the child could be shown how to use many different types of atlases
The children could make to scale models of the planets and use them to show the distances between and the movement of the Planets.
Visits to a Planetarium, Observatories and to see the night sky could be organised.