History: The Long Black Strip

Totally fun!

A few weeks ago, I presented the long black strip to the kids in the co-op.   It was a big hit and really made an impression with Astroboy.

The Long Black Strip is one of the early lessons in the Natural History section of the Montessori History album. I had already showed Thumper the First Great Lesson (Creation of the Universe) and the Second Great Lesson (Coming of Life), thought it was time to talk about humans in this long timeline.

In the presentation the children rolled out a very long, 40 meters, black ribbon in the playground.  The younger children really wanted to roll the ribbon out.  As they walked and unrolled, I talked about how the darkness that came after the creation of the universe went on for a long long time, or how it rained and volcanos erupted again and again for a long, long time.  (as the Earth was forming).  Here’s a sample of the presentation from Montessori Services.  Mine’s slightly different, especially since it was in Chinese, but basically the same idea:  

  • This black strip represents the age of Earth, from its very beginning.
    Silently unwind the strip for at least 30 seconds.
  • At first Earth was a fiery ball.
    Silently unwind the strip.
  • And this went on for a long, long time.
    Silently unwind the strip.
  • Earth was covered with volcanoes.
    And this went on for a long, long time.

    Silently unwind the strip.
  • The rains came.
    And this went on for a long, long time. 

    Silently unwind the strip.
  • It rained and rained.
    And this went on for a long, long time. 

    Silently unwind the strip.
A very bad pic but wanted to show how we went the length of the playground and then more

A very bad pic but wanted to show how we went the length of the playground and then more

Finally we get to the end of the strip and there is a little strip of red.  That is when humans appeared.   It is a very sensorial view of the short time humans have appeared in the history of the universe.

We looked at the little red strip and I showed the children that their place on this history timeline is probably just a teeny tiny sliver at the end of the long ribbon, perhaps thinner than a strand of hair. That sufficiently impressed them.

The children then wanted to go back and unroll the ribbon again.  So we did, twice.

When I repeated the lesson last week with the addition of another child, they ran back and forth along the long ribbon several times.  45 meters is very long!   The week after the first presentation, Astroboy actually asked me, “How come humans have not live a long time?”  I was so happy to know he was paying attention even if it didn’t look like it, and that the black strip did make an impression.

I’m really liking the Montessori history curriculum.  It makes history not boring.  Astroboy is definitely getting the general idea even though he’s just 5.   When I made a presentation on BC/AD the following week, I was able to reference this presentation.  Because we’re starting history from way in the beginning, it’s really easy to get that big picture.

Today, we listened to 寫給孩子的世界歷史 on our podcast.  The first chapter is apparently about the creation of the earth and how different animals appeared from fish to amphibians to reptiles to birds, etc.   I didn’t think Astroboy could understand, it was mostly for Thumper, but he suddenly popped up with “Mama, this is like the Long Black Strip.” while we were listening.  Totally made me happy.

History, in the Montessori curriculum, doesn’t really start till elementary because you need to have a strong grasp of the concept of time, which developmentally doesn’t really start till 6, apparently.   So I’m a bit surprised at how much the young children enjoyed the lesson.  Probably because it’s such a concrete material.  Actually, as an adult, I got a better idea of just how short human’s time on earth was after seeing the presentation as well.

The ribbon

The long black ribbon from Azoka Company is $50 plus shipping from Montessori Services.  It is made of cloth.  Garden of Francis sells a felt or grossian version for $30.  I only found that out after the fact.  Instead, I bought mine from Amazonfor $23 plus tax.  Mine is 50 yards which is about 45 meters.  Typically the black strip sold is 30 meters to represent the earth’s age of 3 billion years.

Now here’s my rant, feel free to skip if you want to.  It’s 30 meters because that’s how old people think the earth was when they first created the material.  It’s now known to be 4.5 billion years.  So it was perfect that my ribbon was 45 meters.  It greatly upsets me when Montessori materials are not updated to reflect new scientific knowledge.  The most common excuse explanation I get is that it is only impressionistic, that it doesn’t have to be right because we invoke the children’s interest and they can do their research and find out that hey, science advances, etc etc.

If you want to go with this logic, then why don’t we just say the moon cycle is 15 days?  Or that the earth is flat?   We can tell the kids that and then they can find out that it isn’t true.  Sure things change and we obviously can’t keep on top of things.  But when we know, as teachers, that something is longer true, we should be teaching children the new information and not continue to give presentations that say the earth is 3 billion years old.

end rant.

The ribbon I bought came with a red (painter’s?) tape that was used to tape it to the paper roll.  I unrolled the whole thing and repurposed the tape as the red “paint” showing when humans first appeared.  I first tried fabric paint but it really didn’t work.  The tape actually turned out better.


3 thoughts on “History: The Long Black Strip

  1. This post made me so excited for the day when my girls are old enough for these kinds of lessons. My toddler goes to a Waldorf school a couple of mornings each week now, but I also really like a lot of the Montessori concepts.


  2. Pingback: Prehistory Teaching Plan | Staying Home with PB & J

  3. Pingback: 學習時間 | 自學在佳

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