The Timeline of Life: A Quintessential (and really cool) Montessori Material

For children in Montessori elementary classrooms, the Timeline of Life is an incredibly exciting material. It’s equally as awe-inspiring for their teachers, and parents who learn about it as well. That’s why we’d like to take a little time to share a little bit about it, and why we all love it so much.

Montessori educators know that children (and even many grown-ups) learn more effectively when they can see and touch whatever they are learning about. If a learning material is visually stunning, we cannot help but get sucked in, and find ourselves driven to discover whatever we can about it.

The Timeline of Life is exactly what it sounds like: a visual timeline that displays the evolution of life on Earth. There are all manner of exotic and familiar creatures, as well as lines showing their rise and fall across the eras, moments of geological significance that served to alter evolution, and notations of periods of mass extinctions. The earliest versions of this material were created by Montessori educators while in their training; they meticulously colored each organism with the hopes of making something beautiful that would last throughout their careers and inspire hundreds of children.

Today trainees receive a gorgeously color-printed copy which they laminate and take great care of over the years. There are several companies that produce the timeline as well. As you might imagine, it is not the type of material that totally stands the test of time; as new archaeological discoveries are made our understanding of evolution changes. This means that every so often, the timeline is remade to reflect the most current scientific understanding.

At the very least, an elementary classroom will have the timeline displayed with lessons each year explaining its contents. Some classrooms have various supporting materials, including blank timelines with laminated organisms that the children can arrange, or real fossils that correspond to each period of time the students are learning about.

Curious about what the timeline covers, exactly? Here’s a quick summary:

  • As mentioned above, bold lines arc their way across the timeline demonstrating lineage and the rise and fall of prominence of certain major species.

  • Icicles illustrate moments of great ice ages that spread across the planet.

  • Mountains perched at the base of timeline, as well as small illustrations of continent formation, show how the shifting of the earth’s crust contributed to evolution.