The Significance of Human Appearance

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Time Line of Life; Gifts of the Phyla; Box of Symbols for The Significance of the Appearance of Humans lesson which might include: Scroll on which is written the word "Language"; Heart; Candle; Human figure - neither male nor female; Bubbles with "Consciousness" and "Imagination" written on them; Miniature hand from the hand chart holding a tool; Artifact - perhaps made of metal, indicative of human tools


Time Line of Early Humans - First Presentation; Invertebrate Nomenclature; Five Kingdoms; Gifts of the Phyla


1. Organisms on the time line and the increased complexity over time. Point out the very end of the time line, where humans appeared. We are going to consider the significance of appearance of humans. We have studied the Five Kingdoms of organisms, the biology charts and the Time Line of life.
2. Bring out the small box with the Gifts of the Phyla. Recall with the children their studies of plants and animals and the five kingdoms. Each of the phyla has given the earth a special gift. Proceed to lay out each phylum in order, relating its gift:

     a. The gift of the plant is oxygen, food and energy.
     b. The protozoans brought the gift of the cell and the genetic material by which all organisms pass on their characteristics to succeeding generations.
     c. The porphyria are composed of cells grouped together.
     d. A division of labor among the cells and an opening used for nutrition and elimination of wastes are the contributions of the coelenterates.
     e. The flatworm brought muscles and bilateral symmetry.
     f. The gift of the roundworm is blood and tube body with allows for continuous digestion.
     g. The annelida brought the gift of segmentation.
     h. The mollusks brought the exoskeleton, a well-developed nervous system, and a closed circulatory system.
     i. The gift of the arthropod is jointed legs to allow walking.
     j. The echinodermata experimented with a new system for respiration and circulation, the water vascular system. They also brought the gift of the cartilaginous endoskeleton which is the basis for bones.
     k. The fish gave the gift of the backbone.
     l. The amphibian has ears and lungs for breathing oxygen.
     m. The reptile brings inter body fertilization and a developed egg.
     n. The bird has warm blood and cares for its young.
     o. The gifts of the mammal are stereoscopic vision and a large brain.

3. Open the box containing the symbols for gifts humans brought to the Earth. Lay out the human figure and the heart and ask the children what gifts they feel human beings have to offer the universe. During one lesson, students said, “thumbs, opposable thumb, prehensile grip, the ability to kill with weapons, standing up straight, cooking our own food, being paid for work, bigger brains, more power, hair not fur, vanity polite/manners/civilized behavior (can be!), top of the food chain, stand on two feet, love!, friendship, having pets, talk/language

4. Lay out scroll, human figure, heart, candle, hand, a tool, etc. Ask children what each of these might represent.

Suggestions for Student Work: Ask students, “Can you think of any ways to practice what you’ve learned today?” One idea is to make a chart, with drawings for each of the six main ideas listed below.

  • This lesson comes from Kay Shields

Control Of Error


Points Of Interest

Prepare the material: a box containing the symbols for the gifts that humans bring to Earth. See "Presentation" above.


Direct Aim: The purpose of this lesson is to explore with the children the ways in which humans differ from other beings and reflect upon how we have built on the gifts of the beings who came before.

Indirect Aim: This lesson evokes the unconscious awareness of the personal responsibility we bear as individuals to contribute to the perfection of society because of the gifts the universe has bestowed upon us.


The following terms contain a standard Montessori interpretation to what makes humans significant.

1. Consciousness (Ability to make choices)
2. Imagination (Ability to see what’s not there)
3. Discovery of Fire (Cooking and Warmth)
4. The Hand (prehensile grip; opposable thumb)
5. Culture and Art; Tools
6. Deep and Profound Capacity to Love

A second idea is to write a personal essay comparing yourself to an animal. The following can serve as a model to show children. This essay can include a drawing of yourself and of the animal.

Sample essay to help students get a start on their own writing:

     How am I, a human being, different from a squirrel? Humans have consciousness, but what does a squirrel have? When I’m hungry, I go to the refrigerator, which doesn’t take any more thought than a squirrel digging into his winter ration of acorns. However, when I sit down and compile a shopping list, I need to make choices. I simply can’t imagine a squirrel writing out a shopping list…
     Personally, I use my imagination a lot. Lately, I find myself imagining being on a beach in Mexico. Can a squirrel imagine walking on a beach looking for gull eggs? No. Squirrels live in the moment, which perhaps is a good thing. Sometimes my imagination works to my disadvantage. When I fear the worse outcome, like bitter cold spoiling a weekend cross country skiing outing, maybe it would be better if I was as simple as a squirrel. But like it or not, I’m human.