Great Lesson Five – the story of Writing.

One of the things that makes humans special is our ability to use words to talk to each other and share our ideas.

Being able to record our words enables us to share ideas over great distances and long periods of time. Before words, early man drew pictures to remind themselves and others of stories. At first, writing was used for records.
About 3300-3100BC, Ancient Egyptians had a written language called hieroglyphics, which looks like pictures.
About 1500BC, there was a prototype alphabet in Phoniciea with 24 letters. How many letters does our alphabet have?
Ancient Greeks probably invented the wax tablet about 800BC.
About 150BC in Greece, people began making parchment from animal skins, this lasted better than papyrus.
The Greeks wrote mathematics and plays. The Romans wrote laws and stories, letters and shopping lists, many Roman people could read and write. Roman children learnt to write using wax tablets and bone styluses, which made it easy to rub out mistakes.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written about 100BC.
Paper was made in China as early as 105AD, but it was a long time before paper was made anywhere else, it didn’t really take off in the Western world until the early 15th Century.
In 868AD, people in China were using woodblocks to print books. Chinese scientist Bi Sheng invented movable type in 1045AD, but he used porcelain, which broke easily. Wang Zhen improved on this with wooden movable type in 1313. Chinese uses a very different alphabet with over 50,000 characters.
The rest of the world was still reproducing books by hand, using quill pens, like this one.

But many people couldn’t read at all and all the books belonged to rich people or the church.
Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, he invented movable type as well, possibly independently of Big Sheng and Wang Zehn’s work.
The printing press allowed people to print pamphlets cheaply. Hundreds were made and, as there was more to read, more and more people learnt to read.
Early best sellers included The Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
Samuel Pepys refers to a pen with a metal nib in his 1663 diary, though they weren’t mass produced until John Mitchell did so in Birmingham in 1822.
In the 19th Century, then Industrial Revolution brought books within the reach of most people. The Public Library Act of 1850 led to the establishment of public libraries all over the country, allowing people to read books without having to buy them, opening up the world of learning to everyone.
The 19th Century also brought free, compulsory education, similarly to those Roman pupils hundreds of years before them, young children wrote with chalk on slates so they could easily rub out and start again.
These days 90% of people in the UK can read. We have many methods of printing cheaply, so we find ourselves surrounded by words all the time!

This is the last of the official Montessori Great Lessons, and the boys are working on their projects. Eldest is investigating the printing press and Middly is looking at quill pens.
We’ve really enjoyed this style of learning, and I’m planning on carrying on with some new topics of my own.


One thought on “Great Lesson Five – the story of Writing.

  1. Pingback: Great Lesson on Water | frogotter's Blog

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