Montessori Education and Nature: What’s the connection?

 

“When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.”
– Dr. Maria Montessori

We hope that you will all able to join us for our April 3 Omran Speaker Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. This presentation has led us all at Inly to reflect on the close match between Richard Louv’s message and our mission at Inly as Montessori educators.

Montessori Philosophy: Combining indoor and outdoor classrooms

The Outdoor Classroom, nearly one year old, is already an integral part of the Inly curriculum at all levels—from Toddler through Middle School. It’s easy to think of this addition to our campus as a progressive new idea, but it’s actually rooted in a 100-year-old philosophy. Dr. Montessori was an early proponent of experiential learning and considered the outdoor environment a natural extension of the classroom. The Montessori connection makes sense: Contact with nature affords opportunities for rich sensorial experiences, a vital element of Montessori learning. It also supports the whole child—body, mind and soul—and promotes respect for all living things.

Dr. Montessori’s vision for schools was always a combination of indoor and outdoor classrooms. This was a way to study the interconnectedness of all things, a way for children to be able to study math and science, nature and the universe.

Montessori had deep reverence for the natural world, and her cosmic education curriculum, which runs from Toddler through Middle School at Inly, stresses the importance of grounding children in an understanding of themselves as a part of the greater universe.  She believed that we best develop an understanding of self when we understand the interconnectedness of all things— that true respect for self grows together with deep respect for others and for nature.

The Outdoor Classroom at Inly School: Integrating science, language arts, music and more

Our Outdoor Classroom is used extensively at all levels for many subjects—for science, language arts, music, art, practical life. We have a low ropes course for our upper grades to engage in leadership and trust activities, and outdoor music elements to enhance listening and creativity. Students are currently constructing a “secret garden” of their own as they read The Secret Garden with our school librarian and literature teacher. Each level at Inly now has its own garden. Even the toddlers have a garden of their own.

Students in Kindergarten and Lower Elementary (grades 1—3) have classes with Ellyn, an experienced and inspired naturalist, and our Upper Elementary and Middle School programs each have a trained natural scientist to weave scientific exploration and habits of mind into the all aspects of the curriculum for grades 4–8.

Outdoor Service Learning

In addition, in Upper Elementary, students begin participating in a service learning curriculum that includes partnerships with The North and South Rivers Watershed Association and Holly Hill Farm, and Middle School students leave campus for immersion experiences with the Hull Lifesaving Museum, Ocean Classroom and Heifer International’s Overlook Farm.

Integrating nature into the Inly curriculum

“Sit spots” are a good specific example of how we integrate nature into the curriculum. In Upper Elementary (grades 4, 5 and 6) students choose a spot on campus to visit each week throughout the school year.  From this vantage point they repeatedly observe their surroundings and watch how things change with the seasons. They sit with a journal and have been taught how to observe and then how to record those observations through writing, sketching, poetry. In this way, they are developing an essential scientific habit of mind – observation, but they are also being invited to do something even more rare in this age—to be still and to be present.

In Middle School (grades 7 and 8), this training continues with formal labs and lab reports;  with involvement in The Green Committee, dedicated to student initiated and implemented activities on campus to enhance Inly’s authentic commitment to green initiatives; and with “solo time,” a common component of Montessori middle school programs that deepens the practice of stillness—which is so essential, but so difficult for teens, and for us all.

To learn more…

Watch a video of outdoor experiential learning and Montessori “sit spots” here:  A Typical Day in an Upper Elementary Science Class Means Going Outside to Learn

Read an excerpt from Richard Louv’s bestseller Last Child in the Woods here: http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/excerpt/

Parting thoughts

“The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” – Richard Louv

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