“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
Dr. Maria Montessori had deep respect for the world, and her curriculum stressed the importance of grounding children in an understanding of themselves as a part of the greater universe. She placed a great emphasis on nature and felt that the outdoor environment should be an extension of the classroom.
From the very beginning of life, it is vital to maintain the link between children and nature. To achieve this, we need to become aware of the importance of nature in our own lives. The problem today is that nature is often restricted to a park, or if you are lucky enough, to a home with a yard or garden. If the child is not able to hear, to see, to touch nature, he will not be able to love nature. We can love only that which we know. The young child acquires the knowledge of his surroundings through his senses. That is why in Montessori we say the young child is a sensorial explorer.
More often, the first contact children have with nature is through a TV, tablet or computer. All living beings become part of a machine and it is very difficult for children to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Their senses get confused; they can see in a two-dimensional plane many things that they cannot touch or smell, so the concepts of what these beings are becomes distorted. And so, the child’s detachment from nature grows, because the child will be less and less interested in it.
The development of movement will also be affected, because the kind of movement the child needs to do in the outdoor environment is very different. As children move less, they start to lose certain abilities and become more sedentary. Obesity starts to develop, the sense of sight is affected as their eyes get used to the artificial light produced by the screens, and the movements of the eyes need to change their normal pattern. The sense of touch gets reduced to the tip of the fingers, only to use the TV control or the tablet. Nature becomes just a picture without a real meaning and only a few words relate to it.
To name something, we need to know it; to know it for the child is to use all his senses to recognize the object. The sensory experiences provided by nature give the child the opportunity to connect the inner world with the external world. It is the responsibility of the adult to prepare activities in such a way that they are beneficial for the child. Their relationship with the whole environment during the first three years of life will lay foundations for his self-construction.
At Milton Montessori, we love the outdoor classroom. We spend time in the Fall talking about the changes in seasons. We take nature walks in our large playground and collect leaves from the many trees. We bridge the gap between our indoor and outdoor classroom with lessons about parts of the tree and parts of the leaf. In the spring, we do the same with parts of the flower. These are classroom lessons that we can research in our outdoor classroom. We study animals too, and we have seen ducks, rabbits and even a large turtle around our outdoor environment. Just about any animal habitat or seasonal change can be taught in the classroom and explored in the outdoor classroom.
Maria Montessori 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. Let’s take the hands of children and allow them to guide us in the path of rediscovery of nature, in the path of rediscovery of the world through their eyes, keeping in mind that with each child that is born, new hopes and promises are born, and these hopes and promises, are our challenge.