At first glance, the wild outdoors may seem like an uncontrollable chaos that is, well, not very Montessorian. You can’t adjust the height of a tree or the presentation of animals and plants! Yet, Dr Maria Montessori was very fond of nature, and believed there was great benefit to incorporating it into children’s lives.
There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.
It is not just Montessori pedagogy that expounds on the importance of nature, there is an incredible amount of research highlighting how beneficial exposure to nature and outdoor play is for children. The cognitive, social, physical and emotional benefits of time outdoors include development of sense of self and independence, creativity, problem solving, cooperation, flexibility, stress reduction, reduced aggression, physical health, happiness and more. There are even positive environmental impacts when children learn to appreciate and care for nature. But how do we do it well, especially in a city setting?
Montessori Inspired Outdoor Work
At House on the Hill we bring children to nature, and bring nature to the children. We aim for a balance of free play and Montessori inspired activities that help children care for and learn about their environment, many of which are replicable at home!
For an activity that combines practical life skills, motor skills, and sensorial development try gardening. At all of our schools we garden, and it is replicable at home, too – check out our Montessori at Home activity here. If you’re really keen you can look into renting a plot in a community garden near you.
In our garden in Pasir Panjang we use natural materials for various outdoor lessons. Simple activities like sorting can be fun and educational. Make it into a game by asking them to first find 5 of the same item. Upon their return give them a task, such as arranging their sticks from longest to shortest, mimicking the Montessori red rods. They can practice their basic sense by weighing in their hands different pebbles. Arranging leaves according to a color gradient might be a fun challenge for older children.
The Importance of Free Play
Don’t underestimate the value of unstructured, outdoor play. As Dr Montessori said,
let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade
Just like in a Montessori classroom, children outside can be free to choose their activities and follow what interests them. Adults can help guide them and set appropriate boundaries, while still allowing freedom of movement, choice and time. Consider the limits that are set in a Montessori classroom: respect for oneself, respect for others; and respect for the environment. Setting minimal restrictions outdoors will encourage creativity and exploration.
Finding pockets of Nature
If adding time to your packed calendar for outdoors seems daunting, try and shift some of your regular routine outside. Dinner, lunch, or even snack time can become a picnic. Instead of heading home after the library to read on the couch, bring your books to the park and read outside for a bit. Reroute your way to the playdate to walk along a park connector instead of taking the bus, or better yet, have that playdate outside! Even having greenery nearby can reduce children’s stress and improve their wellbeing, and a 20 minutes of walking in park settings has been shown to help children focus better.
If you can’t get outdoors, try and bring the outdoors inside. Keeping a houseplant or two is a great way for children to learn responsibility. Use your plant to talk about the needs of the larger environment; just as your plant needs water and sunlight, so do the plants in the forest. What might threaten the plants in the forest? How can your family help the environment? Look out for events such as tree planting days that provide a hands-on way to help out.
As Dr Montessori said, “modern observations and child-study have led us to realise that as soon as the child can go out of doors, we must take him with us.” So head outside this week with your children and see what magic you can discover there! You might just find yourself there next week, too.
*all photos taken in House on the Hill’s Pasir Panjang Garden