Since its inception, the Montessori Method has always included some interaction with the outdoors. A hundred years ago it was simply gardening, but the idea of getting outside and interacting with nature in some way has been an important part of the teaching process.
It’s true with our Montessori school as well, as we’re believers in getting outdoors and letting the kids play, and, in the process, learn about the outdoors. Here are some of the many ways that outdoor activities can really improve the way that kids interact with the world.
NATURE IS SO RANDOMIZED
When you look at your living room after a child’s birthday party, you might think “wow, this is really disorganized!” But nothing matches how random nature is, because you never know just where that next leaf is going to land…and once it does, will the wind blow it away seconds later?
When we head outside with kids, we may or may not have an idea of what we’re hoping they’ll find. Sometimes things in nature change, whether it’s the rain washing our original plan away or if we’re watching the leaves change color. Either way, there’s learning to be done!
NATURE IS INFINITELY COMPLEX…
…even in the smallest area. One aspect of nature that we try to help kids appreciate is getting them to notice how much is going on in even the smallest space. You can look at a tree from a mile away and notice that it’s a tree with a green top. Get closer and you can see the branches, closer still and you can pick out individual leaves. But then you start to realize that the tree is its own little world, with veins on the leaves, insects eating them, spiders eating the insects, and eggs laid that will start the process all over again. A single tree can offer just as much as a fully-stocked classroom, and Montessori education encourages kids to find out all they can. Speaking of which…
NATURE INCREASES OBSERVATIONAL SKILLS
We love watching kids get out in nature to see how they interact with it. With simple questions, we can help them look closer at everything around them. Which side of the tree does most moss grow on? Do you see any mushrooms on the log? Much like we did with the tree above, we’ll let kids get up close and explore everything that’s going on in a small space.
IT GIVES THEM FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE
Those who teach in a Montessori school know how important it is to get hands-on knowledge. While it’s fun to be able to read a book on squirrels and look at the pictures, everything clicks so much more when a child can see the squirrel in the wild. It’s the same with everything else, whether it’s a rollie pollie or a budding branch.
IT SURPRISES THE TEACHERS
One of the only times that a piece of standard classroom equipment surprises a teacher is when it breaks! What we’re saying is, teachers know the equipment and materials in a classroom, so they’re seldom surprised. But once they get outside, they can be just as surprised as the kids. And when the kids see the look of wonder on a teacher’s face as they watch an inchworm, it gives the kids the feeling that learning is a lifelong experience. If it captivates a teacher, it must be pretty amazing!
IT GIVES THEM AN APPRECIATION
We all live in the world, so it’s important to take care of it. A child who knows more about the way the world works will be more interested in its intricacies and have an appreciation for how it all goes together. And when they realize that, they’ll discover how important it is not to upset the delicate balance. And speaking of balance…
FITNESS AND BALANCE
It will come as no surprise to you that most kids don’t get enough exercise. When you combine the lure of ever-present screens with the fear that many parents have of sending kids out to play on their own, kids start to pack on the pounds. Of course, high-calorie snacks and huge meal portions are also to blame.
Time outdoors, whether it’s playtime or learning time, is a great way for kids to get some of the exercise they need. It’s also a good way to improve their balance; an uneven path might lead to some stumbles, but it will also improve the way they move through terrains that aren’t a perfectly-smooth sidewalk.
VITAMIN D AND FRESH AIR
Kids need sunlight. Not only does it improve moods, but it also helps the body produce much-needed Vitamin D. (Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is of course necessary for strong bones.)
Also, did you know that the idea of poor indoor air quality wasn’t just something that HVAC companies made up in order to sell duct cleaning? It’s a real concern, and the EPA notes that even short term exposure can lead to “irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.” Getting kids outdoors is a great way to give their lungs a break from indoor air.
OUTDOOR TIME LEADS TO INCREASED LEARNING
There’s a reason that outdoor times, including recess and other outside activities, are so important: letting the brain rests helps it to learn. Kids who have more recess are more receptive to learning, and they’re improving their social skills as well. As one article puts it, “If your child isn’t doing well in the classroom, the solution could be less time in the classroom.” Kids need time when they’re learning but don’t know they’re learning, and spending time out in nature is an excellent way to increase their capacity to learn.
Nature gives us so much of what we need to lead children in their curious growth. There’s order and disorder in nature, and both of these can help kids learn about how it works. If you want your child to develop a curious mind about the world, outside time is an excellent way to make it happen. We have doors leading out of every classroom directly outside, and that means we can head out for the best learning experience anytime we want!