Outdoor Classroom: Are Your Montessori Children Missing Out On This Important Learning Environment?

TAKE A CHILD OUTDOORS AND LET THE LEARNING BEGIN! All over the world, the outdoors have long been considered a sure cure for the cranky, over-active, giggly, wiggly child who just can't seem to focus on learning activities indoors. In fact, it's a known fact that children need fresh air, sunshine, and exercise daily in order to thrive and be healthy. So, why not enhance the outdoor time for children, with lots of activities that nurture the body, the brain, the creative mind, and the inner spirit of the child?

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Sarah Zimmerman, the founder of the Fountainhead Montessori Schools in the SF East Bay Area, once told me, "You can take just about any activity  out of the Montessori classroom and into the outdoors."

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I agree wholeheartedly, and I love to see what children come up with in the outdoor environment that they may not have discovered indoors! 

The Montessori Outdoor Classroom is not a new concept. Dr. Montessori wrote about the children's garden at the first Casa Dei Bambini in Rome established in 1908:
"In the first "Children's House" in Rome we have a vast courtyard, cultivated as a garden, where the children are free to run in the open air...which is planted on one side with trees and a branching path in the middle, and on the opposite side, has broken ground for the cultivation of plants. This last, we have divided into so many portions, reserving one for each child...While the smaller children run freely up and down the path, or rest in the shade, the possessors of the earth (children from 4 years up) are sowing or hoeing, watering or examining, the surface of the soil watching for the sprouting of plants." The Montessori Method, p. 161. 

At the Fountainhead Montessori campus in Dublin, CA, there is a Montessori-style Outdoor Classroom. The children from the Preschool and the Lower Elementary have lessons on gardening, composting, bird watching, ecology, and care of the environment twice a week with the Garden Directress, Mary Cooper. 

Mary designed this amazing Outdoor Classroom from her many years as a Montessori teacher and a seasoned gardener herself. The Outdoor Classroom doubles as a wonderful sort of nature playground, but the activities that Mary introduces are by far the children's favorites.

First, the group assembles at the Outdoor circle time area. This is where the children greet their teacher, Mary, and sing their delightful garden song. Next, she rings a small Tibetan bell for a moment of silent meditation on the peaceful and wonderful sounds of the outdoors.

Photo taken by Carolyn at the Fountainhead Montessori School in Dublin, CA

Then, Mary gives a quick demonstration of the new Outdoor Classroom Activity for the week, and the children clamor to have a turn with the newest materials. 

Photo by Carolyn 

Then, Mary dismisses the group to explore the environment, by giving each child a "necklace" to wear while they go about completing their outdoor classroom "jobs". She told me that the 2 favorite necklaces are the ones titled "Inspecting" and "Worm Composting".

Photo by Carolyn

The group of children who are "inspecting" go to the basket of sturdy magnifying glasses and proceed to carefully walk around the garden looking for little creatures to observe up close. Mary told me that lately the children have greatly enjoyed looking through magnifying glasses at the many ladybugs feeding on the aphids on some of the garden plants.

Photo by Carolyn

The children whose necklaces designate that they are to care for the worms in the worm compost bin, scurry over and lift the lid of the bin. They check to see if the worms have nice damp soil around them and plenty of veggie scraps to eat. Of course, finding worms in the rich soil of the worm composter is the fun part and this requires very gentle handling to actually pick up a worm and observe the parts of its anatomy.

Mary also leaves one of the garden beds fallow so that children who love to dig in dirt, can carry their child size spades over and dig to their heart's content. This aerates the soil in the bed and then later, this bed will get planted and a new garden bed will be left fallow for endless digging.

At one of the schools where I had an Outdoor Classroom a few years ago, we would begin our outdoor explorations with a hand-holding circle time where we sang songs and often danced!  Once or twice a week, we would all carry our chairs outside and hold our morning circle outdoors, sitting on our chairs in a circle formation.  After our circle time, the children would get the scrub brushes out and wash the chairs. Too fun!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Okay, even when a child is simply enjoying the smell of a flower or the clouds moving in the sky, there is a sense of important learning going on. These are concrete experiences that feed the child's brain and help the mind construct the important components of a flower and the different shapes characteristic of the various formations of clouds.

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

When my own children were in their Elementary years, we homeschooled and often, very often, we took our studies outdoors under the trees. In fact, my favorite memories are of my kids climbing up a tree, finding a cozy branch, and cracking open their favorite books to read!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

One of the things a seasoned teacher knows is that children often learn so much better when they are outdoors with their studies. Even with the Preschoolers, it is very helpful to include a pack of picture books, paper, pencils, & markers for the children who love to read, write and do their numbers when it is outdoor time!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

I found so many lovely photos of children all over the world who were quite engrossed in their reading, writing, and arithmetic while sitting outside.

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

In Europe, there is an entire movement called "Forest Schools" and some are designed for children to create their classroom each day completely in the outdoors. The students never step inside a building!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

As I was perusing the internet sites about the Forest School concept, I found one in my neck of the woods! 
Here's that link: 
The Berkeley Forest School.

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Here in California, we are feeling the fine Spring weather already, and the children are full of energy, wiggles and giggles! It's just a great time to take some of the classroom studies outside. Even if it's only a few sheets of paper and a pencil...there's always a child that will find a spot to continue the learning from the indoors!

Photo by the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Don't miss that wonderful learning opportunity for your children to continue their reading, writing, & arithmetic outdoors...not to mention the important connections with nature.
"It has been understood...that the best means of invigorating the child is to immerse him in nature." Dr. Montessori, The Montessori Method

You might like to read more about my fantastic array of outdoor activities that children love.  Over the years, I have developed a very satisfying "curriculum" for the children in my groups in our Montessori-style Outdoor Classroom!

Click here to check out some of my past posts: Outdoor Classroom at my Blog.

Here's my Pinterest board, too! Montessori-style Outdoor Classroom.

You can also find some of my favorite products for the Montessori Outdoor Classroom at MY AMAZON STORE: HERE

My post is part of a wonderful link-up featuring Montessori style Spring Activities at the Natural Beach Living Site. There you'll find even more info and dozens of articles from Montessori bloggers all over the world! Here's that link: Spring Activity Link-up at Natural Beach Living.

I'm so happy you stopped by to read my blog today. I hope you found some useful information!

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