“When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” – Maria Montessori
Spend a few minutes near a wildflower garden with a child and you’ll observe how the marvels of nature inevitably captivate and engross the child. In a carefully prepared outdoor environment, children are free to move about the space and have plenty of opportunity for spontaneous observation. The Montessori philosophy embraces the lessons our natural environment can provide, and we have put much care into cultivating an outdoor space that facilitates this exploration.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to plant a native wetland garden with students at The Montessori School. We met with a local wildflower expert from the Kalamazoo Wild Ones who helped us plan our project and secure funding for native plants. The children loved working in the gardens and were excited to study the pollinators and other wildlife that visited. There were so many lessons as we planned, planted, and observed our growing gardens. We’ve since planted two additional wildflower gardens and are in the process of planning a fourth butterfly garden. We’ve certified our gardens as Monarch Waystations and we are participating in the Million Pollinator Garden challenge. Our school’s outdoor space is a certified Wildlife Habitat area and we’re looking forward to working with local park officials and expanding our studies beyond our campus to the Axtell Creek Watershed.
At The Montessori School I share my knowledge of ecology with the students and encourage them to choose an environmental action project that interests them and also acts as a service learning project. This year the Maple room had a total of three action projects, each of them fostering deep connections to the natural world. We started our first vermicomposting bin, maintained a compost tumbler, and minimized our lunchtime trash. Placed-based action projects allow the students to observe and experience the interconnectedness of all living things, including themselves. We also explored a couple of citizen science projects that allow us to collect data from our outdoor learning environment and share with other citizen scientists. Students love being a part of something bigger and sharing their findings with the rest of the class. Next year we’re planning to choose at least one citizen science project and also invite more local garden experts to help us expand our native wildflower gardens and also begin planning for additional food gardens.
Earlier this year, Susan, our Business Manager, and I attended a Green Schools conference at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in Minnesota. There were schools represented at the conference from all over the nation. We learned of the latest green school initiatives and technologies utilized by other schools to connect students to the larger community and the rest of the world. To say we came home inspired is an understatement!
Much of what I learned affirmed our environmental philosophy and practices at TMS. Dr. Maria Montessori understood the importance of allowing students to move about the environment, exploring and observing with all of their senses. At the heart of each presentation was a strong focus on place-based, curricular extensions that raise ecological awareness within the child and meet their developmental needs. These types of projects encourage students to explore and connect with the natural environment, both on campus and in the larger community. At TMS, we understand the educational and recreational opportunities our earth provides us and we recognize the child’s desire to be stewards of their environment. I look forward to networking and growing with schools from around the globe as we guide future leaders, problem solvers, and upstanding global citizens.
Jessica Hagen is the Elementary Coordinator at The Montessori School. Jessica has a degree in Early Childhood Education and will graduate from Western Michigan University this fall with a degree in Child and Family. She is also pursuing her certification in outdoor and environmental education through the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education. She is passionate about place-based learning, outdoor education, hiking, biking, and photography. Jessica has been at The Montessori School since 2016.