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Wisdom Begins with Wonder

May, 2018
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One of the key tenants of the Montessori philosophy is the connection with the natural world of the outdoors.

0j7a8829Maria Montessori in her book, To Educate the Human Potential, says that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. Such a comprehensive context enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” The child needs to build a foundation of how all things are related and how the relationship of things to one another is so close that “no matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wider universe.” Children need to hear the “voices of the rivers, the mountains, the sea, the trees, the meadows,” as well as water fountains, dirt, and all the other innumerable mysteries of the earth available to them in their native and natural locales. Maria Montessori was “green,” far before the term was ever coined. Not only did she believe in the concept of environmentalism, but she also taught children to respect the environment, learn from the environment, and be one with the environment.

Fostering an appreciation for nature is a cornerstone of Montessori teaching at MSS. The key tenets of a Montessori outdoor education at MSS are a child-led, well-prepared environment, with teachers as guide, liberty within wide parameters, intrinsic motivation and observing the child. This is a unique opportunity to infuse young children with an appreciation for enjoyment of the natural world, to connect them to nature, and to immerse them in the mysteries of the great outdoors. The outdoor spaces are a natural extension of the classroom, with harmony between indoor and outdoor learning environments. Outdoors is the ideal sensorial experience as it is where children discover the world through their senses in the most holistic way. Beyond organic development through seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting in the great outdoors, nature brings ripe lessons in botany and zoology in the most basic and pure way.

0j7a1776They learn how to use their hands in everyday endeavors focused on the earth. Respect for the environment and for each other is enhanced by group activities that require care for tools and materials, cooperation with peers and completion of tasks.

With 12,207 square meters of school grounds, the outdoor playground and garden of the Montessori School of Shanghai, Minhang Campus could well be the largest in Shanghai. As the classrooms have access to the outdoor environment, children have plenty of natural learning options. Children experience sensory activities through nature walks, and these walks are structured for children to experience patterns in nature with rocks and leaves, listening walks, texture hunts, color hunts and by collecting their finds into a basket. Students also collect litter and recyclable materials during the walk, and care for the environment around them. In a group setting, teachers talk about why it is important to dispose of waste properly and use the discussion to help them foster positive life skills.

0j7a1633The structured environment encouraged by Maria Montessori’s teachings encourages freedom of movement in a warm, inviting atmosphere where children can socialize and learn. An outdoor classroom, or one that places a strong emphasis on nature, is the perfect place for the “whole child” to thrive. 

“Nature study consists of simple, truthful observations that may, like beads on a string, finally be threaded upon the understanding and thus held together as a logical and harmonious whole.”

– Anne Botsford Comstock


By Shirani Senanayake, 

Montessori School of Shanghai, Minhang Campus Director


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