Evergreen School Opens Pine Cone Park, a Montessori-Inspired Outdoor Play Space
Maria Montessori emphasized the importance of the natural learning environment and advocated for children to have unfettered access to the outdoors. She believed that “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” (Montessori 1982). Understanding and valuing the importance of nature and the outdoor environment, Evergreen School, in Silver Spring, MD, set out to develop a Montessori-inspired outdoor play space befitting of their school name.
Evergreen School’s Pine Cone Park officially opened in October 2021. The project was initiated as part of the school’s 2018 Strategic Plan, a component of their in-depth accreditation process with the American Montessori Society (AMS). Alongside the need to fulfill this goal as a part of the accreditation process, the school’s Board identified the playground upgrade as an important opportunity to improve children’s experience at school. It became their mission to ensure they worked with professional playground designers to ensure the space reflected their Montessori values. The project was designed not only to replace “legacy [playground] items” close to thirty years in age, but also to provide a wide range of options to allow each student to engage in play that suited their interests. Evergreen School’s new outdoor play space includes areas dedicated to sports and games, gross motor skill development, social and creative play, musical exploration, and peaceful introspection.
The playground space features all-natural equipment designed by Kompan, the Danish playground company who believes “connecting with nature and natural materials awakens children’s instincts to play and explore.” Kompan’s nature-inspired playgrounds use the finest natural materials to help inspire children to reconnect with nature in a way that is respectful of the land and its resources. Some of the children’s favorite pieces include the Lillypad Balance Steppers and the Toddler Hammock. Simone Thomas-Barrows, a Lower Elementary student, especially likes the net swing. She says, “You can go on it with your friends or you can be the one that pushes. You can choose!”
Ample space also exists for social, creative, and cooperative play. A construction zone features a water table, sand area, Robina Wood playhut, and Community Playthings Outlast blocks to inspire the children’s imaginations. Pine Cone Park’s 2,600 square-foot turf field is used for sports and games. Kimberly Sandridge, director of early childhood education, says that the new playground encourages more cooperative play. She says, “It’s fun to watch children learn to work together and organize soccer games every day. The turf field opens up so many possibilities. The new playground has a better balance between active and creative play options. I can’t believe the ingenious ideas our students come up with outside.”
A contemplative area with lots of personal significance to the school has culminated in the Rubens Ott Peace and Music Garden. John DeMarchi, head of school, says this space is the centerpiece of the project. This area features a set of Harmony Park xylophones and chimes, along with a peace pole and a contemplative garden. A Ghandi Peace Prayer memorial plaque can be found under a Redbud tree in this area, a space that teachers use with their students when practicing mindfulness and during International Peace Day activities. As a whole, the Rubens Ott Peace and Music Garden allows children to ground themselves and encourages peaceful contemplation. The space is lovingly dedicated to a former student, Rubens Ott. Rubens’ father, Larry Ott, had some beautiful words to say about Evergreen’s new playground and this special tribute to his son, “The Pine Cone Park is a remarkable development for Evergreen and we as a family are so pleased to be part of it. The Rubens Ott Peace Garden is dedicated to our son, Rubens, who passed away at the age of eight in 1985. Both he and his sister, Maria, were graduates of the Evergreen School. The Pine Cone Park greatly enhances the outdoor programs which were always favorites of our two children. At this time, particularly, we all need to be reminded of the importance of peace and the oneness of humanity, ideas enshrined in the Montessori ideals.” Mr. Ott feels confident that his son, Rubens, would have been particularly fond of the last line of Ghandi’s Prayer featured in the garden, which reads, “Let us work together for peace.”
With the development of a beautiful new playground space, Evergreen School is doing their part to foster peacefulness, community, and a connection with nature in each and every one of their students.
Montessori, Maria. 1982. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine Books.
About the Author
Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori in-home teacher and nanny, a Montessori educational consultant for the Andrew’s Institute, a Montessori educator for adult learners, and a volunteer moderator for the Montessori at Home 0 – 3 Facebook page. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a School Psychologist intern. She is AMS credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.