White Rock Montessori’s Unique Approach to Environmental Education
Children have an innate desire to make sense of their world. They crave real-life experiences that allow them to understand the universe and their place within it. Providing children with these opportunities to learn about, and exist within, the natural world is paramount to their intellectual, physical, and social-emotional development. As Maria Montessori said, “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 believed so deeply in the power of a child’s connection to nature and its capability to promote learning that she advocated for unfettered access to the outdoors.
White Rock Montessori (WRM) seeks to follow Montessori’s lead as they provide their Upper Elementary students with a unique opportunity for environmental education. WRM has been offering their students a highly engaging environmental experience through the Nature’s Classroom Institute (NCI) program. Courtney Hodges, communications coordinator at WRM, feels that the immersive environmental program provided to students “promotes developing and nurturing future stewards of the planet.”
Sadly, as a result of the pandemic, Upper Elementary students at WRM had not been able to participate in this unique environmental education program for the past two years. In an effort to ensure these students were given the opportunity to benefit from such immersive engagement, WRM made special arrangements for an on-campus experience. Sitting on 4.5 acres of wooded land with access to a creek that runs behind the property, WRM’s location is ideal for allowing students to engage in environmental education experiences including learning how to find food, build a fire, and extract water from plants.
WRM staff and students found great value in the engaging experiences right in their own backyard. Students reported that they enjoyed learning things about their school’s environment that they never knew before. Sixth year student, Luna, said she enjoyed learning how to make a fire because it helped her get over her fear of matches. Ella, another sixth year student said, “I really enjoyed the different types of simulations.”
Jane Brass, one of WRM’s Upper Elementary classroom guides, finds that the environmental education program “offers a variety of ways for students to connect with the natural world and think about the way people interact with nature and each other.” She believes that “when a child is in nature, they are surrounded by the very concepts they have, are, or will study [providing them] an extraordinary sensory experience.” Another one of WRM’s Upper Elementary teachers, Regina Swerts, feels that the program has allowed students to “form closer bonds with each other, [develop] a greater appreciation for wildlife and plants, and develop leadership skills.”
It is impossible to overlook Maria Montessori’s emphasis on the importance of nature for a child’s learning and development. The engaging environmental education experiences provided to Upper Elementary students at WRM through NCI and other programming are sure to make a lifelong impact. When looking to implement unique learning opportunities for students like those at WRM, remember, as Montessori said, “The best way of invigorating a child is to immerse him in nature.”
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.