With the arrival of spring, everyone is anxious (and happy!) to spend more time outdoors. Longer daylight hours and warmer weather inspire us to break out from our winter hibernation habits and get outside for walks, early gardening, or just a bit of fresh air!
However, the Elementary students at The Montessori Children’s Academy have been enjoying the outdoors all year long. Their unique Outdoor Classroom provides them with opportunities for learning outside throughout every season and in any type of weather! It is a place where our students go to explore science, math, art, culture, and language—in essence, the Outdoor Classroom is an extension of their indoor classroom environment, as it is a place filled with a wealth of learning opportunities!
The Outdoor Classroom is the ideal environment for Science and nature studies. Botany is often a focus of study when our Elementary students visit this space. They observe the trees, leaves, and plants in their outdoor environment, making sketches and diagrams of what they see, and digging into the earth to identify root structures and the parts of plants. Students are given the opportunity to watch both the growth and deterioration of plants. They witness how plants respond to weather, pollution, animal inhabitants, and human interference in the natural world. They also identify animal tracks and listen to birdcalls, learning their unique sounds.
When discussing ecology, the Outdoor Classroom became home to a “Food Web” created by the students. As the children used yarn to create a web among the tree branches, they saw how interconnected the different parts were. When one piece of yarn from their web was removed, the entire web started to fall apart. This type of visual, hands-on learning brought home a very important lesson on how there is interdependence in a variety of aspects of their world. These nature studies promote a sense of responsibility and respect for the natural world around them.
However, nature studies are not the only studies done in this special space. The Outdoor Classroom provides learning across disciplines. Recently, as part of their Cultural studies, our MCA students were learning about the Copper Age. They brought copper to their Outdoor Classroom and hammered it to flatten it and create tools in the same manner that early civilizations might have done. The students learned that even though the copper was malleable, it was very difficult to flatten to create the shape they needed for their homemade tools. This gave them greater insight into what early civilizations dealt with when making discoveries and inventions that today’s humans take for granted.
The Outdoor Classroom is also a place for Math studies. For one particular lesson, the students learned about Pi and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter by creating a circle in the ground using their own bodies, a stick, and yarn. They had the physical space they needed to create their circumference projects, and it became a meaningful lesson as they could put the different mathematical concepts together in a very prominent manner. By learning in this way and in this space, our students remember their lessons and can make important and lasting connections.
Naturally, just as many of the world’s greatest writers have found inspiration in nature, our MCA Elementary students use their Outdoor Classroom to enhance their Language Arts curriculum to inspire their journal writing activities. They write poetry and prose pieces, personal reflections, essays, and impromptu thoughts. With so many sights and sounds surrounding them, they can capture feelings and compose descriptive passages based on what they see and hear in this natural setting. Similarly, they engage in art activities in this beautiful space, making sketches and using the natural setting as their inspiration for their artwork. This year, students learned about how clay comes from the earth, and they used it to create birds’ nests.
The learning opportunities in the Outdoor Classroom are endless. They also are an integral part of Montessori education where the whole child is addressed. Students need space, movement, and connection to the world around them, and this environment fulfills each of these needs. The Outdoor Classroom is the place where students engage in team-building activities at the beginning of the year to build a strong sense of community. It is the place where they hold their annual Peace Picnic and celebrate their friendships and relationship with nature near the year’s end. Dr. Montessori once said, “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.” Further, she commented, “The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”
Certainly, our MCA Elementary students are making connections and opening up their minds as they explore their Outdoor Classroom and their world beyond the classroom. They come to see that they are indeed citizens and caretakers of the world—part of a greater whole—and with this understanding comes the awakening of a sense of respect and responsibility for the people and things inside the classroom, outside in the Outdoor Classroom, and beyond the classroom in their world at large. Through the Outdoor Classroom experiences, students grow and begin to internalize that sense of harmony in each aspect of their lives.