Tag Archives: culture

Thinking “Outside the Box” in the Outdoor Classroom

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.

Pennies for Peace 2015-2016

By: Camilla Nichols-Uhler, Hannah Ferris, and Alex Chiu

Since September, MCA students have been raising funds for Pennies for Peace, a “service learning program that brings cultural and philanthropic education to students and educators all over the world”.  Each campus recently totaled its pennies, with the help of our math-savvy students, and now plans to send the contributions on to assist children at schools throughout Asia.  Read on to learn how many pennies our MCA students counted, resulting in a significant contribution to this very worthy cause!

Program Overview

Pennies for Peace is part of the educational component of the Central Asia Institute (CAI).  CAI is an international development organization that works with communities to improve access to education in Asia.  The CAI believes that education can alleviate poverty and reduce conflict.

Pennies for Peace is a fundraising program designed specifically for children, and its philosophy of “students helping students” is relatable even to preschoolers.  MCA students, whose capacities for compassion find their foundation in the Montessori Philosophy, have taken ownership of this yearlong project.  The children collected pennies from home and then brainstormed additional ways to engage the community to help them with their fundraising efforts.

Through their classroom Cultural studies, the children have learned a great deal about the state of education in certain areas of Asia.  And perhaps of more significance, they have also come to understand the importance of sharing some of what they have with others who are less fortunate.  When the MCA students discovered that just a few pennies could buy school supplies like notebooks and pencils for children in these far-away communities, they realized that many pennies could do even more.  They wondered if they could work toward collecting enough pennies to build an entire school.

Connecting Curriculum with a Cause

The Pennies for Peace program ties in nicely with the Montessori Culture and Science curriculum. Over the course of the year, MCA students have learned a lot about life in the more educationally deprived areas of Asia.  For example:

  • In many communities, the need for children to work on family farms often prevents them from going to school;
  • Often the physical terrain is very difficult to travel, and many children cannot get to schools in larger villages because roads through the Himalaya Mountain Range are dangerous;
  • Cultures place an emphasis on boys’ education at the expense of girls’ education. In some areas, only 12% of girls can read.
  • The culture in countries is very different from that in the United States: many families move from place to place based on the seasons to farm, they celebrate different holidays, and they eat different types of food.

In addition, participation in Pennies for Peace relates to the Montessori Peace curriculum, which aims to teach children how people working together peacefully can make the world a better place for everyone.  The Pennies for Peace program also taught the MCA students about organizing their efforts for a good cause.  They learned the process of brainstorming ideas, developing a plan for collections, and then putting that plan into action.  All of these efforts resulted in building their understanding that working together towards a common goal is hard work, but that it reaps wonderful results and is well worth it!

MCA Students and Families Take Initiative

At first, the children came to school with handfuls pennies that they found around their homes.  The sound of the pennies clinking as they were dropped into the collection jars was music to the children’s ears.  As the number of pennies in the jar grew, so did the enthusiasm and creativity of our students, leading some of our students and families to go beyond dropping their pocket change in the classroom penny jars.  We are extremely grateful to everyone for supporting this schoolwide project, and we wanted to recognize a few for their extra special effort:

  • One of our students took advantage of the warm autumn weather and sold lemonade to his neighbors. He accepted payment only in pennies and explained to his customers that the lemonade proceeds would benefit MCA’s Pennies for Peace  He collected thousands of pennies in one afternoon!


  • Back in December, on an unseasonably sunny and warm Saturday, one family spearheaded a community fundraiser with the help of our friends at Café Beethoven in Chatham. Their children and friends from MCA created posters illustrating facts about the project and shared their knowledge about the countries they studied through the program with passersby.  Many kindly donated their coffee change after learning about the project.  This group of friends raised a total of $270 at the Saturday morning Café Beethoven fundraiser.

Cafe Beethoven

  • Recently, our MCA Elementary students sent a letter to the Short Hills Director, Mrs. Amy Hidalgo, and our Elementary Director/Senior Director, Mrs. Jeanine Christiana, pitching an idea for yet another Pennies for Peace In this letter, they asked permission to host a car wash before the end of the school year.  They explained in the letter:

E letter

Bragging Rights

The students at MCA are growing in their sense of responsibility as citizens of a global community through their involvement with the Pennies for Peace project.  As part of the Pennies for Peace philosophy, MCA students have helped spread the word about the project to other Montessori schools in the Tri-State Area, including sharing information about their participation with their pen pals at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School.  Our students recently found out that their friends at Brooklyn Heights are also in the process of totaling their pennies.  They realize that together they are making a difference!

Across our three campuses in Morristown, Chatham, and Short Hills, the MCA community has raised a grand total of $1,081.43 so far this year for Pennies for Peace.  That’s a lot of pennies… 108,143 to be exact!  Our Elementary students are currently working on a Math project to determine exactly how many school supplies this $1,081.43 can purchase for their friends on the other side of the globe.  Perhaps they will not build an entire school, but they are well on their way to building enormous positive changes in the lives of children in Asia who will benefit from their hard work this year.

We are incredibly proud of our students for sharing information about Pennies for Peace with their families, their Montessori counterparts at other schools, and their communities.  And we want to sincerely thank all of the parents, staff members, and community members from Chatham, Morristown, and Short Hills who contributed their pennies and their time to our various projects this year.

For more information about the Pennies for Peace program, please visit their website http://www.penniesforpeace.org.





References for this post:

“Pennies for Peace – a Free Service Learning Program.” Pennies for Peace. Central Asia Institute, Oct. 2015. Web. 10 May 2016.