Outdoorsy Montessori: 10 Reasons Your Children Need The Outdoor Classroom for Academic Growth!

JUST IN CASE YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS THAT CHILDREN CAN LEARN IN EVERY CURRICULUM AREA WHILE OUTDOORS...PLEASE READ ON TO BE REASSURED!



4 yr. old hand-washing outdoor cloths...one of my all-time favorite outdoor activities to observe!


Social Graces
A beloved curriculum component of the Montessori scheme of learning is the one called, "Grace and Courtesy" and it is one of the most important skills-building areas of life in general!

As parents and educators, we can't actually predict all the skills our young children will be needing in their future. We can, however, give them experiences that prepare them for interacting with others since we know this will always be an important component for success in life...those skills in communicating globally, collaboratively problem-solving, and brainstorming innovative ideas.

Deb Chitwood has a fabulous book on this topic as well as lots of posts at her site: Living Montessori Now: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy.

I love the little Montessori ritual of shaking hands at the door when it is time to go inside the classroom. First, the teacher is the one to shake each child's hand, then as the children grow older, there is often a child "greeter" who welcomes everyone to the class with a little hand shake and hello.

Throughout the daily time spent outdoors, children are building relationships with other living beings; the most important ones being the other children. In an Outdoor Classroom there are so many work activities that involve more than one child...and "Cooperation Makes it Happen!" (This happens to be the title of a very popular song in the early Montessori environment.)

When  preparing to fill the bird feeder, it takes 2 people to carry the step ladder over to the feeder. Likewise, it takes two to manipulate the long heavy garden hose used to water the veggies growing in the garden!

During crisp Spring mornings, there is nothing more delightful than having warm mint tea outdoors. What a delightful way to practice table manners: setting the table, inviting friends, pouring the tea, and offering lemon slices! Lots of interesting conversations occur at the morning (or afternoon) tea table! 

And of course it is ever so polite to carry your dishes over to the dishwashing area to complete the experience.





SELF CARE

We all know the importance of gaining the independence of caring for ourselves and this is always present in the Montessori Outdoor Classroom. Children who have strong self care skills are just more equipped to tackle anything in life, including learning to read, write and do number work!

In our Montessori Outdoor Classroom, children go to the basket to put on the gardening shoes necessary to do the work in the garden. Here children practice taking off and putting on shoes (don't forget the left shoe/right shoe thing, too!)
Also, there are outdoor aprons hanging for the children who will be using water, like cleaning the bird bath or watering the garden, or even hauling buckets of water to the sandbox.

And, when it's time for going back inside, there are little brushes for cleaning the sand off clothes and bigger brushes for cleaning shoes, too.

If you provide fun drama play outdoors with firefighter and space suits , the children get lots of practice fastening and unfastening and hanging up the suits after use.

Of course, adding special activities like clothes washing, can offer children a number of experiences for building skills in self care...well, washing and wringing out cloths by hand for one! And, then there's the hanging up of the washed items (clothespins are great for the pincer grasp) and later in the day, the children can fold and put away the washed items that are all clean & dry! 





CARE OF ENVIRONMENT
Of course, we all know how much young children love to maintain the Montessori Outdoor Classroom environment. Give a child a scrub brush and there's no end to the cleaning that will happen! Not to mention raking, sweeping and litter picking with child size tools for the task at hand.

The step-by-step process involved in the outdoor classroom practical maintenance chores strengthens the child's abilities in all academic areas.

And, what child doesn't clamor to wash the windows with a child size squeegee? They'll do it over and over and over again!




PREPARING THE HAND FOR WRITING
Every time I set up clothes washing for the children, I remember how much it helps prepare their little hands and fingers for writing! Wringing out the clothes with a partner is such great fun, too!

When it comes to strengthening the muscles of the fingers and hand, the Montessori Outdoor Classroom offers an infinite array of opportunities to practice using those muscles. 

There is the fun of poking nesting materials into the nesting ring for the wild birds. Then, there's twisting and turning the water faucet handle. There's squeezing spray bottles for scrubbing lots of things.  And, everyone loves using tweezers to remove kernels from the cobs of Autumn corn that can then be ground and fed to the wild birds.  




READING AND WRITING
Now that those finger and hand muscles have been strengthened, there are some fabulous writing  (and reading) activities that occur in the Montessori Outdoor Classroom!

Every child needs to write (or draw) things in the nature journal. Little ones love to record the date, the weather, what birds were sighted, how much rainfall there was, and lots of other things that happened in the outdoor environment. 

One of the activities the children have requested everyday is the sign-making tray. They can write messages on these heavy plastic signs and then hang them around the Outdoor Classroom. The 4 and 5 yr olds have made signs that read:
"The bridge must be swept"
"No cats allowed"
"This basket is for the balls"
and even labels for the toy bins ("Buckets" ..."Trucks"..."Balls", etc)
Then, of course, the others have to READ the signs!

As a Montessori teacher, I've also enjoyed creating activities that require reading on the part of the children. Things like the recipe for mixing bird seed for the bird feeders, or signs for identifying the plants in the garden, and even Montessori-style "Command Cards" that say things like: 
"Jump five times"
" Hop on one foot"
" Walk backwards 3 steps"
The list goes on!





EYE, HAND, BODY COORDINATION
After you've decided to grind the garden mint and prepare tea, someone needs to slice the lemons. (talk about eye-hand coordination!)

Of course, the outdoors is the place to get fresh air, exercise and practice using those large muscles required for digging with a shovel, hauling with a wheelbarrow, swinging in the swing, and placing stepping stones in the garden. (just to mention a FEW!)

We are all aware that staying physically fit keeps the mind fit as well. From the U.S. Institute of Health, I found this important information in an article Physical Activity and the Healthy Mind.            
"The allocation of curricular time to physical education does not hamper academic achievement. Rather, through its impact on psychomotor learning, it enhances the total process of intellectual and psychomotor development." (U.S. Library of Medicine) 

Children also get plenty of opportunities to build hand-eye coordination with closer work, like painting at the fence, or filling the watering can and the lovely work of twisting the handle of the bird call!




MATHEMATICAL THINKING
The math materials in the Montessori environment are often  applauded since they are so extensive, colorful, inviting and always HANDS-ON! Likewise, the Outdoor Classroom contains many important aspects of mathematical development that occur naturally and always involve hands-on exploring. 

Children like to check on the day's temperature and this of course, requires reading the numbers on the thermometer. And, when it comes to measuring rainfall, little ones really love checking the rain gauge. The large rain gauges pictured below measure up to 5 inches of rain. This is perfect since we then have to put up a second gauge when the first one is full and then the children have to perform the operation of addition!

When starting seeds to plant in the garden, there is a fun one-to-one correspondence activity that gets your hands in the dirt. (What could be more hands-on!) 

If you've been preparing warm tea for that cool Spring morning, you will need a timer to set for the four minutes required to brew the tea. Yet more number/quantity/counting for the children to do in the Montessori Outdoor Classroom!

Clay pots bring some of the most fun activities to the Outdoor Classroom. They need to be scrubbed clean for the next planting, as well as lined up to decide which new plant will fit in which size pot (seriating!)

Once again, the measuring involved in preparing bird seed sets the mathematical wheels turning in the young child's brain, too!




ENGINEERING AND SCIENTIFIC  EXPLORATION
Adding water to the sand box is very exciting for young children and there are plenty of reasons why! Water changes the sand into a moldable substance. Add tubing, funnels, cups, shovels and you just might see children creating the Montessori Land Forms: lakes, islands, isthmus, strait, even volcanoes, bridges, and roads. Infrastructure that comprises the skills of engineering, problem-solving, and scientific investigation, all occur in the children's sandbox!

One year we had to create a new vegetable garden and the children helped design it with stepping stones that divided the little garden beds. They also figured out where to plant the peas since they needed to climb up the fence and where to plant the marigolds that needed to go around the beds to deter bugs. We even had to insert a little copper barrier around each bed to keep out the many snails that invaded and so later, the children enjoyed making a Montessori booklet called, "The Parts of the Snail."

I also like to offer activities like smashing colored sidewalk chalk to make into sidewalk paints and creating art with frozen paints, ice sculptures with ice and coarse salt, and making mud pies, so that the children can gain an understanding of the physical sciences.




USING TOOLS

What young child doesn't greatly enjoy using real tools that are age appropriate and useful to the Montessori Outdoor Classroom? From binoculars, to wheelbarrows, to magnifying glasses, to garden spades, hammers, nails and a tree stump!

Learning to care for and use tools is an integral part of life: the skilled artisan's work, the scientific laboratory, the engineer's drafting table...the list goes on!

One of the all-time favorites has been a rubber hammer that I set up to crush aluminum cans for recycling. This activity is very satisfying for the child and wearing safety goggles is another tool that is greatly enjoyed, as well.




NATURAL HISTORY, BOTANY, AND ZOOLOGY
The "purist" in me always desires to have a Montessori children's garden full of delicious edible plants and flowers AND an animal pet to represent the 5 divisions of the vertebrate Animal kingdom. (fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal) 

As well, the Montessori Outdoor Classroom easily lends itself to the study of the Invertebrate animals: insects, worms, snails, and even spiders that come to visit the plants in the garden. 

Usually, I like to leave the bird category to wild birds who come to dine and bathe in the Montessori Outdoor Classroom bird habitat. And, often there is a gold fish, a turtle, and always a mammal in the early childhood classrooms I have facilitated.

My favorite classroom pet is the Guinea Pig. These are animals a child can cuddle, brush, give a bath, and of course, feed. Children love to gather greens to feed to the Guinea Pig and so the botany experiences of the garden work in partnership with the zoology studies of the classroom pet! 

Also, the Worm Composter in the garden is of great interest to little ones who love to bring food scraps to feed the worms along with using the "worm tea" fertilizer to enrich the soil in the children's garden. These interconnections are very important for the young child's cognitive development as well as nurturing instincts.

The various habitats that are set up in the Montessori Outdoor Classroom require lots of hands-on care and maintenance on the part of the children. There's the butterfly garden, the hummingbird feeders, nesting rings, and of course the wild bird station with feeders and a bird bath. 

Children observe the creatures in the Outdoor Classroom using binoculars, a magnifying glass, and just plain getting down and dirty on the ground. 

Supplying identification guides with photos (as opposed to drawings) gives the little ones the resources to explore the natural history of the area where they happen to live on our beautiful planet.

And, when harvest time comes around, eating corn fresh from the Children's garden makes the feast that much more enjoyable!     



BONUS BENEFIT!
APPRECIATION OF THE BEAUTY IN NATURE

You've just gotta love this photo of a 4 yr old who sat down to enjoy the beauty of the Spring day after working hard in the Children's garden that morning!

It doesn't take that much effort to nurture the spirit of young ones who are having a wonderful time in the 
out-of-doors. However, I myself greatly enjoy "celebrating" with gifts to hang on the tree nicknamed "sister tree" by the children. 

Then there's the fun of bringing instruments outside for a marching band parade all around the playground on Independence day. 

What child can resist celebrating the rain with boots, puddles, rain paintings and monitoring the rain gauge! 

And, the fragrant flowers from the garden make lovely gifts for mom and teacher (and dad, grandparents, even new baby brothers, too!)


I am so delighted to have you visiting my blog and I hope this post gives you lots of information and ideas about the academic significance of the Montessori Outdoor Classroom!

This article is part of a link-up!
You can read more articles from Montessori educators world wide, at the Living Montessori Now Link-up by clicking here: Montessori Monday.  

There are lots more posts about all the above topics in the OUTDOOR CLASSROOM SECTION of this blog. Just click here or go to the header and click "Outdoors."

I write Montessori-related articles weekly on the topics of Music, Art, and Outdoor Classroom. And, I often send special offers to my subscribers! 

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