First Steps in Nature
You’ve seen your child’s first faltering steps explode into an irresistible urge to walk, run, climb, and explore at every opportunity. Why? Nature instills these drives in a child because such experiences are the “exercise” that the mind and body need to develop to their full potential.
Just as Montessori education offers young children an environment prepared for their optimal social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development, parents, too, can use the Montessori model as the basis for a home life that supports exploration and growth. A daily walk in nature, at the child’s pace, is a perfect starting place. Winter in Phoenix offers the ideal climate for this exploration.
A Montessori nature walk doesn’t have to be a long walk. Nor does it have to involve an exotic destination. It can simply be a meander in the courtyard of your apartment complex, a loop around your backyard, or a jaunt to the mailbox and back. What counts is not the number of steps, but the attention paid along the way. The more you and your child explore together and deeply observe the spaces of your everyday life, the more wonder you’ll both discover.
Why Nature Walks?
As we shared in a previous blog post, Montessori education emphasizes learning in, through, and from nature because of the wealth of growth opportunities the natural world offers:
- Large/gross motor skills: climbing, balancing, stepping over obstacles
- Small/fine motor skills: using a pincer grasp to pick up a pebble or shell, a firm grip to carry a twig
- Independence: the freedom to move and explore
- Self-confidence: an “I can do it” attitude born out of real accomplishments
- STEM skills: observing, record keeping, quantifying
- Attention: focusing, watching, and listening
- Self-discipline: handling delicate objects carefully
- Vocabulary and conversation skills with adults and peers
- Parent-child bonding over the joy of learning and discovery
Nature Connections for Parent and Child
It’s important to talk with your child during your Montessori nature walk—talk about the changes that happen with the seasons, about the names and lives of the plants, animals, and insects you encounter. Of course, that means you have to learn these things yourself—but don’t sign up for the nearest Botany 101 course! Learn alongside your child.
From the wide variety of high-quality nature-themed books that exist for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, choose those with photos or lifelike drawings as well as engaging, real-life facts. Don’t shy away from “big” vocabulary—complicated words fascinate a young child. That fascination will later morph into a love of reading and writing. Enjoy nature poetry and songs together, too, such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
As important as conversation is, sometimes it’s just as vital to listen. Try challenging your little one to stay silent for a bit—starting with a few seconds, and then gradually longer periods—carefully listening to the sounds of nature. Bird calls, the swish of leaves in the wind, the burbling of a nearby stream. Use websites or audio apps to learn the calls of birds that frequent your neighborhood. Then listen for them on your walks.
|What to Take Along on a Montessori Nature Walk|
· Localized bird, tree, wildflower, and insect guidebooks for your home area as well as places your family visits
· Child-size binoculars
· Bug-catching kit with magnifier, “bug house,” net, and so on
· Little bag or backpack for “treasures” to bring home—acorns, fallen leaves, small stones. Model good stewardship by teaching children not to pick living plants or disturb natural or human-made environments.
· Nature log book for drawings and writings
· Sunscreen, drinking water, and maybe a snack
Looking and listening are just the beginning of the sensory explorations a Montessori nature walk offers. As you know, learning through the senses is a foundation of Montessori education. Show your child how to safely and respectfully touch and sniff the plants you encounter each day.
Montessori Education: Not Just in the Classroom
In her book The Discovery of the Child, Maria Montessori called the child “the greatest spontaneous observer of nature.” Nature is both the giver and the object of the young child’s exceptional powers of observation, as well as the unique urges to grow, move, and explore that blossom at this age. The Montessori model offers parents a framework for supporting their children’s optimal development in an atmosphere of joy and harmony.
Copyright 2021 Montessori Center School, Phoenix