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Open spaces and a Montessori education

Conventional vs Montessori

Conventional approach:

Most schools house large numbers of students and are often located in population-dense areas. The average public elementary school in Maryland enrolls approximately 400 students. These students often share very limited space in terms of a playground and other recreational facilities. Depending on where the school is located, the surrounding area may be suburban or urban, with little to no natural environment adjacent to the campus.

In the past two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.

This shift to the indoors has profoundly affected the wellness of our nation’s kids.

Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 20 years; the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world; and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen precipitously.

Our kids are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.

Montessori approach:

Butler Montessori is sited on a beautiful, 22-acre campus on the edge of Seneca Creek State Park. This offers students the opportunity to explore, learn and play in a nature-rich environment.

Dr. Maria Montessori was an early proponent of experiential learning and considered the outdoor environment a natural extension of the classroom. The Montessori connection makes sense: Contact with nature affords opportunities for rich sensorial experiences, a vital element of Montessori learning. It also supports the whole child—body, mind and soul—and promotes respect for all living things.

Dr. Montessori’s vision for schools was always a combination of indoor and outdoor classrooms. This was a way to study the interconnectedness of all things, a way for children to be able to study math and science, nature and the universe.

Dr. Montessori had deep reverence for the natural world, and her cosmic education curriculum—which runs from the infants and toddlers through the Intermediate program at Butler Montessori—stresses the importance of grounding children in an understanding of themselves as a part of the greater universe. Dr. Montessori believed that we best develop an understanding of self when we understand the interconnectedness of all things—that true respect for self grows together with deep respect for others and for nature.

…because in real life:

An environmental-based education is essential not only for making connections between the classroom and the outside world, but also in developing a respect for nature. As nations around the globe confront the effects of climate change, extinction of plants and animals, and other environmental threats, the next generation will play a pivotal role in creating solutions for problems it will have inherited from those who came before.

Students in schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening. Research also suggests exposure to natural settings may be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms and that children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.

Outdoor play promotes children’s emotional development, creativity and social skills. It also increases fitness levels, builds healthy bodies and promotes healthy lifestyle habits.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”—Richard Louv, author, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle.