The Importance of the Outdoor Classroom

We impart a huge “thank you” and express our deepest gratitude to the FMS PTO, Park Landscaping, and all the families who participated in the 5K fundraiser in April 2014 that made the renovation of the outdoor classroom possible!

The Montessori outdoor classroom is an extension of the indoor classroom and offers students the opportunity to experience firsthand; the beauty, wonder and mystery of the natural world. At Foothills Montessori School, the outside classroom is available to each of the Primary children on a daily basis. During our work cycles, small groups of students from each of the four Primary classrooms rotate to spend time in the outside classroom. Many of the “jobs” set up outside offer the children the opportunity to delve deeper into the insect world, by using magnifying glasses to look closely at bugs, and then to look at books nearby that reference interesting features and facts about bugs. A brand new greenhouse will anchor the outside classroom experience by providing the children opportunities to work with soil and plants and immerse themselves in the growing cycles of flowers and vegetables.

The impact of an outdoor classroom on the children is both immediate and long term. During the work cycle it offers the students a chance to relax, to let go, be exposed to the fresh air, sunshine and the many birds and insects who visit the space. It also gives students from four different classes the opportunity to interact with each other as they explore the garden with hand held magnifying glasses, painting pictures using a standing easel, manipulating puzzles, manipulating blocks, and experimenting in the ever popular water table. All the while, grace and courtesy lessons are being directly applied to their interactions and the ever important lesson of sharing is always in play. Even the direction of leaving the outdoor classroom to return to their Primary classroom is a powerful lesson in compliance.

The long term impact of exposing our students to the wonder and mystery of nature is profound. We’ve seen over the past ten years a decrease in time children are spending outdoors and an increase of time children are entertaining themselves with technology and media. It is a shift from the spontaneity of making up games and “hanging out” outside with small groups of children to a more solitary and more predictable environment. Technology has its place and function in our children’s lives, but the creativity and variety of an outdoor experience cannot be replaced with a reality experienced in front of a screen.

Recent research has raised concerns about children’s lack of exposure to the natural world and the ramifications both to the individual child and to the collective society overall. “Lost Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Order” by Richard Louv, points out “that for a new generation, nature is more an abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.” Furthermore, Louv points out “as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow physiologically and psychologically and this reduces the richness of human experience.”

At Foothills Montessori School, we are committed to creating an outdoor space infused with the beauty and variety of nature Our veteran teacher Ms. Val (Lead Teacher for the Outdoor Classroom) so aptly states, “As a teacher, I take my observations of learning from my students, as they explore the unpredictable and immensely, ever changing experience of the outdoor classroom. Together we embrace the elements and are inspired by nature and its ongoing life lessons it so generously imparts. It lifts my spirit to provide this opportunity for our students.” Richard Louv concurs with this sentiment as he says “spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and that one of the first windows to the wonder is the natural world.”


Practical Life – Part 3

Today we’re pulling from our archives for finish out our series on Practical Life.

One important aspect of the Practical Life environment is that all the materials used are real life life objects. Maria Montessori was a great believer in the “reality” principle – objects and tasks should reflect real life, with instruments adapted to a child’s size and potentiality. The Practical Life activities are naturally interesting exercises for the child since they are activities he/she seen grown-ups do.

The sequencing for Practical Life begins with scooping and spooning, rolling and folding, twisting, squeezing, grasping and controlling, stringing and lacing, pounding and pushing, care of the self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and ending with food preparation. Materials are sequenced according to the following progressions: using hands to use tools, large to small, left to right, top to bottom, gross motor to fine motor, no transfer to transfer, two handed to one handed to two handed in opposition, size and shape of medium used, dry materials to liquid, simple activities to complex, few materials to many short activities to long, skills in isolation to skills in combinations.

Children benefit from all aspects of Practical Life environment. They learn the direct aims of independence, concentration, coordination, and order, as well as the indirect aims of the actual skills being practiced. Practical Life is the foundation of the Montessori classroom and enables the child to become a well-adjusted individual.

Practical Life – Part 2

Today we continue our series exploring the Practical Life area of the Montessori classroom, focusing in this post on the ways in which Practical Life skills benefit other curriculum areas. 

Many of the exercises in the Practical Life area are preparation exercises of Sensorial works. The exercises help to fine tune the development of the child’s senses. Many uses of the five senses occur in the Practical Life area: sound, sight, and touch are used in equipment-bases activities, such as bean scooping; smelling and tasting are involved in the preparation of food.

Practical Life not only develops the child’s senses and teaches real life skills, but sets the basic foundation for other areas to come. For example, understanding size, weight, and equal distribution are skills which are vital when the child is introduced to the Math area of the classroom.

Perhaps the most significant is the development of the pincer grip, which allows the child to correctly grip a pencil and begin working in the Language area.

Practical Life – Part 1

We’re pulling from our archives for this helpful series on Practical Life.

In a Montessori classroom the Practical Life area is one of the first areas that a child explores. This section of the classroom provides the child with real-life materials that help to develop coordination, concentration, independence, and order.

Through the exercises of Practical Life, the child learns the skills that enable him to become an independent being. From birth, the child is striving for independence. As concerned adults, parents, and teachers, we should help him on his path by showing him the skills he needs to achieve this end.

Having been shown a skill, the child then needs freedom to practice and to perfect. In a Montessori classroom preschool children learn basic motor skills in the Practical Life area by teaching themselves and learning from other children rather than by specific adult instruction. As the child becomes absorbed in an interesting activity  he develops concentration. If the activity is appropriate and meets a need, it will be interesting for the child. The longer the child is absorbed by an activity the better for the development of concentration.

Through activity, the child learns to control his movements. The idea that the path to intellectual development occurs through the hands is a major theme in the Montessori Method. The exercises of Practical Life provide opportunities for the development of both gross motor and fine motor movements.

In addition, the child learns to keep the environment in a clean and ordered way, putting everything away in its right place. He is taught to approach new tasks in an ordered way, to carry it out carefully, to complete the activity, and finally, how to clean up and put the materials way. Engaging in this complete process encourages logical thinking.

Teaching Kids to Recognize and Label Their Emotions

Has your child ever been upset but didn’t have the vocabulary to describe his feelings? Want to help your children communicate with each other more clearly? This tutorial shows how you and your children can create a great “Emotions Book” together that will help your children recognize and label their emotions for better communication.

Ringing in the New School Year!

The new school year is off to a great start! We want to focus on having a great start to every morning this school year. These tips from Middleburg Montessori School in Middleburg, Virginia offer fantastic advice on ensuring that your children are set up for a wonderful successful day.

Have a BEAUTIFUL day!

What’s a Normal Daily Menu?

Today we are pulling from our archives to learn more about how to fill our preschoolers with good nutritional food. 

“My child isn’t eating,” is a common statement from parents of three-year-olds. At the end of a school day, parents are often surprised that the lunch they so lovingly prepared is barely touched. When teachers are asked, they often say they encouraged the child to eat but the chip simply was not hungry. So, what’s a parent to do?

One thing to consider is the amount of water the child has consumed during the day. Water is readily available in the classroom and on the playground. Children are encouraged especially on hot days to drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration. This high water consumption keeps them hydrated but also decreases their appetite.

Another factor in food intake can be distraction. During the third year of life, preschoolers are very active and mobile. Often at lunchtime, they are socializing with their friends, looking around the room – seemingly focusing on everything except eating.

Their appetite also begins to fluctuate greatly. Sometimes they get stuck on one food. These “only eating chicken nuggets” moments usually don’t last long if you don’t accommodate them. We recommend that you continue to serve a wide variety of nutritious foods.

A healthy child is most important. Speak with your child’s teacher about what foods are successful with other children. Many children like items that are easy to manage: finger foods, enriched drinks, and yogurts, for example. If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits, please contact your pediatrician.

Super Kids Nutrition, a nutrition education and healthy eating website for parents and kids, offers this Sample Daily Menu for the average Three-Year-Old child. This menu provides a good understanding of basic needs – often smaller in size than parents expect, though rich in nutrients – within the framework of your particular family’s preferences and appetites.

Benefits of a Montessori Environment

As we all get back into the rhythm of the new school year we are pulling from our archives to dive into some of the basics of Montessori. Today we are looking at the benefits of a Montessori environment. 

How does the Montessori method provide the most optimal environment for the development of the child?

• Montessori teachers are trained to have a clear understanding of attachment, exploration, self-help skills, empowerment, pro-social skills, problem solving skills, self-esteem, and resiliency.

• The Montessori method individualizes learning through children’s interactions with the materials as they proceed at their own rates of mastery.

• Individualized instruction provides opportunities for development of many skills, such as physical coordination, perception, attention, memory, language, logical thinking, and imagination.

• Multi-aged Montessori classroom (children are with their classmates and teacher for a three year span) provides a continuity of care, fostering attachments and promoting trust.

• Children learn virtue, empathy and kindness through social and emotional guidance during group meetings and through grace and courtesy lessons.

• Montessori materials are designed to foster concentration, coordination, independence, order, and a respect for all living things.

• Children in a Montessori environment are active learners and are productively engaged throughout their work time.

• Montessori lessons are designed to make the most of the critical early years for learning linguistically, cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically.

A Philosophy of a Montessori Classroom

The following post is by Jessica Stellato, Lower Elementary Lead in the Galaxy Room at Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs in Cumming, Georgia. She shares a big-picture look at the philosophy behind the Montessori classroom experience.

Often parents wonder:

What is Montessori?

What is my child going to learn in a Montessori classroom?

Is there really a difference between a traditional classroom versus a

Montessori classroom?

I hope to give you a concise explanation of what an authentic Montessori program should entail for your child.

The Montessori method and philosophy is based on teaching to the whole child and encouraging independence beginning at a very early age. Children want to do for themselves. Maria Montessori stated, “Do not do for the child for what they can do for themselves.” Montessori students learn to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly – a skill set needed for the 21st century.

An authentic Montessori classroom will have a certified Guide (teacher) and an assistant. Some classes may have two certified Guides. A typical class will have mixed ages: Toddler 0-3 years, Primary 3-6 years, Lower Elementary 6-9 years, Upper Elementary 9-12 years (some schools join Lower and Upper, making it a 6-12 year old classroom), and Middle School 12-14 years. There are also a few Montessori High Schools, with students ranging from 14-18 years old.

A Montessori child will experience an uninterrupted work cycle, preferably 3 hours long in the morning. This is a sacred and cherished time in the classroom. The children have freedom of movement and choice; however, these choices are within limits.

Throughout the Montessori school experience, each child is valued as a unique individual, with respect of the child being of great importance. Beginning at an early age, Montessori students develop order, coordination, concentration, and independence to think for themselves. Students are part of a close community of caring teachers and classmates. Students are continually encouraged to learn through their personal interests, creating an individual who loves to learn throughout his life. In addition, self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of a Montessori classroom, allowing the child to know that it is acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them. This approach not only not eliminates a fear of failure, but builds self-esteem, which is vital in the development of a child.

If you are interested in learning more about the Montessori philosophy, please visit the American Montessori Society online or the Montessori Education page on Wikipedia.

A Day In Our Lives


The Montessori classroom is a “living room” for children, self-correcting lessons are displayed on the shelves awaiting them. The environment’s purpose is to unify the psycho-social, academic, and physical development of the child. As guides, our purpose is to provide children with a solid foundation that includes positive self-image of oneself and school, security, sense of order, curiosity, and persistence. This foundation will help the child become self-disciplined, and have a sense of responsibility to others.

We have parents who observe our classrooms and wonders, “How does the teacher manage the students?” What a wonderful questions. The answer is, “The guide designs an environment that allows each student to engage in what interests them.” The student in a Montessori classroom becomes engaged and involved in their community. Respect is the foundation from which great world stems. The environment works so well because the children have respect for themselves, each other, and their materials.