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.”


Nurturing a Lifelong Learner

Lifelong learning is jargon that has been floating around the educational world in recent years. But what exactly does a lifelong learner look like? The Montessori method provides the framework of the ideal habits of learning – habits that will sustain students the rest of their lives. Surprisingly, the phrase “lifelong learning” has roots not in the educational world, but as jargon from the 1970’s that was popularized in European intergovernmental agencies in the 1990’s. Europe was seeking to change educational policies to create a stronger global economy. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, governments around the world adopted this platform to make education a priority.

So what does a “lifelong learner” look like in a Montessori environment? We believe that constant self-improvement and pursuit of passions is a natural human tendency that begins at birth. If fostered, this urge never goes away. We witness the child who engages in play outside with his friends, peace conversations between two students with opposing views, and the sense of confidence as the students share their research. We believe parents are the best role models for their children. To encourage the development of this quality in your child, it is important to demonstrate what lifelong learning looks like.

Lifelong learners:

Challenge Their Minds
Regularly reading, writing, and completing puzzles keeps the mind engaged
Exercise Their Bodies

Habits of fitness lead to positive self-image, and building core strength increases ability to focus and concentrate.
Stay Socially Connected

Interacting with family, friends, or volunteer improves communication skills and ability to work together with others
Stay In School
Take classes in areas you love (sewing class, programming class, yoga)
Are Confident

Those who can control their feelings, control their choices
Manage Stress
Stay as calm and positive as possible in all situations