Guided Explorations and Chance Opportunities in Nature

Pyle (1993, p. 145) expresses a deep concern about the limited amount of time children spend outdoors describing this reduction as ‘the extinction of experiences.’ Children, especially young children, are sensory learners. Yes, much about nature can be described in books but those descriptions fall short of experiencing the real thing. Consider an incredible sunset, a lunar eclipse, the taste of a wild strawberry or hearing a gaggle of geese overhead during their migration. The real experience far exceeds any description even poets can offer.

Endeavor Montessori promotes guided explorations in the natural world whenever possible. These explorations may be aimed at learning specific science content (plant and animal biology, geology, habitats, astronomy, physics, etc.). Explorations could have more to do with geography (cartography, terrain, hydrology etc.) or sociology (animal social behaviors, outdoor occupations, community planning etc.). Nature is also a fantastic place to study math. Geometry, arithmetic, patterns, symmetry and measurement are readily utilized to understand and describe the natural world.

Since reading comprehension is strongly linked to vocabulary and experiences, time outdoors is ideal for supporting the development of strong readers, especially when adults are on hand to offer a plethora of words to describe the experiences children are having. The outdoors is often the best location for physical education and nature is a primary inspiration for much artistic expression, including music.

During unstructured outdoor play and guided explorations, chance opportunities to delight in nature present themselves. Children may notice shadows (optics), find pieces of a robin’s egg (biology), notice that a portion of the outdoor learning environment is made of clay while another area has dirt (earth science) or find themselves fascinated by a ghost moon (astronomy). These chance opportunities are gold for Montessori teachers as they provide inspiration for unplanned but valuable lessons and projects.

Tinkering Outdoors

One thing that sets Endeavor Montessori apart from other schools is the opportunity children have to engage in tinkering outdoors (and indoors too!). Tinkering offers children dynamic STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning. Tinkering involves providing children with a variety of loose part materials that they can use to build endless creations. Children have used planks and tubes to make ramps and pathways for balls or trucks (physics and engineering); cardboard or boards to make buildings (engineering and math); ropes, tarps and poles to make tents (engineering and math); and a variety of materials to craft simple machines (technology, math and engineering).

Most children do not consider their creations to be complete until they have taken the time to decorate them (art). These types of projects are well suited for the outdoors because the open space makes large scale creation possible. Often, it is the natural world that inspires the creations. For example, children may create a hotel for ants, an amusement park for birds (see Reggio Children), or a boat for adventures.