The Absorbent Mind, p. 92.
When we think of the Montessori environment, we think of a well-prepared environment that maximizes both exploration and independent learning. The world of the child is full of movement, and we prepare the environment with beautiful materials that facilitate growth and foster peace while keeping up with the busy and active bodies and brains of young children.
Many Montessorians have two prepared environments; one that is indoors and one that is outdoors. There are scheduled times to be in each environment, with the 3-hour morning work cycle occurring primarily indoors. However, what if there was no delineation between the two? What if children had the complete freedom to choose and move between the indoor and outdoor environment as part of their work cycle? What if, instead of two prepared environments, there became just one larger environment?
One Indoor/Outdoor, Free Flowing Montessori Environment
I can see some of you shaking your head… what about the weather? And supervision? And what happens to work time? What about the child that never wants to come inside? At first, it seems like an obstacle that is too large to overcome. It is not enough to think outside the classroom; this needs a whole paradigm shift.
Have you ever sat back and watched your class hard at work and suddenly looked at the clock and realized, “It is time to go outside.” You ring your chime to get the children to clean up and suddenly, the moment of concentration and hard work are lost. Or what about the child who comes to you during the morning work cycle and wants to garden, only to be told that he needs to wait until it is time to go outside?
Removing the separation between indoors and outdoors allows children to freely and naturally follow their own desires.
Dr. Montessori described the ideal environment as having an indoor space with an adjoining garden, believing that depriving children (and also adults) of natural experiences is damaging to their soul. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, believes that not only does nature promote a healthy lifestyle, it also boosts mental acuity and creativity while strengthening relationships.
Creating a free flowing environment can present some challenges, but there are always solutions:
WeatherNorway places a strong emphasis on outdoor play, no matter what the weather – rain, sleet, snow, and ice. Norwegians believe that “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Having good outdoor clothing is just part of the prepared environment.
Staying outsideWhat about the child who does not want to come inside? Would you ask the same question if it were a child who refused to go outside? Ask yourself; is this really a bad situation? It may be inconvenient for the adults, but rest assured, it is satisfying for the child. This is the sensitive period they are in and we must respect that. The real question becomes, are they genuinely and productively working, no matter which environment they choose?
SupervisionHaving only one teacher inside and one outside is less than ideal. Having a third teacher would certainly help ensure that children are receiving the presentations they need while providing adequate supervision.
MaterialsWhile many of you cringe at the thought of those beautiful materials being taken outside, there are ways to work around it or make your own outdoor classroom. First of all, it seems natural that the best place to learn and explore the natural world is outside. A quiet reading area can be made in the grass or under the trees. Practical life is taken care of with all the outdoor activities and there is a plethora of natural sensory materials. Math materials can easily be made using natural matter: small twigs for a Spindle Box, stones and pebbles as counters, etc.
Change presents itself either as a threat or an opportunity. When thinking about whether or not to create a free flowing Montessori environment, allow yourself to explore the possibilities.
Ultimately, the decision will be made by what is of greatest benefit to the children in the environment.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, November 12, 2013.