Friday, October 16, 2009

Environmental Stewardship Activities: Montessori Cosmic Education

It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was. – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind. 1995. pg. 15
NAMC montessori cosmic education activities environmental stewardship boy looking at frog
Very few of us live in an environment that is not man-made. In fact, many children do not know where the food they eat or the fibers of the clothes they wear truly comes from. In an effort to educate the child so as to promote responsible environmental stewardship, educators and parents play an important role in helping children to understand, love and respect nature.

Children between the ages of 6 and 12 are characterized by having both physical and intellectual energy. They are interested in many things and have a great capacity for imagining. They are seeking the answers to their questions: Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Montessori believed it was crucial at this age to present the universe to children in an effort to help them find the answers to their questions. This was the basis of her “cosmic education” - to teach them that Planet Earth is a gift to each and every one of us.

There are many things you can do within your Montessori environment to promote and encourage stewardship of our planet. Some can be done at the classroom level and some involve the greater Montessori community. The more you model and practice ecological respect and responsibility, the more people you will touch who may follow your example.

Environmental Stewardship Activities: Montessori Cosmic Education

By learning to connect with nature, Montessori students learn to respect, protect, understand, and enjoy the natural world. Earth education is about more than just talking about saving the planet. It is about going outside and exploring the beauty of the earth. It is about learning about human’s place on the earth and the role we play in both the preservation and desecration of the planet. It is about learning to work together to protect the earth and the living things that inhabit it.

Earth education is the process of helping people live more harmoniously and joyously with the natural world. - Steve Van Matre, The Institute for Earth Education

School Level Activities
  • Recycling
  • Composting
  • No-trash lunches
  • Alternative energy
  • Rain barrels
  • Sustainable gardens
  • Ponds/stream/river/lake clean up
  • Habitat preservation
NAMC montessori cosmic education activities environmental stewardship children in field
Going-Out Activities
  • Farms – both agri-businesses and organic
  • Botanical gardens
  • Nature centers
  • Nature Hikes
  • Wetlands
  • Riparian land
  • Coastlines
  • Water treatment facilities
  • Recycling centers
  • Garbage dumps
Community Level Activities
  • Sunrise/Sunset weekend hikes
  • Family camping weekends
  • Stargazing
  • Community gardening/farming
  • Orienteering
  • Adopt-a-Highway program
I had lunch at my son’s public middle school yesterday. As I took my lunch out of my bag, someone remarked that I must have taken all the leftovers out of my refrigerator because I had so many little containers. I told them, actually, I had just made all of my lunch fresh. I told the story how, three years ago, my family and I made the commitment to not using plastic sandwich bags or other consumables to wrap our food in an effort to reduce the amount of trash we throw out. Several at the table thought that was a good idea and even started thinking about how they might accomplish something similar. It doesn't take a lot of effort to raise awareness, just a good model and commitment.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, October 16, 2009.


  1. Going out activities such as those mentioned above seem like great ideas. The one that sparked my interest in an effort to raise conservation awareness was the garbage dump field trip. This would be eye opening since it is a very real visual of where all of our trash goes. It also hits "home" since it would be local (our actual trash from our actual homes!). I would be interested to mention this to my principal.

  2. The part that stuck with me most about this was the story at the end. I can't help but think how much seeing an example like that would make each one of my students think about what their plastic bag does to our recycling situation as a world. It makes me think about what I can share that is so simple, but has the power to be that influential.

  3. Teachers and parents are very influential role models. I have been a vegetarian for 10 years for ethic and environment reasons, but even though my 5-year-old daughter is aware I do not eat animals, I have not insisted on this not to influence her too much as I was worried she needed to access all kind of food for a healthy growth and I wanted her to make her own mind when she’d be ready. As the years go by, more information is made available on how to have a balanced vegetarian diet, on the polluting effects of faming and the treatment of the animals, more people become vegetarian and my daughter is also growing in her understanding of those subjects. In my neighborhood country Denmark, some educators took a different approach. Denmark is one of the highest pork producer in Europe, and a school organized a trip to a sausage factory. The trip was apparently shocking for the kids, may be even traumatizing, as most of the kids afterwards expressed the wish to become vegetarian. As a study Montessori education I feel I will now be able to find the right middle line between avoiding a subject and forcing an idea on someone, by giving the kids the tools to make their own opinion.

  4. Everyday i become aware how i am a role model in my home with our children. The journey through the NAMC Teacher Diploma ( I am only in the first of three components) has already shown me how what I do, MORE than what I say is the real teacher. I am so thankful for NAMC and how it teaches the teacher to show the child. This is not only lessons that I learn here and now but for the future and for the future generations to come.

  5. When I was doing my teacher training at York University, one of my favourite assignments was when we had to create a school initiative to Reduce Waste. My colleagues and I created an Art Reuse Center. The purpose of the program was to collect various recyclable materials that the students and staff could use for future projects or art activities. The goal of the Art Reuse Centre was to encourage families to recycle and reduce waste in landfills. As a result, it showed students how an action as simple as reusing materials, instead of throwing them away, can make a difference to the environment at home, at school and the community. The Art Reuse Centre also helped reduce a portion of the costs for teachers to purchase materials. In the end, we weighed the materials that were collected and it equated to 20 pounds of waste that did not get placed into the garbage to go to the dumps. Instead, the materials were used by the students to create beautiful works of art.

  6. I love the idea of showing children the beauty of the earth. When I was first introduced to Cosmic Education I mistakenly assumed that it was mostly awareness of how to save our planet and the life that exists on it. While the importance of these lessons are immeasurable, I'm glad that teachers can also use their lesson time in search of the first Robins of spring or the beautiful colors of falling leaves in autumn. Just last week I found some daffodil shoots coming up through the snow and all of the children were overjoyed at the sign of the changing seasons. Since the school where I am interning is close to a lake, forests, and farms, I am eager to explore ways to plan going out trips to these wonderful learning places for my students.

  7. Something that was a big hit in my early childhood class was having a worm compost bin. The students helped us prepare the bin and we added our appropriate lunch and snack scraps each day. Twice a year we would dump the bin out on a plastic sheet and the Kindergartners "harvested" the worms -- picking them out by hand to separate them from the compost. We put the compost on our garden beds and the worms went back into the bin to go back to work! This project taught the children about avoiding waste, turning "garbage" into something useful, gentle care of small creatures, life cycles, and gardening.

  8. Children at the Lower Elementary level are so excited to help and make a difference. My students are always looking for something to believe in and work for. We have developed a recycling program for our school. The other classes each have a recycling bin in and once a week we pick up the bins and sort the recyclables into larger containers. Every few weeks the local recycling center comes and picks up what we have collected. The students show great pride in this program and work hard to spread recycling awareness in our school!

  9. As I grew up in a farm, it sounds for me logical to give the love and the respect I have for the earth, the farming and the animals to my students. I would like them to share a whole day in a farm to understand how life cycles work.
    I have this chance to let my 7 years old daughter to experience what I did 30 years ago.

  10. I believe that teaching children about the benefits of being environmentally conscious and taking the responsibility to make a difference is the only way we can hope to see change. I would definitely take my students on field trips to places such as a farm, teach my students to recycle and have discussions regularly about what part we all play in taking care of our planet. I currently teach at a private school and when teaching art classes I often use recycled materials to make art. Often instead of buying materials we will use materials that are free and safe for the environment. I believe there are many ways we can all make a difference and teaching our students to do so is our responsibility. I think a common misconception is that we have to take big, drastic steps such as never using paper products however, often the most effective thing to do is make little changes. For example teaching students to turn off the tap between brushing your teeth and rinsing your teeth. Its something small and wont be hard to continue to do.

  11. Environmental Stewardship is a huge part of my 3-6 classroom. We are always discussing what can be recycled or composted, how we can reduce waste all around, where our food comes from and how we can better take care of our earth. Our animals (goats and chickens), compost, and gardens are significant part of our curriculum and something I think all children could really benefit from if they had the opportunity.

  12. This is by far one of my most favorite topics to teach. I try to incorporate some lesson about respecting nature and animals daily into my classroom. I have found my students to be very interested and more consciously aware of how they can each make a positive difference. Getting them out the classroom helps.
    I am grateful I live in the mountains of beautiful Colorado where we are surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature. I am proud to say that this past year my class and I did a read a thon to raise money to save Orca Whales. One of my students even brought in her own personal piggy bank to donate. We also went to a local farm and garden center. We raised caterpillars into Monarchs, gently tagged them and let them go. We visited a nature center that had rescued injured hawks and owls that could no longer fly. We went to the local natural caves. We challenged students to talk to their parents about why plastic should be banned and to stop using plastic in their own homes. We went on walks around our school and picked up trash and we picked up trash on our playground weekly. They each planted vegetable seeds on our windowsills. We read many many books on how we could each make a difference in keeping our planet healthy and beautiful. I know it is about the children but I feel better knowing that I am trying to instill reverence for Earth in hopes these children will continue to do the same as they grow older.

  13. It is becoming well known now that people do not take action on environmental issues through having fear and guilt used as a tool to prompt action. We see this with the inaction of the majority of the population on tacking issues like greenhouse gasses and pollution. Instead, we need a more positive approach, one which utilises intrinsic motivation for action. Therefore, the approach of connecting students to nature and other programs that help to look after our environment in a positive way may help to introduce a life long passion to take care of the nature they have learned to love through interaction and by using the programs they been a part of at school like recycling, composting and gardening.

    1. Nova Art NZ,
      I do agree with your comment. When respect of nature is introduced to children and become part of their life, it becomes a second nature. Only, we have to teach them as teacher or parents/family. And than, we continue to polish this long life passion which is a nice place to live and experience a deep and real life.

  14. It's interesting once again how Maria Montessori developed the concept of cosmic education. It's the deep side of this concept that I like. I find it challenging for myself to develop this awareness of life surrounding me. I like the fact it pushes me as an adult to work to be a model for my students. It gets me out of my comfort zone. It helps me to improve myself and I enjoy it so much. To be aware that the planet needs our help is one thing but to do something about it is another thing and I think students want to be aware of the fact that everything is interconnected and they can make a big difference everyday. I promise to suggest ideas to my students or ask them to give me some and put it in motion in my class and in my school, if I can. The students' wake up call about awareness starts with us teacher and parents. If we teach to take care of us as human, we can also teach to take care of our environment one step at the time. I want to be a model for the people around me including the students I teach everyday. I realize that I need to be spoken to about it and reading an article like this is good. Why don't i do the same and share about this article?

  15. I appreciate the list of possible Going Out activities. There are many ideas on the list that I think my students would genuinely enjoy and learn a lot from partaking in.

    We definitely live in a society in which we so far removed form a lot of what nature offers us; the food we eat, the materials for our clothing, furniture, etc. In teaching students about our environment and fostering a love, appreciation, and sense of responsibility for our environment and nature, we will help develop responsible and knowledgeable students that can help make a positive difference.

    There is only so much time spent in within school, it is important that families also play a role in developing students' environmental stewardship. I think some of the community level activities would be great ideas to share with families. In today's society families are often extremely busy. These activities are simple activities that can be done at home while also providing some quality family time.

    I am going to provide a community level/family activity each month that my students can do with their families. My hope is that it will foster a deeper environmental stewardship and appreciation for nature, while also providing some time for students to engage in quality family time. The first activity for the month of September is to go on a fall walk, observing the changes that are taking place in nature, and watching for any wildlife. I want the activities to be simple so that all families can participate. Does anyone have any more ideas or activities that could be shared with families?

  16. One of my favorite days of the school year is when we celebrate Earth Day. It makes students fully aware of how much waste they actually use. on this day we strive for no waste and as hard as that may be for some we usually accomplish our goal. Everyday should be Earth Day.

  17. Reading the blog brought back a conversation I was witnessing, between my son and his grandma. She was talking with him about nutrition and milk and casually asked him if he knew where his milk came from. Never having been to a farm, he said, “the refrigerator”. It seems funny, but it’s not a surprise as we live in a world so removed from nature. Following that incident, we visited a farm
    Environmental stewardship doesn’t just stop with environmental awareness, it takes place when we accept the responsibility of taking care of the world we live. And in many cases, it’s easier than it seems. How difficult can a reusable grocery bag be? Is it that difficult to use lunch boxes than plastic bags? Reducing and reusing eliminates a lot of waste. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle cannot be emphasized enough.

  18. I appreciate that the Montessori method understands that students can develop emotionally and physically at the same time, I think that it is imperative that we teach children about the earth and how to protect it. I love the idea of brainstorming as a class to think of different ways to help the environment and help those around us, it helps promote productive citizenship and ownership of this planet and those around us as well.

  19. I love the idea of the waste-free lunch. This takes time a preparation especially if you are making lunches for more than one person for the day. I can personally attest to the idea that making your lunches using a reusable lunch bags and containers makes for a cleaner eating space and it creates less trash. The Montessori method has a way of crossing over into personal habits and it makes you aware of the things that we take for granted and makes us as future instructors more self-aware.

  20. There are so many great activities to teach our children and students about environmental stewardship. Students at my school pick up trash around our school, and in the neighborhood. We talk about how one person can make a difference by taking care of the environment. One of the ways, my students learned about recycling was through collecting old pairs of shoes. We collected 200 pairs of shoes from our neighborhood. These shoes were sent to a company that sent gently worn shoes to kids and people in need.

  21. It will be one of the best idea to inculcate children about the benefits of being environmentally conscious and taking the responsibility to make a difference. It is indeed by learning to connect with nature, that students learn to respect, protect, understand, and enjoy the natural world. It is very true that the earth education is about more than just talking about saving the planet, rather, It is about going outside and exploring the beauty of the earth. It is about learning about human’s place on the earth and the role we play in both the preservation and desecration of the planet. It is about learning to work together to protect the earth and the living things that inhabit it. I currently teach in a private school and we encourage activities that we can be able to be environmentalist. As simple as learning how to recycle and making use of things by reusing them to help reduce waste. We are also planting our own seeds and each child gets to take care of their own plant. They also take care of our class pet by assigning a child to take them out from their tank to explore nature. I believe there are many other ways we can do to make a difference. And we teach our students the value of responsibility. No matter how small, we want to make our students feel that they are important part of this world.

  22. I think when most adults look back on their most memorable moments of childhood, they probably took place in nature! Planet Earth is a gift to us, and we have an obligation to protect it for future generations. Little changes in our lives can influence others to make a big impact on the world.

  23. It is very important for teachers to model the behavior he/she wants to see in the child. Children are very impressionable and they learn from us

  24. I am proud to say that our school encourages students to use reusable containers for lunches and snacks. This is a great way for students to see how they can make an impact on the earth on a daily basis. Our school also has a community recycling center right behind it where the students can recycle school recycling and also bear witness to the large number of community members also participating in this important part of reducing waste. Living in an area with many bodies of water, I think it would be great to include more activities where students are able to participate in cleaning up these beautiful areas. We are also surrounded by farms and our master year students are lucky to be able to tour and learn about a local apple and cherry farm. I have found with my own children that once they feel a connection to caring for what's around them that they take more pride in keeping that place clean and cared for. I hope to find ways to include these kinds of activities in the classroom this year.

  25. One of the elements our school has that promotes environmental stewardship is a compost bin. The students are pros at making sure anything that can go into the compost pile, does. We also have a teacher who has chickens, so often scraps from breakfast or snacks are put in a bag for her chickens. The students love knowing that something else is enjoying their leftovers! I love that a Montessori education promotes this idea all year long, not just during Earth Day.

  26. Ecology-based field studies have given me the most 'bang for my buck' with elementary age children. We learn in detail about a particular site; the life cycles of different creatures , the habitat it provides, the visible consequences of human choices, changes over the seasons if we can revisit, and the work we can do to care for that natural space. Students report such days as their favorites, with fond memories of a wildlife sighting or scat that is EVIDENCE of an animal. While all of this is wonderful science learning, it is also, as stated in this blog, an amazing opportunity to pull in cosmic education. Ecology is a systems-based approach, so it easily prompts discussions of change in one life cycle or one food chain causing an effect across the whole system.

  27. "Exploring the beauty of the earth" is part of the freedom offered in the Montessori method that strongly appeals to me. We are all more likely to take care of the things we love. The more we appreciate the earth with all of our senses, the more we will want to protect it for the joy and peace it provides.

    Taking my Spanish students outside to walk and touch while learning garden vocabulary last year, drastically improved their joy in the subject as well as their retention of the material. Some of my sweetest Montessori memories are time spent with students looking closely at a bee slowed by the cold and observing a host of baby spiders recently hatched inside a playground tire. The natural curiosity of the children drew them and offered opportunities to share about the important role these insects play in the circle of life. The conversation diminished fear and promoted respect and awe.

    Just last week, I was able to brainstorm with two new students the reasons why we might finish a story by filling full sheets of paper, rather than choosing a new piece for each new idea. They rightly understood that paper came from trees, but had not yet made the connection from our second great lesson, that oxygen that we need also comes from trees. This simple thought processing together led to an eagerness to make a change.

    Our school is very close to a large lake and a large city. It seems that discussions surrounding water cleanliness and conservation would easily impact children in their lives outside of school. Going out trips to enjoy the wildlife in the wetlands, to clear litter and to visit water treatment plants could all contribute to a desire to care for our natural resources here.

  28. Educator play important part in teaching children to love and respect nature. I love the idea of showing children the beauty of the earth. Giving the students lots of opportunities to experience different environments. Our school has developed a compost bin this year that students are very interested in taking part in.

  29. The research shows that students' engagement soars when they are able to support and participate in a community garden. Adopting a school gardening program where all students at all ages have a role can allow students the opportunity to embrace their own role in the cosmic universe. Young students can learn about how seeds words, while older students can gain hands on experience with business techniques as they prepare crops to be sold at a farmers' market.


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