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Learning Through Nature: The Montessori Philosophy

Nature provides one of the biggest driving forces of curiosity and exploration while offering rich sensorial experiences for children.  For this reason, nature has always been an integral part of the Montessori learning process. Montessori education draws a deep connection between nature and childhood development.  Children come to appreciate nature and all that it has to offer.

The Montessori Philosophy

Dr. Maria Montessori considered the outdoor environment an extension of the indoor classroom. According to her philosophy, the natural world provided endless possibilities for experiential learning. “Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur,” she wrote in The Absorbent Mind.

The Montessori Method stresses immersion in nature because of its effects on the growth of the whole child. According to the method, nature enriches the life of each child by supporting physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

By increasing a child’s interactions with the natural world, Montessori guides and Montessori parents are promoting the child’s development as a young naturalist. Spending more time in nature will also influence the child to lead an environmentally responsible lifestyle throughout childhood and into adulthood, as well.

In a Cosmic Education

Dr. Montessori stressed the interconnectedness between humanity and nature. “The land is where our roots are,” she wrote. “The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”

In her explanation of cosmic education, Montessori emphasizes that the child should understand that they are part of a greater universe. By going outside and learning from nature firsthand, this profound understanding can be achieved.

“When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.”

How you can apply it at home

As Montessori parents, you can continue this cosmic education outside of the classroom, too. Here are just a couple of ideas:

  • Take your child on nature walks in or around the woods or beach (depending on where you live).
  • Visit the nearest botanical garden or zoo together, and encourage them to keep nature journals and take photos of anything they see that catches their interest.

Through these activities, your child will become more connected with nature, and begin to understand their place in the universe.

What Are the Five Great Lessons?

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe…for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

– Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential

Maria Montessori strongly emphasized the importance of Cosmic Education for the elementary age child. She began with the miracle of the cosmos and the sense of awe that proceeds as the world filled with life. The Great Lessons are important to awaken a child’s imagination and curiosity while helping them realize the important place they have in the world. Elementary children are introduced to the largest of all concepts – the beginning of the universe – and then smaller ideas so they can see how all the concepts fit together to form a whole.

This presentation by Ansley Brown, a Montessori teacher in Columbia, South Carolina, was designed to walk parents through the philosophy of the Great Lessons in the elementary level classroom.

What Is Cosmic Education?

You may hear the term “Cosmic Education” when discussing the Elementary curriculum at MAV. But what is Cosmic Education, and how is it valuable to the child’s experience?

Cosmic Education is an educational approach founded by the Italian physician-educator Maria Montessori in the first half of the 20th century and developed in detail by her son, Mario Montessori, after her death in 1952. It is rooted in the principle that a knowledge of the universal whole allows us to understand the value and purpose of its parts, and how their individual stories form a larger narrative.

In the last 50 years many scientific discoveries regarding the universe have been uncovered. Maria Montessori was a visionary with great insight. Even in her time, she could foresee the potential unfolding of scientific knowledge and its impact to future generations. In her 1942 work, To Educate the Human Potential, Montessori stated:

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe… If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder… The knowledge he then acquires is then organized and systematic; his intelligence becomes whole and complete because of the vision of the whole that has been presented to him… No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The result of this educational approach, at both the elementary and the university levels, is a curriculum that unifies all the subjects of human knowledge into one, coherent, continuous, and comprehensive study.

Historian David Christian continues this approach in his course work today, explaining:

“Big history surveys the past at all possible scales, from conventional history, to the much larger scales of biology and geology, to the universal scales of cosmology. It weaves a single story, stretching from the origins of the Universe to the present day and beyond, using accounts of the past developed within scholarly disciplines that are usually studied quite separately.”

The importance of the Cosmic Education approach is beautifully demonstrated in Christian’s The History of the World in 18 Minutes, the introduction to his Big History university course, seen here as presented at the TED conference in March 2011.