In my last post I covered a few ideas for nature-based activities for ‘absorbent minds’ ie. Children in the 3-6 age group. Most of the activities for that age are sensorial, to help the child discover their own senses and to absorb their environment.
When they approach age 7, Montessori noted the child is entering the sensitive period for social learning. They want time to build relationships with their friends. They also become little judges – becoming more attuned to the laws and contrasts of their world. No longer content with the short answers, they start to want to get a sense of how things work. They love engineering and science experiments. It’s also hard to keep them from tools and equipment.
With an emerging understanding of time-lapse the children of this age group start to form longer term memory and foresight. They can start to understand more deeply the cycles of weather, seasons and comparing past to present.
In short, the children start broadening their view.
This article aims to help in understanding the role of nature for children age 6-9 and some ideas on implementing Montessori activities for this age.
An exerpt from To Educate the Human Potential Chapter 1 “The Six-Year-Old Confronted with the Cosmic Plan”, Montessori 1948:
Knowledge can best be given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into culture.
Montessori goes on to explain that:
If the universe is presented in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child’s mind then will no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work.
So the 6-9 age is a great time to start delving into nature study. Learning can take many forms. Let’s explore how nature can be the vehicle to learn many facets of our world.
Although I didn’t join Scouts or Guides, I can see why Maria Montessori was a great supporter of the scout movement as a way to gain moral, social and practical skills. She said that the “commitment of the individual to the group (is) what is essential”. Montessori, 1976.
Scouts were formed around the same time as Montessori developed her method. At the time she was working in poverty stricken areas in Rome. She may have been attracted to Scouts for the following reasons:
- They issue a uniform not to be militaristic, but so as to blur the line between the rich and poor.
- The society emphasises moral aims
- The children choose whether or not to join but when they do they commit with a pledge. They learn to be committed to a cause and are encouraged to help others.
- Handicapped members are integrated within the group.
- They are given a wide variety of opportunities designed to challenge themselves an build resilience and independence.
- They study nature and the environment and seek to protect it
These ideas were explored in a lecture Dr. Maria Montessori and Lord Robert Baden- Powell of Gilwell, two pedagogues. Margarete Wonesche
Indeed Montessori thought Scouts so important, she even integrated many of their principles into her curriculum, after initially implementing them with fifty children in her classroom in Holland. (The Scouter, 1939).
The child likes to realise, as Montessori said, “that it can go through life, carrying on it’s back all it may need.”
Scouts is open for members age 6 to 25.
To keep a garden can provide many learning opportunities for this age group. The children can now be more involved in the planning process. They can learn about the benefits of different plants and what they need. They can draw a plan. They can work out a budget and help to shop for materials.
In helping the child to own the project, consider how Montessori provides self-check activities, presented by three period lessons.
- Show the child how to map the garden with grid paper. Explain that 1 square equals 1 step. Show them to measure by walking, then mark the page where the boundaries are. Then they can walk to mark where objects are eg. Path, house, tree. They can self check by checking the distance to an object from the other boundary. They can see then whether everything spaced on the page as in proportion.
As a garden is an involved, ongoing project I can not suggest how to teach it all here. All I can say is stay tuned, as we often do gardening projects and I intend to document them.
I will say this, though. A child of 6 plus wants to build friendships. My daughter of 5.5 already places great importance on time with her friends! Gardening together is a great way for them to learn team work and get to know new people. Therefore, bring others around to share your plot or join a community garden.
As a young girl I remember many bush walks with my family. We would occasionally visit a rainforest or the bush or camp somewhere usually as an outing with a local nature group. I remember the adults would share vast amounts of information along the way. They’d notice things most people wouldn’t see; animal droppings, holes, wildflowers and igneous rock formations. We were sometimes accompanied by a local who explained a lot also, as everyone was interested in the geography and climate of the area. Many of the members were species specialists in their own right, ready to provide the scientific names and notable characteristics of any plants or animals along the way. I admired the enthusiasm of these naturalists. This rubbed off on me, as it opened my eyes to the wildness of nature, it’s relationships, it’s careful balance and it’s stark difference to the machine world known to humans.
If you don’t have any wilderness within reach at least visit a large local park or garden regularly. Buy guide books and binoculars so you can build your knowledge along the way.
Nature journalling goes hand in hand with nature study. This is also an in-depth topic that requires its own article. As a beginner, here are some wonderful free resources to start:
Depending on your location, you may be able to find guides for a trail or species of birds or plants in your local area. You may also invest in a set of binoculars or monocular with tripod for bird watching.
Drawing supplies can be simple as a pencil and paper on a clip board, progressing with experience to watercolours, coloured pencils and pens. Clothing should be comfortable, lightweight and camouflaged.
The Charlotte Mason method is an educational approach that you should also look into for a guide on nature study. Many homeschoolers who are following Miss Mason’s approach have developed resources, and Charlotte Mason’s own writings are insightful on the topic, available on public domain.
One thing Charlotte Mason’s method incorporates is literature in developing general knowledge and inspiring interest to learn. Put relevant books on display at all times. Consider:
- Is the book well-written. Does it use a variety of language, proper terms and flows naturally?
- Are the illustrations beautiful, realistic and inspiring (forget the cartoony or CGI types)?
- Does the story have a moral lesson?
- Is the information correct?
- Is it written by an acclaimed author (not necessary, but a good indication of the quality)
- Is there a story line? Fact books and textbooks have their place, but at this age the child is drawn to fantasy and adventure.
Some examples of nature story books to inspire young readers :
Butterfly Park, Fall leaves, Shadow Chasers, If You Hold a Seed – by Elly Mackay
Lotus and Feather – Ji-li Jiang and Julie Downing
What Forest Knows – George Ella Lyon and August Hall
Moonshadow – Gillian Lobel and Karin Littlewood
Moon Forest – Patricia MacCarthy
Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey
Little Swan – Jonathon London and Kristina Rodanas
House Held Up By Trees – Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen
Weeds Find a Way – Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Carolyn Fisher
What Will I Be? – Nicola Davies and Marc Boutavant
Stories from Bug Garden – Lisa Moser and Gwen Millward
Picture a Tree – Barbara Reid
Leaf Man – Lois Elhert
The Secret Garden – Francis Hodgson Burnett
If I Never Forever Endeavor – Holly Meade
My Mother Talks to Trees – Doris Gove and Marilynn H. Mallory
Biology, Botany and Chemistry
Montessori noted that children of this early elementary age are interested in building their vernacular and studying the small details of their environment. They are particularly drawn to sketching them (excuse the pun). One day she brought some flowers and dissecting instruments to class to see whether the young students might show an interest in flower dissection:
My suspicion proved correct. The children with the keenest interest dissected a section of the violet with remarkable accuracy, and they quickly learned to use all the unstruments. But my greatest surprise was to find that they did not despise or throw away the dissected parts, as we older students used to do. With great care they placed them all in attractive order on a piece of white paper, as if they had in mind some secret purpose. Then with great joy they began to draw them; and they were accurate, skilled, tireless, and patient, as they are in everything else. They began to mix and dilute their colours to obtain the correct shades. They worded up to the last minute of the school session, finishing off their designs in watercolour: the stem and leaves green, the individual petals violet, the stamens – all in a row – yellow, and the dissected pistil light green. The following day a little girl brought me a charmingly vivacious written composition, in which she told of her enthusiasm over the new work, describing even the less noticeable details of the little violet.
These two expressions – drawing and composition – were the spontaneous manifestations of their happy entrance into the realms of science.
Encouraged by this great success, I took some simple microscopes to school. The children began to observe the pollen and even some of the membrane coverings of the flower. By themselves they made some splendid cross-sections of the stems, which they studied most attentively.
They “drew everything they saw”. Drawing seemed to be the natural complement of their observation work. (Montessori, 1917, pp.313-315)
Much of the indoors learning can be carried out through observation and experiment, given that the materials and experiments have been set up mindfully. I suggest you read the Montessori Commons guide before embarking on experiments.
Other Classroom/Home Materials
Make way for Nomenclature cards – this is something like an alternative to textbooks and worksheets in traditional classroom. The difference? The children are engaged in the material as if it were a game. On the 3-6 shelves they had three part cards, and now, the little explorers of elementary level can be given descriptions to accompany the pictures and names (essentially making them four-part cards). They are challenged to match the description of each card to it’s picture. This develops their reading, language, memory and powers of deduction as well as giving them a greater understanding. They are a beautiful work that play a huge role in encouraging independent learning. The children independently access nomenclature in a way that they can repeat until they have assimilated the information.
You might already be familiar with the basics of three part cards. If you’re looking for alternative activities for using three part cards, see this video:
Here’s a video of how I present our nomenclature cards neatly in folders: Card folders
Making the Cards
A google search can bring you to a range of ready-to-print three part cards. Eg. Montessori Print Shop or ABC Teach. This is normally where I start, as the line drawings are simple and easy for the child. It’s harder to find 4 part or nomenclature cards so you can do as I do and make your own descriptions.
When making nomenclature cards, you can start with a template to ensure they print out at the same size and font each time. Be mindful of the font. Larger font is easier to read, and at this age they are starting to learn cursive writing. You might like a font that will expose the children to cursive reading. Keep two sets – a control set, with the pictures, labels and descriptions together (can be printed smaller size to save space and paper) The second is the working set. The pictures, labels and descriptions are separated for the child to match. If the child enjoys writing, you might like to have a third set of pictures so they can make a booklet. This would come after the child has mastered the card games.
For home use with age 6 plus, you may not wish to laminate any longer. The rate at which they are learning is so fast that you are better dedicating your time to making many sets of cards and setting up experiments. If they get a little dog-eared then great, they have been well used. Perhaps time to make a booklet.
Any new work should begin with real or living things. If the child brings a flower, you can present the parts of a flower nomenclature cards in a three period lesson. It can help to also have the relative botany or zoology puzzles and their activities. Check out this beautiful Shoots and Sprouts set up at Montessori By Mom.
Set up your Sensorial Work, the Leaf cabinet, and Progressive Exercises relating to botany. The Progressive Exercises can utilise items from the child’s home or your outdoor adventures such as flowers, stones etc. One thing I have for DD is a discovery box. It’s a transparent light box from IKEA, in which I display things to study – for example pine cones, stones, gems, leaves, dried flowers or shells. We have a magnifying glass to view things closer. This is a way to engage interest in nature even when we are not outside.
Smelling bottles should also contain smells from around the home. My daughter, DD loves essential oils and can differentiate between many scents after using the smelling bottles. I do a lot of Indian cooking also, and occasionally let DD test her olfactory with our spices.
Finally, I will share with you some of my most treasured childhood memories as they come to mind…..walking through a rain forest barefoot after dark with my father and brother and treading on a stinging nettle with no option but to walk the rest of the way…..spotting possums and bats and spiders on a night-spotting walk…..seeing Haley’s comet through a telescope……collecting cicada shells to wear as jewelry…….finding a koala on the backyard fence……climbing a mountain…….following soldier crabs on the march…….planting trees with my father…….playing in coloured leaves……smelling jasmine and violets…..burying my face in roses the size of my head…….having a sea anemone hold my hand……the sound of frogs when it rains.