Montessori preschool education emphasises sustainability, care and love for the natural environment in many, varied ways. Young children educated in a Montessori environment tend to have great respect for the environment and often go into careers in environmental sustainability, natural energy or environmental engineering.
Most of us live in an environment that is man-made and it’s not unusual for children who grow up in modern cities to not know the origin of the food they eat or the objects they interact with every day. Early childhood educators including, of course, parents, play a pivotal role in helping children understand, love and respect nature to safeguard the future of our planet.
Children have natural intellectual energy and curiousity. Montessori believes that it’s crucial in the first six years of life, to present the world to children so that they can explore the answers to their many questions.
The outdoor classroom
Outdoors is filled with a wealth of learning opportunities and is particularly suited to learnings on science and nature.
Says Steve Van Matre of The Institute for Earth Education, “Earth education is the process of helping people live more harmoniously and joyously with the natural world.”
Children observe the plants, leaves, trees and small living creatures outside, sketching, drawing and recreating what they see. Depending on a child’s level of interest, they may dig into the ground to find root structures and other parts of plants.
Children can witness the weather and the change of seasons, talk about animals and insects, witness growth and decay, and how humans interact with the natural world.
Foundational to our discussions of the natural environment is interconnectedness and interdependence of all aspects of our world.
Sustainability requires systems thinking. The physicist Fritjof Capra talks about systems theory, which is a particular approach and language that emphasises the interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena (Capra, 2003). This approach encourages big-picture thinking, while tending to the details.
This systems thinking is a natural byproduct of the Montessori emphasis on the outdoor classroom and other ecology studies – it is natural that children begin to feel a sense of responsibility, respect and love for the natural world.
By learning about human’s place on the earth and the role we play in both the preservation and desecration of the planet, children naturally desire to protect the earth and the vulnerable, living things which inhabit it.
Sustainability in our Montessori preschools
In both our Matraville and Maroubra Montessori preschools, we have a range of activities, routines, equipment and features to promote sustainability amongst our pre-schoolers.
We encourage all our families to bring no-rubbish lunches, utilising Tupperware and other reuseable containers rather than single-use plastic. At the preschools, we endeavour to reduce as much plastic and unnecessary packaging as possible for all supplies.
We have a compost and sustainable gardens, including rain-water tanks and other methods to capture rainwater for later discussion with the children. We welcome suggestions from our parent body and gratefully accept and encourage green-thumbed volunteers who wish to help out!
Ways to extend sustainability thinking into your home
The best lessons and learnings are those without boundaries – and there are plenty of ways in which you can extend our ecology, sustainability and outdoor classroom lessons outside of preschool.
Parents are children’s first – and most influential – models of behaviour. To embed respect and love for the natural world into your child, you can take every opportunity to walk, hike, climb, swim or camp outdoors. Farms, community gardens, botanic gardens and nature centres make great weekend and holiday excursions for families, enabling both formal and informal learning opportunities.
Other areas for possible weekend exploration include nature hikes, coastlines and beaches, wetlands and pockets of nature within nearby suburbs, of which Sydney is spoilt.
For children who are particularly curious about ecology and sustainability, you might consider excursions to recycling centres, garbage dumps and water treatment facilities.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to raise environmental awareness in preschoolers, just a good model. By encouraging pre-schoolers love for the natural world, they will naturally respond by caring for the environment and want to restrict the excesses of man-made damage and disaster.
Investment in ecology education is not just an investment in future adults’ love, respect and behaviour in the world. It is also safeguarding our most precious, finite resources and the future of our planet. It is never too early to start.