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Going Out Drawing inspiration from Montessori principles for outdoor explorations.

by Joyce Nett

dently. She called this part of her curriculum “going out.” In the book Montessori Today, Paula Lillard explained that “Montessori felt that students’ sense of independence, growth, self-confidence and creativity could be greatly enhanced simply by going outside.” Following Montessori’s design, children, ages 3-6, would first “go out” to other parts of the school building. At 6-9 years of age, they would progress to going out into the schoolyard. In the next stage, 9-12 year olds would decide where they want to go in their community to enhance their learning. Local museums, town buildings, parks and stores become extensions of the classroom. Finally, at ages 12-15, students progress to the “Erdkinder” stage, where they would be free to use the com- munity as their learning space. Current research corroborates Montessori’s ideas


and augments it with findings that going outside actually enhances learning.When children have regular contact with nature, in an unstructured way, they are more attentive, observant, creative and self-content. In Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv sites a study of children diagnosed with ADHD at the University of Illinois where

BOUT A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, Dr. Maria Montessori theorized that children should be allowed to move about their environment indepen-

“attention performance for un-medicated children clinically diagnosed with ADHD was better after a simple 20 minute walk in a park, with a natural setting, than it was after a walk through a well-kept downtown and residential area.” Interestingly, the outdoor time is not organized physical activity, but simply having access to nature. Louv explains that simply being outside in nature is more restorative than physical activity. The benefits of being outdoors in nature with unstructured time include the ability to work better, think more clearly and improved attention. Being connected to the outdoors and having regular access to unstructured, outdoor play also addresses the recent concern of childhood obesity. Interestingly, the current childhood obesity epidemic in the United States coincides with the greatest increase in organized children’s sports in history.1 As teachers, we know too well the challenge of creating

schedules that include required activities, allow enough time to deliver content and are tolerable for our students. I can imagine my own reaction if my administrators had asked me to find time for one more activity. So it was probably better that the idea of regular trips outside or “going out” was my own idea. By creating space in the week to do little more than take a walk outside, we fulfilled one of Maria Montessori’s basic designs and augmented our science program. By provid- ing a prepared environment we created the space for unstruc- tured learning that so many sociologists are now advocating.


Photographs: Joyce Nett

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