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Following the Child: A Journey Through Nature

A few years ago I wrote a thesis on why I have never seen a child with ADHD in any Montessori setting I had ever worked in, especially during the previous eight years when my childminding setting had been taken over by gregarious, funny, interesting boys (the majority of children diagnosed with ADHD are male). My conclusion was not a surprise to me. I found that it was a mixture of the dynamics of the Montessori classroom, allowing freedom of choice and movement within the setting, and spending time in nature, literally following the child as they explored their world.

Richard Louv, in his book 'Last Child in the Woods', explains that it not only animal habitats which are being eroded, but children's too. Due to urban development and litigation culture children's spaces have become reduced and sanitised, offering very little risk or opportunities for true physical and sensory development. Children do not roam as I did growing up in the mid to late seventies; and I didn't roam as far as my parents did when they were growing up. Louv declares that -

“An environment-based education movement—at all levels of education—will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.” - Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder).

But this environment-based education movement already exists in Montessori pedagogy. Nature features heavily in Montessori education, both inside the classroom/setting and outside. Inside the classroom the children will study botany and zoology in their simplest forms, learning about parts of a tree or the life cycle of a frog. If they are lucky enough to be able to go to a Montessori primary school (elementary school) they will begin to learn about habitats and biomes and further classification of plants and animals. But Dr Montessori herself said,

"When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to [them]. Let us take the child out to show [them] real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards." - Dr. Maria Montessori (From Childhood to Adolescence).

When I became a childminder and began re-reading my Montessori text books this quote stood out for me. Due to the lower child:adult ratios in childminding, as opposed to nursery, it was much easier to take the children out and about, discovering not only our community but the wild spaces that exist nearby. They may not be big, especially living in a large urban environment, and some people may be a bit shocked that one I take the children to is an old cemetery, but they are full of different fauna and flora to explore at different times of the year. We use all of our senses; listening to birds with their different songs; crunching through the autumn leaves; feeling the spiky outer part of a conker casing, the soft part inside and the shiny, smooth conker itself; looking at the different shaped leaves and comparing them; noticing the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees; feeling the cool water washing over our toes when we step into a river; experiencing different kinds of weather on our skin; tasting wild garlic; the list goes on.

And all this is done at the child's pace. From the moment they can walk it is important to allow them to. Think about it, on an average day a child is strapped into a high chair or booster seat, then strapped into a buggy and taken wherever the adult wants to go. As they get older they are contained in classrooms, sitting at tables for hours at a time and in schools where playtime is getting shorter. Children are continually contained, with their movement restricted. No wonder we are getting more ADHD diagnoses and teachers under pressure.

Taking time in nature, walking at their pace (you'd be surprised at how far they can walk when going at a speed they dictate), and allowing them to explore does so much more than offering a learning experience. Being in green spaces makes us feel good. So take your time. Let the children take their time. And relish the nature around you......

Walking is a complete exercise; there is no need of other gymnastic efforts. He breathes and digests better and has all the advantages we ask of sports. Beauty of body is formed by walking, and if you find something interesting to pick up and classify, or a trench to dig, or wood to fetch for a fire, then with these actions accompanying walking, the stretching of arms and bending of the body, the exercise is complete. As man studies more he has many interests calling him, and his intellectual interest augments his activity of body. If the child is capable of following these interests, he finds other things he did not know, and so his intellectual interest grows. The path of education has to follow the path of evolution; walking about made man see more things, so should the life of the child expand and expand.
This must form part of education, especially today when people do not walk, but go about in vehicles, and there is a tendency towards paralysis and sloth. It is no good to cut life in two and to move limbs bay sport and then move the head by reading a book. Life must be one whole, especially at an early age when the child must construct himself according to the plan and laws of development - Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind)

Edited by Jude Saffron. Written by Sonia Quinn, Open Door Montessori Training. Sonia has been a Montessori parent, nursery owner and childminder with over 25 years experience. She runs courses for CPD tailored to Childminders interested in Montessori and Montessori Assistants.

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