Solicitous care for living things affords satisfaction to one of the most lively instincts of the child's mind.Nothing is better calculated than this to awaken an attitude of foresight. — Maria Montessori
Nature Table or Nature Shelf
A little table or shelf, in the home or classroom, dedicated to a changing array of beautiful objects from nature, is a delight to children. Some suggestions are a vase of flowers, leaves, a colored leaf in the fall, or a plant experiment (from the biology curriculum for the 3-6 class). It is also the place where the botany experiments, to teach that a plant needs warmth, light, and water, can be carried out. In traditional classes an experiment like growing a seed might be done as a group, with one paper cup and seed for each child. But this kind of experiment always makes some of the children feel bad as their seed doesn't sprout, or introduces competition as one plant is taller than another. In a Montessori class there is just one seed in a cup, or experiment, for all children to share.
It is important to keep this area very clean, beautiful, and constantly changing. A little tray with a magnifying glass could be kept on the nature table for closer observation. In the 3-6 classroom a plastic mat, bucket and sponge; and a small drying towel are kept on a tray under or near the nature table. One of the favorite activities is to carefully clean the table and the items on the table.
Lay out a plastic mat and carefully remove everything from the shelf. If there are dry leaves or soil, show the child how to wipe them off the edge of the table and into his hand. Next show him how to dip and wring out the sponge, and to wipe the top of the table and the legs. With a drying cloth dry everything. Wipe and dry the plastic mat, then clean the sponge, hang the drying cloth up to dry and replace it with a fresh one. And replace the items on the table, letting the child decide on their arrangement. Now the child knows how to carry out this activity at any time, independently of an adult's permission. This gives the child the feeling of really caring for the beautiful objects and not just looking at them.
It is important for a child to spend some time in the outdoors experiencing nature every day if possible—in all kinds of weather and during all seasons. Going for a walk with a young child, if one follows the child's slow speed and unpredictable interests, can open our eyes to the world of nature like never before. Since this is the age that children want to know the names of everything (not the "why" and "how" as much as the names) we teach the names of plant, parts of the plant, kinds of roots and stems, parts of the root and stem, attachment of the leaf to the stem (such as alternate or opposite), any of the botanical concepts that will be learned later, as long as they are visible in the child's world, will work.
Flower arranging is an important part of the ritual of beginning the day in many classrooms and can be done in the home. A selection of interesting tiny vases of different sizes and shapes, from different countries, is important. Just as with the cleaning of the nature table, a tray can be prepared with all of the items necessary for flower arranging: small vases, scissors to cut the flowers, a small pitcher to fill the vases and perhaps a funnel if the tops of the vases are small, and a sponge and drying cloth for cleaning up. Also a selection of handmade cotton doilies makes this ritual very special. Having these flower arrangements on the kitchen, living room, or classroom tables, even if they consist of only one small flower or fern in a vase, brings the child's attention to the beauty and variety of nature as he goes through the day. Don't be surprised if all the flowers and vases end up on the same table the first time. Grass, leaves, wildflowers, or cultivated flowers all make ideal art materials when they have been preserved in a flower press. In our home we have often kept previously dried leaves and flowers in a container next to the flower press ready for decorating birthday cards, or for including in letters.
If you are planning an outdoor environment for children at home or at school, be sure to include a space for wild specimens. Some of the best biological examples of leaf shapes, examples of the opposite or alternate attachments of the leaf to the stem, and so forth, can be found on wild plants such as dandelions and thistles. First we point out, invite to touch, and give the vocabulary for experiences and concepts such as orange, red, small, long, rough, smooth, bumpy, hard, and soft. This is a classification that even the beginning botanist can use. Very soon we can give more. The young child wants to know exact names of everything. Not just "flower" but "California poppy," and later, after exposure has stimulated an interest in plants, we can introduce the botanical names and further classification—such as kinds of leaf margins or flower corollas. Exposure to plants and animals initiates many important discussions that a wide vocabulary can enrich and make more satisfying.
Providing garden tools and a small wheelbarrow for the child, so that she can help to carry grass cuttings or anything else which needs to be transported, is an excellent way to involve the child with the yard work. Although the adult will often shy away from hard work, the young child will welcome important real work. This is the time to introduce gardening to children. Even one pot, inside or outside, with one plant, is better than nothing when there is no room for a large outside garden.
It is important to show the child the end, as well as the beginning, of any of these activities. Sometimes endings can be separate activities so the child will be ready for them at the conclusion of a hard days work in the garden. For example, show the child exactly how to hold the shovel in order to carefully hang it up or place it where it belongs. Wherever the adult is sensitive to the child's natural need for order, there is a place for every tool. Children are shown how to clean and put away the tools, how to hold the wooden handles and polish the metal. These activities give a great feeling of satisfaction, independence, and completion of a job well done.
Beautiful pictures of plants and flowers (photos, postcards, reproductions of great oil paintings) can be hung on the child's wall. You may be surprised at a child's preference for nonfiction books about nature when she has been kept in touch with nature.
This link is provided by Michael Olaf Montessori www.michaelolaf.net
Photos from Montessori Children's House -- May 2012