"Children are inspired with a feeling for nature...He stands with respect to the plants and animals in relations analagous to those in which the observing teacher stands towards him. Little by litte, as interest and observation grow, his zealous care for the living creatures grows also, and in this way, the child can logically be brought to appreciate the care which the mother and teacher take of him."
-Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, 1912
Montessori believed strongly in the importance of children's regular interaction with nature, both for their physical health and as an important part of the child's education (in which even the youngest child would learn botany, earth science, and art appreciation first hand):
"The education which a good mother or a good modern teacher gives today to the child who, for example, is running about in a flower garden is the counsel not to touch the flowers, not to tread on the grass; as if it were sufficient for the child to satisfy the physiological needs of his body by moving his legs and breathing fresh air. But for the physical life it is necessary to have the child exposed to the vivifying forces of nature in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the educating forces of living nature. The method of arriving at this end is to guide him to the cultivation of plants and animals, and so to the intelligent contemplation of nature."
As a result, Montessori children engage in many practical life tasks which encourage the child to connect with and care for their environment (raking leaves, shoveling snow, raking sand in a Zen garden, caring for plants and animals in the classroom, and gardening). Additionally, these activities provide opportunities for children to develop gross and fine motor skills and to cultivate an authentic self- esteem by making a positive contribution to their community.
Montessori's beliefs appear to be prescient; contemporary research supports the notion that children whose access to nature is restricted are more prone to suffer from anxiety, depression, and inattentiveness.
This Autumn, the children have been learning about leaves (the parts of a leaf, shapes of leaves, and the important role that leaves form in photosynthesis). Most importantly though, they have learned that leaves are beautiful and fun to play in!