Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dirt is for Digging

"Of course we must adapt according to conditions, but ideally there is a light airy classroom that opens into a lovely yard, and the children have the freedom to be inside or outside as they wish.
The yard should contain both a cultivated and a wild part. It should consist of a lawn, a flower garden, and a place for the children to plant. There should be appropriate tools, real adult tools with short handles, and a shed to clean and store them."
-Maria Montessori
Upon their return from Spring Break, the children were delighted to find that the seeds they started had begun to germinate.

Today marked the children's first day in the newly constructed garden! Young children are sensorial explorers; as a result, all Montessori cultural units begin with a concrete experience which engages all of the child's senses.

As a group, the children received a detailed orientation to the new garden. To commence our gardening, and our unit on annelids (segmented worms), the children began by turning over a small plot of dirt to see what animals live in the soil. The children were very excited to find a large variety of earthworms, some millipedes, and some earthworm cocoons!

Children are consummate naturalists! The children collected some (57!) earthworms. They measured the worms and closely observed the parts of the worms, how they moved, and their reaction to light. Many of the children wanted to feel the worms wriggle in the palms of their hands, while others preferred to observe at a distance. After a bit, they released the worms back into the plot and watched them scrunch back into their burrows.

For the rest of the day, the vast majority of the children abandoned the swingset and sandbox in favor of working in the garden, digging for worms, or transporting loads of dirt to no place in particular in the wheelbarrow. This might be surprising to some people, but not to a trained Montessorian! One of Dr. Montessori's most astute observations of children was that they prefer actual work to pretend or unstructured play. Dr. Montessori created a large variety of Practical Life activities which invite the child to carry out activities that imitate the way that an adult uses familiar objects to carry out a real task. These activities are uniquely adapted to the child's interests and lure the child into mental and physical activity because they contain the promise of taking part in real adult work; however, there is one crucial difference- because the activity meets the child's needs, they are driven to repeat the work, even though it serves no external purpose.

Later, the children learned about composting and christened the new bin with it's first load of lunch scraps.
Gardening and composting are considered "Care of the Environment" activities. They permit children to contribute positively to the classroom community and to the social group (creating an authentic sense of self-esteem), and demonstrates our confidence in, and respect for, the child by permitting them to take part in "important work."

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