Originally appears in the Winter 2010-2011 issue
About a hundred years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori theorized that children should be allowed to move about their environment independently. 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 community 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 “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.
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Joyce F. Nett teaches 9-12 year-olds in the Upper Elementary classroom at Lexington Montessori School in Lexington, Massachusetts.