Montessori students learn about nature and life
Children clustered around the deep-rooted tomato plant, puzzled expressions on their faces. One child had been tugging and pulling at the plant, trying to remove it from the garden to make room for fall vegetables, but the stubborn stalk had not budged. Determined to uproot the plant, the small group of three- to six-year-olds at The Natural Child Learning Community hit upon a solution that involved a little group effort and a lot of teamwork.
“One child started pulling on the back of another, and another child pulled on the back of another,” explains Nichole Chigoy, who began the home-based Montessori learning environment with fellow teacher Lissadell Greene in 2009. “In an instant, there was a cute little line of children, all pulling as hard as they could on the tomato plant. Finally the root gave way, and the children tumbled backward with giggles of joy and delight.”
Teachable moments like this one encouraged Nichole to include a garden as part of the learning community in the first place. “Gardening provides so many opportunities for young children to connect to the natural world—and observing children in nature is about as good as life gets,” she says. “Young children soak up information about the world through their interaction with it—through their senses. Planting seeds, tending the soil, watering, and watching plants grow are all truly sensorial experiences.”
In maintaining the seasonal vegetable garden, the children plant seeds and starter plants and then water the plants a few times a week. They check the garden daily to observe when new sprouts and flowers appear and how the weather and insects have affected the plants’ growth. They also grind up calcium-rich eggshells for compost and maintain a worm farm, feeding the food scraps to the worms and collecting the nutrient-rich soil that is produced.
“Children thrive when they are able to contribute to the real needs of a community,” Nichole says. “With a garden, children gain awareness about what it means to care for, to tend to, and to respect all living things. Life is miraculous, and gardening affords children the perfect opportunity to witness the beauty of it. My hope is that they will grow up knowing instinctively where their food comes from and with an appreciation and awe for the delicate web of our natural world. I hope this reverence for the natural world stays with them always.”