There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving.
– Maria Montessori
The choice to raise young children in a city environment like Chicago comes with many benefits: access to convenient amenities, robust cultural activities, close proximity to neighbors, a strong sense of community, diversity, and active commerce. And yet, the downside of this lifestyle is that children often lack the opportunity to spend time long stretches of time on a regular basis to connect with nature. Our fast paced urban lives can deprive children of a chance slow down and experience the beauty, joy, and harmony that only nature can provide.
As a scientist, Maria Montessori emphasized the training of the senses at a young age which would form the foundation of any future learning and knowledge. This required children to have access to a robust set of sensory materials in the classroom but also regular access to the outdoors which offers an experience that simply cannot be replaced inside. Like many elements of Montessori’s vision for education, modern research has proved that exposure to the outdoors is essential to a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being and is more important today than ever before.
Spark Montessori is a school that exists within an urban setting, but we prioritize the use of the Outdoor Classroom in multiple ways. First, each classroom has immediate access to the outdoors from right outside their classrooms in a small side yard next to the building. This space is used regularly throughout the day as an extension of the works that occur in the classroom. Children can garden, shovel sand, work with water, and sit peacefully under the trees as part of their daily activities. Second, our location immediately across the street from Horner Park provides unique opportunities for our students to immerse themselves in nature. Going beyond a daily visit to the park’s playground, Spark Montessori’s program will take full advantage of all the green space offered by Horner Park including the beautiful Riverfront trail that the US Army Corps of Engineers have rebuilt in the last 5 years to recreate the Prairie-land that used to exist in this area of the country.
Young children have an immense capacity to identify and remember even the smallest details of life that exists in nature, and so in any authentic Montessori program, botany is a field of study in the classroom. At Spark Montessori, we make sure that this study is relevant to the child’s world by tailoring the materials in the classroom to what children will go out and experience for themselves right in their school’s front yard. The learning that happens in the classroom is amplified when children are then able to go out into the world and see for themselves what a ‘cup plant’ looks, feels, and smells like. It gives the child the time and space to build an authentic reverence and respect for the natural world while augmenting the child’s understanding and passion for other subject areas such as math, science, and language. All of these fields of study first began through the study of nature, and so by taking them back to where human knowledge began, we strengthen the foundation they are building for the understanding of more abstract concepts later in life.
Spark Montessori’s Outdoor Classroom offers urban children the best of both worlds: a vibrant life in the city without the downfall of nature deficit disorder. We look forward to inspiring children by the beauty of our local park in the same way that we ourselves have been inspired.