Nature in the Primary Classroom

Have you ever had the stress of a hard day washed away by looking at the ocean or taking a walk in the forest? The mysteries and beauty of nature can take us out of our head and allow us to listen to our soul in a way that brings a sense of wonder and awe. As a primary teacher, I’m constantly reminded that children live like this every day. In the classroom, we have plants, rocks, crystals, flowers, and animals that provide children with real experiences. We enjoy nature together by following their interests and reading books, using our science materials, or doing reports.

In the Ohlone classroom, the outdoor spaces of the classroom are used throughout the day. We follow the child in their awe of the beauty of nature. We also take the opportunity to teach and explain about plants, animals, the weather and whatever mysteries unfold. We embrace the seasons and dress accordingly to be outside. We explore the playgrounds and our greater campus; the children marvel at walking and splashing in rain puddles with their boots on. We run for cover under the redwood trees when the rain starts coming down feeling excited, safe, and dry. This lends itself to talks about the special qualities of the Redwoods and the other plants around us. We get especially excited about watching the squirrels running on top of the fences or discovering a family of roly-polys. This daily interaction with nature brings deep joy and shared excitement to the children (and the teachers).

The Santa Cruz Montessori classrooms have gardens for vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Planting and digging in the soil is as exciting as harvesting fruit and vegetables. They look in awe as a tiny dandelion is found or a seed begins to sprout. They take part in the care of living things in our classroom; this ownership brings respect and love for nature. We often feed our pets with vegetables from the garden. The children get to see the life cycles and take part in maintaining the garden spaces.

Hiking in the forest is another favorite activity that allows the students a direct connection with nature. It is such a magical time discovering and enjoying the beauty of Santa Cruz. It also is very empowering for children to feel what it is like deep in the forest and feel a sense of accomplishment after completing a long hike. This is the next generation and their love for the Earth will help us all. I encourage you to “stop and smell the roses” with your child as often as possible. It will leave both of you feeling better. 

Written by Heather Hays, Head Guide in the Ohlone Classroom. She has been teaching at SCM since 1998. Both her children attended SCM through junior high. She works in our primary program with 3 to 6 year olds.