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Why We Learn in Nature

Why We Learn in Nature
Gwen Shangle, Assistant Head of School


"In nature, children find their strength." - Dr. Maria Montessori


Coming back to school from spring break has been such a treat! What a revelation it is to observe our children blossoming, just like the flowers in our gardens, as they bound voraciously back into their lessons and work. 

As an educator, I have always been amazed by the immense amount of learning and growth that occurs in the springtime, and this is not only because a child's school year is culminating—so much of their rapid growth is caused by a marked increase in time spent outside in nature.

A few years ago, I saw Richard Louv speak at an American Montessori Society conference. His book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, is about the importance of exposing children to nature. His book, and many others that have been more recently published, examine how a child’s time in nature aids in sensory awareness, emotional health and stress reduction. It can also cause a remarkable increase in focus and creativity.

Dr. Montessori knew that children learned best through the senses, especially by interacting with actual elements of nature and concrete materials. At Gladwyne Montessori, our teachers have embraced the use of outdoor learning to enhance and elevate a wide range of curricula—from art to math to science. 

Across Primary and Elementary programs, Gladwyne Montessori students have been studying plants in their Botany lessons, which is one of the largest curriculum areas within the Montessori Life Sciences. Our Lower Elementary students are so excited to be examining all the different parts of plants in the outdoors using real samples while Primary students have been preparing seedlings for transfer to our greenhouse, where they will tend to their growth through the end of the school year.

While structuring lessons around nature is a large piece of incorporating outdoor learning into our classrooms, Montessori methodology also emphasizes the importance of unstructured time in nature, just like in our classroom environments, where the skills of observations and experimentation with building and playing allow for experiential learning in action. Many of our classes take daily walks along our new nature trail, investigating the school grounds for new plants and formations. 

We are so inspired by our students’ enthusiasm for nature! I am eager to share what will come to fruition next. 


Gwen Shangle, Assistant Head of School
Gladwyne Montessori

  • botany
  • curriculum
  • elementary
  • learning
  • montessori
  • nature
  • outdoor learning
  • plants