Apple Montessori Blog

Celebrate Earth Day With Outdoor Learning


As research and field experience proves, children need and thrive from more time outdoors. Studies show that children who learn and play outside are happier, more attentive, less anxious, and enjoy learning more than those who spend more time indoors. Time spent in nature is critical for a child’s health, self-development, well-being, and future academic success.

This is where the Outside Classroom comes in.

“The outdoors is an extension of the classroom,” explains Margie Signorello, an elementary teacher at Apple Montessori in Wayne, NJ. “We make every area of the outside of our school a learning environment, thus a classroom outdoors.”

An Outdoor Classroom can look very different, depending on the Apple Montessori location. At Wayne’s Apple Montessori, for instance, there’s a garden and an outdoor weather station—“plus, of course, all of the outdoors,” notes Signorello.

Last year, the Apple Montessori Schools’ location in Edgewater swapped its existing outdoor play structure for a big block area, water and sand tables, and a garden. “We wanted to do something more engaging, but at the same time, that’s going to be a learning experience for the students,” says Yesenia Barias, the Director of the school.

The Benefits of the Outdoor Classroom

Dr. Maria Montessori understood that children are learning everywhere, all the time. She believed that children benefit significantly from being outside and exploring nature to develop their motor, cognitive, language, academic, creative, and social-emotional skills.

Children learn about the life cycle of plants…

At Wayne this spring, the students will be growing tomatoes and onions. That way, students can learn about above-ground and root vegetables. “We are doing this for two reasons. First, so that the students can understand the different ways both plants grow, from seed to harvest (beneath the soil and above the soil growth). Second, harvesting them will make a delicious treat for the students to make…SALSA,” says Signorello.

At Edgewater, the students will pick up the same lessons as they grow different vegetables, including eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, as well as flowers. Not only will they learn about which vegetables grow above the ground and which ones grow below, but they’ll learn how specific plants attract different types of insects. “They wanted to have butterflies. So they researched what kind of plant attracts butterflies because they wanted butterflies to come here a lot,” says Barias.

…And the weather.

At both schools, the students also learn about the weather and its role in the growing season. “We monitor weather such as barometer reading, reading our rain gauges and wind speed,” says Signorello. Students also pick up lessons in renewable and non-renewable sources of energy.

Their curiosity gets stimulated.

The Outdoor Classroom also helps tie in what students learn in the classroom”, says Chelsea Finley, the Assistant Director of Apple Montessori at Edgewater. “So if they’re doing the leaf puzzle or they’re reading about different types of plants, now they’re able to actually go out and have that hands-on experience of being able to explore digging in the dirt and what it takes to make a plant or a vegetable grow.”

The lessons flow both ways. If a student finds a ladybug outside, for instance, they could spend time learning about ladybugs. “And it can go into a ton of different directions of learning about different types of ladybugs — ‘What does a lady bug eat? What attracts ladybugs?’” Finley explains.

They become more responsible — and independent.

“Connecting with nature creates, I believe, independent, confident, and responsible students,” says Signorello.

First, the students are responsible for all the tasks of keeping up the garden, from aerating the soil to planting the seeds to watering the plants, she notes. Along the way, the work helps students understand their impact on nature.

“They understand how their responsibility to living things can create life or death —meaning if they forget to water their plant, it’ll die,” she explains. “Students also develop problem-solving skills with the growth and care of living things, and the freedom to use their senses to touch, feel, hear, and see what is around them.”

How You Can Engage In Outdoor Learning At Home

School isn’t the only place your child can reap the benefits of being outdoors. Here are some ideas for your family to celebrate Earth Day, the warm weather seasons, while instilling a love of nature.

  • Go on a nature walk. You can either point things out to your child or do a more structured walk, says Finley. “They can identify different plants, different birds or collect different types of rocks,” she says.
  • Play games. When you go outside for your walk, search for things outside that are a specific color or shape, suggests Signorello. Or play “I Spy,” and look for things that are living, flowering and growing.
  • Sprout some seeds. If you have a backyard, you can plant seeds in a pot or a patch of dirt. No yard? No problem — germinate the seeds in a small pot, suggests Finley. “We’re doing that in our classrooms right now, where the students are able to get a little pot and some dirt and plant seeds and learn about the process of a seed all the way through a plant.”

Whatever outdoor activity you choose this spring, your child is sure to gain a better appreciation of the planet.