by Toddler Directress Shun Shun Cui
When I entered the Montessori classroom my first time, I was attracted by the natural materials. All the materials in the classroom are closely related to nature or our adult functional life, such as wooden plates, small stones from the river, and real glasses. Those natural materials provide children an authentic environment, in that they are not giving the child a ‘dummy’ experience with fake plastic versions of items and tools. Natural materials help them learn to get close to nature and understand natural laws and real life from a toddler age.
First of all, let’s talk about the importance of our immediate, outdoor environment. Nature is the biggest sensory class for children. In the beginning of life, children are surprised by everything in nature and it is mysterious to them. Experiences in nature can make a child curious, and lead them to learn that all life in nature is related.
This curiosity is what we use to surprise our children all the time; turn on the tap, strike a match, point out the sudden appearance of a rainbow, the different shapes of snowflakes falling, and the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
Using a Nature Tray
Now, let us take an example to see how children can learn a lot from natural materials. As you can see in the picture, it is a nature tray for toddlers. All those materials are from nature. Beans, twigs, feather, acorns, bird nest and pinecones.
When you pick each one of them and put them in a tray, you can give toddlers a sensory lesson. They can touch them, feel the objects’ different textures to learn soft and hard, bumpy and smooth, light and heavy. If I offer a magnifier in that tray, they can have a science and nature lesson: they will learn how to use the magnifying glass to observe objects better.
Toddlers can learn much from those materials. If you put more of them in a tray, they can become a sorting lesson to teach toddlers how to sort different objects. If you take pictures of each kind of object, you can offer matching lessons to toddlers. You can also find books about bird nests and pine trees to extend the lesson; you can talk about their names, colors, and about where each object comes from or what they are used for, and it becomes a language lesson.
Montessori education brings nature to the classroom, and children can explore nature as much as possible. We show the children and help them understand there is no end to learning. Everything around us could become our learning resources, and teach them to appreciate the environment, and enjoy all that it has to offer.