Hudson Montessori School is devoted to the principle of extending learning outside of the classroom whenever possible. This principle is at the core of the school’s mission to connect student learning and the application of skills to the greater world. Among the many things educators learned from the pandemic, the benefits of outdoor learning are far-reaching. At different age levels, going outside the four walls offers unique, enriched possibilities for learning.
All students gain physical development (fine motor, gross motor, cardiovascular health), cognitive benefits (engaging the senses, problem-solving, real-time learning), and social-emotional growth (teamwork, conflict resolution, empathy). The benefits differ a little based on each child and their age level, but its advantages are indisputable for all children.
Outdoor Learning Benefits for Toddlers to Kindergarteners
Examples of the Hudson Montessori School’s outdoor activities for its youngest children include visits to the playground, taking observational walks around the neighborhood, making artful chalk drawings on the sidewalk, or observing the snow falling on the ground, then playing in it.
By giving children playground time to run free, skip, and climb, they get the physical activity their body craves—while learning the playground is the time and place for this activity, not the classroom. The children gain gross motor benefits, such as balance, depth perception, and coordination. Fine motor skills are enhanced when drawing with chalk or picking up a small object from the ground. Physical activity also promotes healthy exercise.
Cognitively, giving a child a brain break from learning in the classroom also gives their brain a boost for when they return inside to continue more learning. While outside, a child’s mind gets excited by its senses, feeling the earth, crunching leaves, and hearing a train tooting its horn. Scientists and scholars have learned that sensorial engagement is directly linked to inspiring creativity and problem-solving.
One of the most obvious ways outdoor play enhances a child’s social-emotional connection is through direct interactions with classmates. While inside, the children are more self-focused, but outside they are encouraged to interact with their friends, primarily during unstructured play periods. They learn to negotiate, pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues, and strengthen their resilience, especially after getting back up after falling.
How Elementary and Middle School Children Benefit
The benefits already mentioned for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners also apply to older children. Older students may have already developed fine and gross motor skills, but every experience enhances those skills and continues to be another notch on their developmental skills belt.
For students who are in elementary and up—most are age 6 or older—they take walks to the local park to spend their recess, where they might also have a geometry lesson with their teachers. The most significant benefits for older children are learning from real-world experience, making observations, and being part of and contributing to the community.
Because of Hudson Montessori’s robust STEAM program, the school’s elementary-age children use the Hudson River as their laboratory—studying beyond textbooks and gaining real-life scientific experience, such as during the Day in the Life of the Hudson River event.
Liberty State Park's proximity also allows students to study the estuary, pond life, and wetland biomes, including its flora and fauna. They take and document data that they later share with experts and others. On the way back from that walking field trip, the students spend lunch and recess at the park’s vast playground.
The Lower Elementary teachers also take advantage of how close the Statue of Liberty is, hosting a field trip each year to Ellis Island to review the immigration story and its correlation to the children’s social studies.
For the Upper Elementary and Middle School grades—from 4th grade and up—they take further and longer trips. The school takes full advantage of Manhattan, being only two miles away.
The children participate in the Montessori Model United Nations for three days. They take ferries to Governors Island to participate in the Billion Oyster Project for a day-long excursion. Or, they go as a group to Camp Speers in the Poconos for half the week, enjoying the outdoors, strengthening relationships, and working as a team. And, as if that isn’t enough, the teachers sprinkle in visits to local museums, businesses, and Jersey City’s City Hall.
These are some examples of what makes Hudson Montessori School unique: we find ways to enrich and enhance student experiences and knowledge while keeping and delivering on the Montessori philosophy.
Montessori Theory Behind Outdoor Learning
Most anyone who has deeply dived into the Montessori philosophy could agree that Dr. Maria Montessori truly understood children. Dr. Montessori was an Italian doctor of medicine who also studied pediatrics and psychiatry; understanding the whole child was her mantra.
So, when Dr. Montessori promotes learning beyond the classroom, particularly in the great outdoors, educators should take heed because there’s something to it.
Dr. Montessori said:
Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between walking and sleeping.
Sometimes people misconstrue the Montessori method as a free-for-all, which it isn’t. Instead, the term “freedom within limits” best explains the philosophy. Teachers and parents should permit children to be themselves and explore and express their thoughts while giving them guidance, redirection, and structure with free periods of self-directed learning indoors and unstructured outdoor play. This simple model is how we function as adults in society, so why should it be any different for children we hope to raise to be creative, self-confident, and knowledgeable human beings?
Please contact us to learn more about Hudson Montessori School’s interdisciplinary, theme-based learning approach to education, the Montessori philosophy and methodology, or how the school fosters the love of learning for children aged 2 to eighth grade.