The Close Relationship between Cosmic Education and Environmental Education in the Montessori setting
What is Cosmic Education? Cosmic education, one of Dr. Montessoris fundamental principles, provides the students with opportunities for exploration and appreciation of the world around them. When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them in cupboards. (Montessori, 1994) Cosmic education gives our students the keys to the universe when they are able to see the larger picture of the universe and the earth, including all the miraculous components of nature through environmental education.
What is environmental education? Maria Montessori noted that, the children are inspired with a feeling for nature. (Montessori, 1964) and she was right! Although the term environmental education was not commonly utilized during Montessoris lifetime, she wrote extensively in her works about the close relationship between student achievement, cosmic education and the role that nature plays in the development of the whole child. Never before in our society has this need to experience nature been more necessary. As electronic devices, computers and television replace outdoor play, educators must provide these opportunities at school to compensate. Environmental education is a curriculum that encourages children to explore the wonders of nature, including botany, zoology, preservation of the earth and even other scientific concepts that are present in Montessori such as the study of the earth, water, weather and the universe as a whole.
Long before environmental education and electronic distractions, Montessori noted, How often is the soul of man-especially that of a child-deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature? (Montessori, 1994) Maria Montessori, well before her time, knew that we must offer our students nature filled activities. Recent educators deem this generations children as suffering from nature deficient disorder (Louv, 2006). Our children are more sedentary, less involved in play outdoors and heavily scheduled with indoor pursuits. Offering outdoor experiences, both at home and at school, gives our children the movement necessary for education, encourages exploration and creativity and brings the knowledge learned in the classroom to life. Proponents of the need for nature in education note, multisensory experiences in nature help to build the cognitive constructs necessary for sustained intellectual development. (Louv, 2006)
The nurturing the spirit of the child manifests itself in the recent movement in environmental education and benefits our children of today. Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly and immediately to the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air and other living kin, large and small. (Louv, 2006) and if this quote doesnt support cosmic education, we are unrealistic to think we can find other evidence that does. Dr. Montessori would have embraced the role of environmental education in Montessori classrooms, finding that it complements her desire to teach the cosmic curriculum to students.
Although the concept of cosmic education is as old as the Montessori philosophy, the nature of our society has evolved to such a point that our children have little contact with the outside world. For this reason, now more than ever, the importance of the co-relationship between cosmic and environmental education becomes a predominant need in our Montessori classrooms. John Dewey advocated immersing students in the local environment: experience (outside the school) has its geological aspect, its artistic and its literary and its scientific and its historical sides. All studies arise from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it. (Louv, 2006) Montessori schools are finding it easy to correlate specific studies of the earth, the extensive geography, history and science curriculum with the more recent concerns on our planet such as global warming, recycling, reduction of waste and the like.
With concern growing today about the so-called zombie effect from an overexposure to television and computers (Healy, 1990), educators around the globe are more and more aware of what Montessori has known all along.... Environmental and cosmic education, which throws open classroom doors and allows for learning to take place beyond the four walls of classroom, fosters creativity and an awareness of self and the universe and becomes more important to our children as they have less opportunity for physical, outdoor movement at home. As our society becomes and more and more technologically advanced, we must make a concerted effort to not displace the role of cosmic and environmental education in our classrooms and in fact, to place an increased emphasis in our nations classrooms.
Howard Gardner, a professor of education known for his multiple intelligences theory, has now added an eighth sign of intelligence, naturalist intelligence that gives additional validity to Montessoris theory of the importance of the connection between nature and intelligence. Interestingly, it has been noted, The Montessori movement, along with other education approaches has made this connection for decades….the impact of nature experience on early childhood development is understudied..Gardners designation of the eighth intelligence suggests another rich arena for research…the theory has immediate application for teachers and parents that might otherwise overlook the importance of natural experience to learning and child development. (Louv, 2006)
Although we dont know if there are any geographic or class divide in terms of which kids spend time in nature (Chawla, 2006), we do know that copious studies show a reduced amount of leisure time experienced by American families, more time in front of the TV and computer and growing obesity among adults and children because of diet and sedentary lifestyles (Louv, 2006), we do know that now…more than ever…we need to focus on meeting each childs need for outdoor play, exploration of nature and cosmic education to counteract these growing issues in society.
As Montessori educators, we must provide environmental education as it relates to the cosmic curriculum. Fostering creativity, independence, allowing for unstructured play, caring for the earth and its inhabitants are all the foundations of Montessori. The recent emphasis on these activities in education in our classrooms only brings light again to our century old philosophy of education, that we must nurture the spirit of the child by giving them the keys to the outdoors. In unstructured play, the children discover the power to amuse themselves (Cooper, 2008) and as they amuse themselves, they develop a sense of who they are, their place in society and their role as caretakers of the Earth.
Tying in the role of cosmic education with the current movement in environmental education seems to be a natural step for many in the Montessori field. As Nicole Vigliotti, Head of School at Montessori of Mount Pleasant notes about her school in Tomorrows Child Magazine, the language we are allowing the children to absorb is the language related to the rhythms of the earth-its cycles and ability to give life and our role in protecting and caring for it in order that it becomes the essence of each child in our care (Alexander, 2008).
Encouraging Cosmic Education Through Building Green With more and more of an emphasis in education on the importance of bringing nature filled activities and components to Montessori, it should be mentioned that many schools have chosen to build green. Green buildings can be certified with the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) as LEED rated. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design and is a standard accreditation to determine how green a sustainable building really is. The interesting point is that green buildings have been deemed more healthy and preliminary studies have shown that academic performance is improved with greener learning environments that can also instruct our children in the preservation of the earth. So, not only can environmental education be TAUGHT in the Montessori classroom, it can be LIVED in the building itself. What a possible path for Montessori schools to follow that would allow cosmic education to be lived each day by the Montessori students themselves!
Teaching Environmental and Cosmic Education Also Improves Learning The benefits of building green and teaching environmental education through the facility that serves the children is enormous and in keeping with the Montessori philosophy of cosmic education, along with the increased interest in environmental education around the globe. Beyond teaching our students in a living and breathing facility that teaches earth conservation through the use of all natural products, fresh air and other working models for sustainability, these facilities have been shown to demonstrate positive correlations between day lighting, appropriate acoustical environments and other components that directly affect student performance (Heschong Mahone, 1999).
As more and more Montessori schools desire to provide cosmic education instruction through their facilities, the classroom walls can easily be replaced with windows, outdoor gardening, composting, recycling and other opportunities for environmental education for the children. Green construction provides environmental benefits (Scott, 2007) that pay for themselves well beyond the initial construction of the building, along with fulfilling Montessoris desire to teach children the importance of their place on earth, the positive change that can occur from their work and the awareness of the universe and the planet.
As we continually strive to keep our Montessori values intact, while changing with the times for our students, the role of environmental education as it relates to cosmic education will continue to influence Montessori schools around our globe. As evident, environmental education is consistent with the cosmic curriculum and this movement can manifest itself not just through the curriculum, but even through the facilities that we inhabit. Without a doubt, its a new path that Montessori would have appreciated and valued.
References Alexander, M.(2008) Blue grass for a green Earth, Tomorrows Child. 9-11. Cooper, A and Keitel, E. (2008) I just want my kids to be happy!. Late August Press. 125-127 Healy, J. (1990) Endangered Minds: Why children dont think and what we can do about it. 203-204 Louv, R. (2005) Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature deficit disorder. 71, 85, 87, 91 Montessori, M. (1964) The Montessori method.159-161. Montessori, M. (1994) From childhood to adolescence. 19-20 Scott, M.(2007) It isnt easy building green, Montessori Leadership, 22. (YES, thats my article!!) Schneider, M.(2002) Do school facilities affect academic outcomes? Note: Photos of school are Hilltop Montessori School in The Town of Mt Laurel, Birmingham, Alabama. Hilltop Montessori School is LEED certified with The U.S. Green Building Council. The Head of School is Michele Scott.