Cosmic Education: Helping Montessori Parents Raise Environmentally Aware Children


“… the first thing his education demands is the provision of an environment in which he can develop the powers given him by nature. This does not mean just to amuse him and let him do what he likes. But it does mean that we have to adjust our minds to doing a work of collaboration with nature, to being obedient to one of her laws, the law which decrees that development comes from environmental experience.
—Maria Montessori
The Advanced Montessori Method, p. 89.

Children in the second plane of development (ages 6–12) are in a period when they are fascinated by knowledge understanding, and moral understanding, or what Montessori referred to as “culture.” (Grazzini) Their independence matures from “I can do it myself,” which predominates the first plane, to “I can think for myself.” Being able to think for oneself is the very basis of developing one’s own personal moral code of conduct. As the elementary-age child learns to think for himself, he seeks to understand the natural world around him. (Grazzini)

“One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts.” — David Sobel, environmental educator.


It is beneficial, therefore, for us to take advantage of this period of culture and encourage the child’s development of environmental awareness. The best way to do this is by giving children opportunities to go outside and experience nature. Studies have shown that children who have an “immersive experience in nature between the ages of 5 and 10, foster a deep love of the environment that they carry with them their entire lives.” (Fortescue, 2009)

But what do we do once we are outside? Environmental stewardship must be shown not taught. When a child experiences nature first hand, he makes a personal connection. There is a difference between reading about a tadpole in a book and experiencing a pond full of tadpoles!




Show Don’t Tell

“When you teach someone something, you’ve robbed the person of the experience of learning it.” (Fortescue, 2009) Stay true to the Montessori directive of “less is more.” Keep your words to a minimum, and let the natural world be the instructor. Go on a nature walk and find a shady spot to do nothing but listen to the sounds around you. You will be amazed at the sounds you hear. Birds singing, insects buzzing, and the wind whispering through the trees are just a few.



Model Sustainability

Planting a garden is a great way to model sustainability. Even a small terrace is capable of supporting a few tomato plants in pots. Children learn through effort and patience that they are capable of raising food for their family. They take pride in contributing to the welfare of those they love. And they will find that homegrown food is tastier, too!

Start composting! Don’t throw those scraps in the trash or down the garbage disposal. Place them in a compost bucket and use the compost to fertilize your garden.

Incorporate more sustainable practices throughout your home. Use reusable cloth bags instead of plastic bags for your shopping. Don’t use plastic bags for food storage. Carry water in reusable bottles instead of buying bottled water. Buy locally sourced food. Walk or ride your bicycles instead of driving the car. All of these seemingly small changes will be noticed without you even having to discuss them. Your habits will become a way of life for your children.



Encourage (and Answer) Questions

Why? Knowledge is the key to understanding. A curious mind wants to know more, and the more we know, the better we become. So, the next time your child asks how plastic is recycled, take a trip and find out! Satisfy his curiosity and encourage innovative thinking.

Recognize Efforts

Recognizing efforts goes a long way toward building sustainable behaviors. Rather than nagging your pre-teen about the length of his shower, recognize him when you notice he has taken a shorter one. Thank your child for remembering to turn the lights off when she leaves the room. A little recognition works better than praise or rewards when building lifelong practices.



It is ultimately up to us, as individuals and collectively, to take care of our planet. We all must do our part. Developing a healthy appreciation and respect for nature begins very young, and it is based on the role models we have in our families and our communities.

Works Cited
Fortescue, Alan. “Raising environmentally conscious kids.” PBS parents, Expert Q&A. March 2009. http://www.pbs.org/parents/experts/archive/2009/03/raising-environmentally-consci.html

Grazzini, Baiba Krumins. “The role of the disciplines for cosmic education.” A talk delivered at the Third International Adolescent Colloquium, Cleveland, OH, October 2005. http://www.montessoricongress2017.org/images/image/Speaker/BAIBA%20KRUMINS%20GRAZZINI/The%20Role%20of%20the%20Disciplines%20for%20Cosmic%20Education.pdf

Montessori, Maria. From Childhood to Adolescence, 1st English ed. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1973 (first published in 1948).

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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