The Outdoor Prepared Environment
Even outdoors, you are still the third point of the triangle! When we take the children outdoors, where it seems so easy for them to function, we tend to forget that the magic of the Montessori prepared environment depends as much on the teacher as it does on the materials and the child. Do children really need the same active support, parameters, and supervision in the outdoor prepared environment as they do inside the classroom? In theory, yes; in practice, we sometimes fall short.
Intellectually, we all know the prepared environment doesn’t stop at the classroom door. So, why is it so easy for us teachers to abdicate responsibility when we walk outside? I’ve heard more teachers talking lately about the disappearance of peaceful play on the yard. Some may think today’s children are shorter on tolerance, or that it’s natural for children to interact less peacefully in a more stressful world. Perhaps. And perhaps there is something else going on. Something that has less to do with the children and more to do with us.
Let’s face facts. Every teacher’s time is precious – our responsibilities can be exhausting. Labor laws aside, in the real world there is sometimes no formal space for teachers to take a mental break or check in with each other. We see the children running, jumping, digging, dancing, and singing in the outdoor environment we have prepared for them. It’s easy to persuade ourselves that it’s all right to use outside time to check in with a colleague or for a little personal rejuvenation – what teacher doesn’t need a breath in the middle of the day! We justify this notion by telling ourselves the children are just playing, after all; it’s no big deal. Is that true?
Let’s remember that for many children, free play in the outdoor environment is very big work! Here are just some of the social skills children are developing – with or without you:
- Negotiating social scenes of all kinds
- Interacting successfully with others, while creating
their own games
- Implementing their own plans, while incorporating
the ideas of others
- Determining the difference between reality and fantasy
- Role-playing in new situations, some that don’t
make sense to them
- Experimenting with leadership & being a follower, team-play, etc.