Montessori preschool students cooking seed to table buscuits

Primary sweet potato biscuits keep students warm on a cold morning.

At Greensboro Montessori School, Environmental Education Curriculum is based on seasonal cycles, the outdoor environment at the School, and the age of the students. We invite spontaneity and often pause to watch and identify insects, marvel at life in the garden, and discuss questions or insights as a community. In all levels we teach about soil, decomposition and compost, pollination, and biodiversity. But what is it we do in winter when the gardens are resting? The short answer is, we teach seasonality and ecology in organic gardens.

Primary students study birds, concentrating on basic identification by sight and sound. They love making binoculars (out of recycled toilet paper rolls) and using them on our bird walks around campus. Along the way, they learn to empathize with birds and their needs, to stop and slow down as not to miss a moment of wonder, and to make an ecological connection between our gardens and the needs of birds: shelter, food, water, and spaces to nest. As the weather warms up, we explore our winter stores of food from the fall gardens - sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger, and honey - in cooking classes, and venture outdoors to observe and relish in the signs of spring!

Elementary bird watching environmental education

Lower Elementary students' binoculars are treasured tools in class this month.

Lower Elementary students delve even deeper into their bird study, concentrating not only on the basic identification of birds, but also on prolonged observation of bird behavior, habitat, and appreciation for their ecological significance in our organic, permaculture gardens. They love learning how to use and read field guides like ornithologists! I find bird study with this age is a wonderful way to remind children how to sit and soak in the surrounding environment, something we often don’t take time to do when the garden gets growing in spring. Bird watching in winter offers students opportunities to experience peace, critical thought, and insight that they so desperately need after the holiday rush and just before the end of year crunch! As spring break draws near, we share our bird findings with area scientists, cook with our winter food stores, and begin preparing ourselves for spring planting in the garden.

Elementary bee keeping environmental education Montessori

Upper Elementary students save bees wax from a hive that died over the winter. Honey bees and other native bees are a focal point for these students' climate change project.

Upper Elementary winter studies range from native tree and animal projects to redesigning of our Upper School outdoor classroom. This year, we're up to something BIG ... we’re tackling the subject of climate change and how it affects each of us and our experience at Greensboro Montessori School. We're thrilled the culmination of this project will include an art installation we collectively create and participation at the Student Climate Change Summit at UNCG on March 29. The event will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Weatherspoon Art Museum. Open to the public, the Student Climate Change Summit will feature a wide-array of student participants representing several generations. In addition to our Upper Elementary students presenting their artwork, undergraduate students from UNCG will present research posters around a variety of climate change topics. A student from NC State will describe the work of The Climate Reality Project Campus Corps on their campus. Last but not least, students from the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Grimsley High School will present posters highlighting their IB papers on climate change. We hope you will join us at Weatherspoon Art Museum on March 29!

Eliza HudsonAbout the Author

Eliza Hudson is Greensboro Montessori School's lead environmental educator. Eliza holds her bachelor's degree in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. She has built and tended school gardens, taught hands-on cooking lessons and connected local farms to school programs working for FoodCorps. Prior to joining Greensboro Montessori School in 2014, Eliza was a classroom and after-school assistant at the Richmond Friends School, a farm intern at a family-owned farm in Ohio, and served as assistant director at a summer day camp in an urban community garden in Durham.

Greensboro Montessori School has taught environmental education since 1995 and has been permaculture gardening on its campus since 1997.

Have you ever been reminded of an Abbott and Costello skit when talking with your three year old? Ever fallen down a rabbit hole of questions, only to hit the rock bottom of your ability to come up with an answer? If so, you have encountered the phenomenon that is the "Why?" stage. Where does this dizzying vortex of inquiry come from? And, more importantly, when will it stop?

"Get your shoes on, honey. We're going to the store."
"Because we need groceries."
"Because we ate up all our food."
"Because we were hungry."

Maria Montessori provides us with profound insight into the seismic shift in children's cognitive development that takes place around the third birthday. Before this milestone, infants and toddlers are "unconscious, absorbent" learners who acquire skills such as walking and talking without self-awareness or intention, by simply following their own innate desire for autonomy and imitating others in their environment. Around age three, however, they become "conscious" learners, who actively seek knowledge and master new skills through purposeful, deliberate inquiry and practice. It is around this time that many children stumble upon a magical word; one that elicits a seemingly endless wellspring of useful information from adults. Thus begins the litany: "Why? Why? Why?”

In truth, a child's "why?" is not the same question we ask as adults. Yes, children do crave our explanations as they seek to understand their world, but they are not necessarily expecting any elegant, logical, or scientific answers. More often, "why?" translates to: "I'm curious about this topic. I like it when you explain what will happen next. I cherish your attention and the love I feel from you when you talk to me. I want to hear all of the words you know so that I can learn how to use them, too. I want to use long sentences and have conversations, just like you do. Let's practice talking together!" Like a game of verbal ping-pong, each thread of "whys" and responses helps children develop engaging, socially adept conversation skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

For a great perspective on the whys behind "why," click here for a great article from child psychologist Dr. Alan Green. And to learn more about Montessori's research on the developing brain, please visit our Parent Resource Library, or ask your child's teacher at GMS. (Why? Because we love talking about this stuff.)

There is something incredible happening at Greensboro Montessori School!

That “incredible” lives within the people and the work our students do every day; that “incredible” permeates our culture and the program. When any of us answer the question, “Why Greensboro Montessori School?”, this “incredible” is most likely part of our answer. We intuitively and deeply know there is extreme value in a Greensboro Montessori education. We know that the School both nurtures and pushes our children; loves and empowers them. We know that our children are learning to think critically and originally, to look beyond polarizing black and white perspectives, to lean into complex and difficult ideas, and to work effectively, eagerly, and ethically within a team. We know that there are some of the best teachers in the entire state of North Carolina caring for our children every single day. We feel this.

While we all know these things to be true, our team has been working on providing families with data points that answer this question (Why Greensboro Montessori School?) in a more analytical fashion. In our reenrollment packets, you will see some of the quantitative data we have been gathering. You’ll see data that tells you the average ACT score in North Carolina is 19 and our college-aged alumni’s average is 30. Or that our students’ English composite scores on our standardized tests is in the 92nd percentile nationally. Or that 88% of our students feel like they were very well prepared high school.

In addition to quantitative data like this, there is also important qualitative data that answers this same question. Some of the best qualitative data comes from our alumni students and families. At our recent Grow With Us event for each of our students and families who will transition into a new division in the fall, we invited two of our alumni parents, Nancy King Quaintance and Dennis Quaintance, to reflect on why they kept their two college-aged children at Greensboro Montessori from toddler through to graduation. Below are a few excerpts from their remarks:

[dt_sc_pullquote type="pullquote1" align="center" icon="yes" textcolor="#81d742"]The thing that kept bringing us back and causing us to know that Greensboro Montessori School was the place we wanted to be can be summed up in one phrase - a loving community. We felt like our children were understood and appreciated for who they were.[/dt_sc_pullquote]

[dt_sc_pullquote type="pullquote1" align="center" icon="yes" textcolor="#81d742"]Another thing that brought us back is that we believe that for any organization, to really function to its potential, it has to have a compass and a sense of north. And every time we were in a [parent] conference whether it was with Doug or Jonathan in middle school or with the Primary teachers, without it being scripted, [the teachers] would say 'this is happening because its part of the idea of children being eager learners and discovering their potential to become responsible global citizens.' It makes me want to cry because imagine if we could do that as a whole global society.[/dt_sc_pullquote]

Those qualitative data points spoken by alumni parents who were at our School for 12 years can help inspire those of us who have had children at the School for only one or two years. Perhaps even more inspiring, though, is listening to their college sophomores reflect on their journey at Greensboro Montessori School. Please click on the link below to hear why they loved their time with us:

Finally, one more type of answer to the question, "Why Greensboro Montessori School?", comes from scholarly research. Dr. Maria Montessori herself was a scientist. Her methods and practices were all based on known science about human development and student learning. Educational scholars and practitioners are also always reflecting on and researching the Montessori methodology.

A 2012- 2016 Longitudinal study involving 43 Montessori Programs was recently published by the Riley Institute at Furman University. One of their conclusions was “a higher percentage of students in Montessori programs met or exceeded state performance benchmarks in language arts, math, science, and social studies, and showed faster growth in language arts over the course of the study.”

And if you need one more answer, it’s because it’s what we ultimately want for our children. We want them to be successful, well-adjusted, confident, competent, and creative people. And we know that Greensboro Montessori School can help them become just that.

Really, what more could we ask for?