The Dual Environment – the Classroom and the Wider World

By Carol Palmer – Tawhai Teacher, Primary

As the end of the year draws nigh, attentions in the primary classes are all turned the climatic experiences of the year – school camp for the 9 -12s and EOTC week for the 6 – 9s.  It would be easy to think of this as a way to make the last few weeks of term go quickly, or perhaps a reward for the year’s hard work, but the value of these events is far more than either of these things.  In Montessori education we talk about the dual environment where the classroom is only a starting place for the child’s discoveries and the wider world is freely accessible to them for their research.  We encourage children to ‘go out’, both because we want them to see that there is so much more to learn about in the world than that which is contained within their classroom, and also as the primary child has an ingrained need to explore the world beyond their immediate environment.

When we go on camp we disconnect from technology and bring living back to a basic level.  Last year children built their own shelters and slept in them overnight, the year before they made fires – without the use of matches – and cooked bread from scratch over them.  In doing things like this the children learn that with a few basic techniques they really can be independent and could, if necessary, take responsibility for their own survival.  It is a great and empowering realisation for the child that, as Dr Montessori said, “… it can go through life, carrying on its back all it may need.”

In the same vein our 6-9 students have EOTC (Education outside the Classroom) week currently and are utilising environments such as the Marine Life Centre, Wellington Zoo and shared bush walks with Montessori students from Berhampore school to expand their learning.

Dr Montessori, who was a friend of Lord Baden-Powell and a supporter of his scout movement, was a huge advocate of encouraging the child to “put their pack on their back’ and get out into the world.  Where Dr Montessori said that the child is asking us to ‘help it to do it by itself’, Baden-Powell instructed his boys to ‘Be Prepared’ – both ideas being designed to propagate confidence and independence.

The fast approaching summer holidays is the ideal time for children to explore their growing independence and interest in their environment. Here in New Zealand, we are fortunate to have such great opportunities to explore nature with the easy accessibility of bush walks, beaches and rivers to explore. There are several scout, kea and cub groups in the area and geocaching is an example of another innovative way to get out and about.

Geocaching sees you participating in a ‘sort of’ global treasure hunting community who leave ‘caches’ for each other to find.  The possibility of something secret hiding somewhere along the way is an enormous motivator which leads to all kinds of adventures of its own – the Palmer family highly recommends it – have a great summer!