Gisborne Montessori School is a small Victorian rural / urban fringe pre-school and primary school, with over 70 students ranging from 2.5 years to 12 years old. Dr. Maria Montessori developed a philosophy of education that is as inspiring as it is comprehensive. Montessori believed that education should follow the natural development of the child, within a scientifically prepared environment, that provides experiences in which to develop both life and academic skills. This development of the individual would in turn affect society through a higher level of co-operation, peace and harmony; perhaps even more relevant now, than in the early 1900’s when it was first developed.
• Respect for ourselves
• Respect for each other
• Respect for the environment
• Respect for the community
The opportunity to utilise the campus as a broad ranging learning landscape has been successfully designed and implementation has commenced. There are ongoing learning opportunities that engage the entire school community. Some of the projects undertaken in 2005 were the design and construction of a teepee village, a maize maze, a native garden and the establishment of native shelterbelts. These learning opportunities are also integrated into the curriculum to meet both Montessori and Government outcomes, as well as being taken into new directions by the students themselves.
One of the five great lessons that Montessori Curriculum is based upon is the coming of plants and animals within the context of the evolution of the universe and our earth. The school has been able to extend this learning into real life, practical application through the exploration and development of biodiversity – both within the school grounds and out into the wider community. This coincided with the need for site development of the campus, allowing the children to take on an active role and develop their relationship with the environment. Permaculture principles are at work here! The 10 acre site had been heavily grazed by horses for many years and was contaminant free.
• North and westerly windbreaks – irrigated with tank water and processed waste water.
• A wildlife corridor that will help link a marshland of State Significance and Barringo Valley.
• Plantings of thousands of native trees throughout the campus.
• Organic orchard, bush foods and teepee village gardens.
• Bird attracting hedges, eucalypt groves and global gardens.
• Wetlands development, with a hide and boardwalk including swales and frog ponds.
• Utilisation of earthworks from the wetlands to construct a playing field.
• Zoned playing areas – high action, quiet meditation areas, group sports and individual reading areas.
• A long-term harvestable woodlot on the southern boundary.
There was not a single tree or shrub on the campus. The students set about creating a native garden at the entrance to the school. They collected plant samples from an excursion to a local nursery, collated their most popular choices, learned the Latin and botanical names, as well as the plant’s needs. The first obstacle was to prepare the soil. This contained an unforeseen learning opportunity about how to adapt the conditions to a more suitable environment for the healthy growth of the garden. Parental muscular strength was employed at this point and the children worked cooperatively with them to prepare the ground and then plant their plants according to their design. Much watering and mulching followed.
All students have participated in tree planting on the campus, exploring the viability of natives versus non natives. Plant anatomy, nomenclature and care have been studied in both Cycle 1 and Cycle 2 (Prep to Grade 3). Photos show students establishing the northern and western windbreaks. The school’s focus on planting native trees and shrubs is ongoing. Whilst the school participated in National Tree Day in July, it is only a small part of their planting activities. Through the integration of these experiences into the curriculum, children have learned how to identify a range of native trees, understand their needs for growth, ideal soil conditions and water needs. The school’s target is to plant 10,000 native trees over the next few years. Apart from planting seedlings, the children also planted seeds which are now growing. When they are large enough, they will be planted out along the windbreak lines. The children eagerly took on the responsibility for helping the seeds to germinate and watching them grow has been a rich and exciting experience, further deepening their wonderment and awe for nature. The school plans to further extend the students knowledge into seed identification and collection in the coming years.
One of the major aims of Montessori education is for children to learn and understand the interdependence of all living things and how they can positively impact and protect their environment. Montessori’s educational practise believes that in order for learning experiences to be rich and meaningful, they need to start with the real, then move to concrete and then to abstract. Through the study of plants and animals, the children then visited the Melbourne Aquarium, The Melbourne Museum and The Melbourne Zoo. These experiences again deepened the children’s respect for and relationship with nature. The focus on all excursions was on the interdependence of all living things and how we as caretakers of the land, have a responsibility to care for and support the ongoing existence of all species. Some of this macro knowledge was able to be applied into the children’s micro environment, through the care of their garden and animals living in the school.
An Eastern Long Necked Turtle arrived at the school and was adopted by the students. This opportunity for learning was quickly seized and the students set about discovering what would be needed to provide adequate care for this animal. From designing the enclosure, to digging the hole for the pond, to holding a naming competition to raise money to buy water maintenance equipment and food; the children led and participated in all aspects of the experience. Through this, the children had a direct learning opportunity in which to engage in a relationship with nature, furthering their active role in caring for it. The care for ‘Big Shell’ has proved to be an ongoing source of learning and wonderment. The children have since engaged in more fundraising opportunities which also benefited Cystic Fibrosis research for the wider community. They have also developed a smaller worm farm to generate the growth of more worms to feed the turtle. The ultimate aim for the school is to provide a learning landscape that develops a passion for preserving the environment: helping people of all ages understand why, know what can be done, how to do it and have certainty around their ability to make a difference.