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The Importance of Nature

"Solicitous care for living things affords satisfaction to one of the most lively instincts of the child’s mind. Nothing is better calculated than this to awaken an attitude of foresight." —Maria Montessori

An atmosphere of love and respect for plants and animals, in the home, is the best foundation.

Nothing can substitute for walking in nature, hearing birds, looking for shells on the beach, watching the daily growth of a flower in the garden. From the very beginning of life it is vital to maintain the link between the child and nature.


For the infant we can provide flowers and fruit to explore by sight and smell; show her the shadows of tree leaves and the sound of their rustling in the wind. It is important for a child to spend some time in the outdoors experiencing nature every day if possible—in all kinds of weather and during all of the seasons. Very early in life a child will appreciate the variety of texture, and color of, tree bark, leaves, flowers, then looking at brightly colored pictures in plant books.

In the first three years of life the child is absorbing, without effort, every experience and the name of everything. Near the end of this period of life she will "explode" into language, using all the words she has been hearing. So from the beginning we can use the exact words, so the child will be able to. Not just flower but California Poppy, and descriptive words such as orange, small, and soft.

If you are a gardener who knows the Latin or scientific names of plants, you will find that these are as easy for the child as the common names and what fun to learn them now.

If you are planning an outdoor environment that will be good for children, be sure to include a space for wild flora and fauna. Some of the best biological specimens are wild plants, such as dandelions and thistles.

When the child begins to walk, there is a lot she can do related to plants. Gather dead leaves from beneath a house plant, dust plant leaves, cut and serve fresh fruit, and so on. Simple flower arranging and leaf washing is enjoyed at this age since the child loves to do anything to do with water, pouring water into a tiny vase and placing one bloom on the table on a cotton doily for the family meal.

Having garden tools and a small wheelbarrow and helping to carry grass cuttings or anything else that needs to be transported is an excellent way to involve the child with the yard work. But even one pot with one plant is better than nothing where there is no garden. A large clay pot can actually serve as a great ever-changing seasonal garden for the family, and is just the right size for the child to participate in the gardening in the early years.

NOTE: Be sure that house and garden plants are safe for children. Beautiful pictures of plants and flowers, sometimes examples from great works of art, can be hung on the wall; and you may be surprised at a child's preference for nonfiction books about nature when she has been kept in touch in this way.


Animals are best observed free in nature rather than in cages. Hang a bird feeder just outside the window and show the child how to sit quietly so that the birds won't be afraid.

Binoculars give the child a feeling of participating in the birds' activities, and allow the child to watch birds from a distance. Having temporary tadpole guests, and watching cocoons hatch is a truly magical experience for the child.

It provides the experience of seeing a creature close up without having to keep it permanently out of its natural setting.

Because wild animals are less accessible to the children than plants, we suggest observing birds, insects, and other animals in nature, and after this experience, providing more animal models, pictures, and books about them—picture books, beginning reading books, and reference books.

Playing with animal models and blocks has always been a favorite openended-toy choice of children. Please be sure that your child's animal models are made of safe plastic instead of toxic plastic materials. We find that the ones made by European companies are safe for children at this age.

We focus on the child's natural love for and affinity with nature, and the tendency to want to touch, hold, and care for nature specimens such as rocks, shells, seeds, flowers and leaves, insects, kittens—all things living and nonliving. Animal models and books can help the child explore animals outside their immediate surrounding and learn even more names.

Another gift from our children comes to the adult when we slow down, to follow the interests of the child, to learn to be in the moment, appreciating nature that is all around us, taking the time to listen, to taste, to see, to feel, to appreciate.

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