Just another site

Montessori Outdoor Science School (MOSS) 2019 May 20, 2019

Filed under: Community Building,Montessori education,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:29 pm

Day One ~ habitat essentials and food webs!

Bird watching by the pond

As this was day one, we started the day with a review of our rules that we had agreed on, based on the advice of the older students who had participated in Moss previously:

  • Use your senses. Leave nature in nature!
  • Walk with your partner.
  • Take care of your belongings.
  • Listen.
  • Stay within the designated boundaries while exploring.
  • Come as soon as you are called.

We also completed backpack checks. Do you have a water bottle? Lunch? Magnifying glass? Binoculars? Supply bag of pencils, crayons, erasers, a piece of string? Pages for today’s work? Is there anything in your pack that you don’t need to carry?

We completed a weather check, because no self-respecting environmental scientist would head out without checking the weather. We are not only relying on weather forecasts and apps, but making our own predictions, using our own knowledge of clouds, a cloud chart, a storm tracker book, a thermometer, a rain gauge and a wind vane. With just light stratus clouds, sunshine, and gentle winds out of the north, we successfully predicated a fine day. However, the cloud cover built up over the day, blocking out the sun, so the day gradually got cooler. By the end of the day we had a much heavier blanket of cloud. We are predicting some rain!

We are off to explore and learn!

When we first arrived at the park we spent five minutes just sitting and using our senses. We heard red-winged blackbirds, quail, ducks, the ruffle of bird feathers, felt the breeze, could smell lilacs, and saw turtles sunning themselves on logs, a family of ducks swimming together, and swallows dipping low over the water to catch bugs. Then we changed perspectives. First we looked close, using our string to circle off a small area for exploration, followed by looking far, and drawing what we saw from a distance. Scientists not only use their senses to record impressions (data), but also must change perspectives, looking both close up and at the big picture.

Aquatic macro-invertebrate hunting in a tub of pond water

We tried an aquatic macro invertebrate hunt, looking for critters in a tub of pond water, but we were disappointed. From the whole group we only found what might have been a leech and another critter that looked like a bug. Why, we wondered, was there so little pond life? We thought about poor water quality, and maybe the recent floods in the area. The pond water really did look murky. We will hunt again at different locations, and hope for better luck.

Enjoying outdoor story time

After play time and lunch, everyone listened to a non-fiction story about orphan fawns. This was in preparation for an environmental game called ‘Oh deer!” Four children were chosen to start as deer, and the other children were necessary resources – food, water, shelter. The children used hand signals to show what they were looking for (if a deer) or were (if they were a resource). (Hands to tummy to signal food, hands to mouth for water, and hands over head to signal shelter). Resources scattered. Deer and resources turned their backs on each other, and decided what they would be for that round – in search of water, for example, or the resource of shelter. At a given signal, the deer turned around and searched for the resource they were searching for. When they found the necessary resource, they came back home with their resource. Each resource ‘found’ became a deer, to signal a healthy and productive year – the deer herd had increased! In our year 2, the herd increased from 4 to 8. The next year there were sixteen deer, but only two resources available, so there was a massive die off of the herd. Only 2 deer remained. We played the game for many rounds, seeing the herd grow and decline based on available resources. We added a predator – a coyote – to see what would happen. The ‘deer’ all said that it was more difficult to find resources while also paying attention to a predator.

“Resources’ spread out for deer to find.

After discussing what we had learned from the game, and giving real life examples of this cycle, we worked on food webs. After all, a big part of the game we played was based on the food web – deer in search of food (grass and leaves and other plants), and coyotes hunting for deer. One group’s food web began with a fly, eaten by a robin, eaten by a big bull frog, eaten by a big fish, eaten by an osprey, eaten by an eagle, which when it died, was eaten by a fly! The food web was a circle.

Our final activity of the day was birdwatching. We used our bird identification book, and binoculars to identify birds. The big hit was seeing a heron fishing in the pond. We also saw mallards, red-winged blackbirds, robins, violet-green swallows, crows, and heard quail.

Probably the most memorable event of the day was the finding of a dead baby bird. The bird had been beheaded, and we found the head, too. We saw ants and flies feeding on the dead bird. We thought that maybe the baby bird had been attacked by a predator. The food web isn’t always pretty!

Getting outdoors for a whole week of environmental exploration and science isn’t only a great learning experience, it’s good for us physically – see below! And for all of my teacher friends looking to end the year on a high note, I encourage you to plan a big experience like this. It is fun for teachers and kids alike! And if we hope our students will work to find solutions to our environmental problems, we first need to help them to care deeply about our Earth!


Out and about – getting to know your environment! October 17, 2018

Filed under: Community Building,nature,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 8:59 pm

Our kg and elementary students hiked out on our annual all-day river walk. We walked over five miles on this trip, and the students probably covered a much greater distance when I think of all of the chase games they played when we had a break from walking!   One of our parents met us for an introduction to edible native plants, such as choke cherry, service berry, rose hips, and elderberry.  We had a lovely picnic lunch, played with leaves, dirt and bugs, crossed the river many times on plank bridges, identified spruce, maple, aspen, oak and willow trees, and much more.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I am a big fan of getting children out into nature, and comfortable with walking around their environment.  On a day like today, where children are responsible for carrying their own water and food, and belongings, and exerting themselves, and even facing a few challenges, such as walking over plank bridges, they grow in confidence. Today we also used public transportation, too.  For some of our students, this was their first time to ride a bus.  This is all part of practical life for older students.

What a gorgeous fall day! Favorite quote of the day, “We walked so far! I can’t believe I am not whining!” 


Montessori Outdoor Science School Day Four ~ Presenting our inquiry projects May 4, 2018

Yesterday afternoon each group chose a topic they wanted to explore more and designed an inquiry project to answer a question.  This morning, each group worked hard to find ways to communicate their project and findings to the other groups and their parents.  The three groups of first-third graders incorporated the scientific method, and used vocabulary words such as question, hypothesis, method, data, conclusion.  The children incorporated drawings, charts, bar graphs, and maps into their display.  They also worked as a group to decide who would explain what part of the project to the audience, and practiced making the presentation.

That’s a whole lot of learning ~science, vocabulary, visual communication, math, graphing, teamwork, cooperation, making choices, making a presentation . . .

So what did the groups choose to focus on?

IMG_3630 (1)IMG_8141 (1)IMG_2073IMG_4570

Bird song, water quality, insects, beaver habitat!  The variety of topics reflects the different aspects of the four-day experience that caught the attention of the different groups.  Student-choice, student-led inquiry, teamwork!

Above – a few details from the kindergarten research project.

A few more details!

Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without some time for the kids to do what they do so well – enjoy being kids in nature!


As educators, we saw so much intense growth this week! The children certainly deepened their understanding of eco-systems, the major theme of the four-day outdoor experience, and of processes such as decomposition and the life cycle, and of habitats, and of scientific vocabulary and the scientific method.  However, we saw a lot of growth outside of science learning, too!  Leaders emerged, friendships deepened, children grew in their resilience and ability to be responsible for all of their belongings for a whole day.  The children developed good teamwork, too.

Several of the children were really sad, and some even moved to tears as our experience together came to an end.  But as one child said, “I’m really sad, but never mind, there’s always next year to look forward to!

Many thanks to the McCall Outdoor Science School outreach program, and our four, fabulous outdoor educators! IMG_5468 (1)Cheers, from all of us at MOSS!



“Sticks and Stones may Break My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me!” November 18, 2017

How many of us learned the above rhyme as a child, and how many of us still believe it is true?  For many of us, it is the names we were called that have caused us long-lasting hurt.

In the Children’s House, we focus on simple lessons of grace and courtesy and a safe place to practice these skills~ how to say please, thank you, sorry, accept an apology, accept or decline an invitation, offer to help, accept or decline help, how to invite a friend to play, how to ask to join a game, how to introduce yourself, introduce someone else, shake hands, greet someone, welcome someone . . ..

While the above lessons are still important in the elementary community, the focus of grace and courtesy extends to include the elementary child’s mission to discover for himself what is right or wrong, what are the rules of society, and how to develop a just and caring community, and find his or her place within it.  The children are developing their moral compass.

At the school where I work, the teachers and I are planning a series of lessons to help children develop their own inner moral compass.  The lessons offer opportunities to contribute to the well being of others, such as sewing and stuffing stockings for the local foodbank, to be distributed to other children in need.  The lessons will offer opportunities to participate in a Martin Luther King Junior project.  Students will be invited to participate individually or in groups to write or design a poster that shows how we can welcome someone into our classroom community.  The lessons will celebrate friendship, with a focus during February on celebrating random acts of kindness.  Lessons will include classroom meetings which offer opportunities to group problem solve, without blaming or shaming.  Other opportunities will include sorting actions into different categories, such as rude behavior, mean behavior and bullying behavior.

We introduced this focus on grace and courtesy with a discussion of the common saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”  At first the discussion was around who had broken a bone and how the bone was fixed, until someone in the group said, “Well, I’ve never broken a bone, or been hit with a stick or a stone, but I’ve had my feelings hurt with words.”

Another child added that hearing very mean words left her feeling damaged.

This was the perfect opportunity to introduce our activity – bullying an apple!  I demonstrated then invited children to take turns coming up to an apple and saying something mean to the apple.  Here are some of the words used:

“I don’t like your color.”

“I just don’t like apples.”

“I don’t like your shape.”

“You are too small.”

“You are a wimp.”

“Grapes are better than apples.”

“Apples are no good.”

“I hate apples.”

There were a few giggles, but then the conversation turned serious as we realized everything that we had said to the apple, we had heard said to people.

Next we turned our attention to another apple, and this time said something nice about the apple.

“You are beautiful.”

“Apples are so good for you.”

“You are just right.”

“I like apples.”

We all agreed that we felt better ourselves saying nice things, so we talked about how when we say mean things it can make us feel mean inside, but when we use friendly words, we feel kind inside.

Lastly, we cut the apples in half.  I had secretly dropped the apple we bullied several times on a hard wood floor, so when we cut the apple in half, it looked bruised on the inside.  The other apple was unharmed.  Of course, after the kids response of, “WOW!”, I explained what I had done, and that this was a demonstration, to make a point, not an experiment to see if we could damage an apple with our words.  The kids were still impressed and got the point.  Words can hurt someone inside, even if they don’t leave an obvious bruise on the outside.

There were immediate requests to “Do it again, please,” but it was time for lunch!

This lesson, to me, is similar to toddlers practicing gentle touches on a flower.  It is a reminder, and an experience we can refer back to.  In the future, when children use mean words to one another, we can ask, “Do you remember when we bullied the apple with our words, and how we discussed how words can hurt us inside?”

I would love to hear from others on ideas they have used to help elementary children develop these important social skills.

I got this idea from a facebook post:


Spokane Valley Montessori School November 5, 2017

23167903_10210495617410259_5693371300634601430_n23316555_10210495617490261_756158605853610551_nAs a Montessori Teacher, it is a great joy to be invited into another Montessori environment.  Yesterday, I had the great pleasure to spend a day at Spokane Valley Montessori School.  I was presenting a training for Montessori Assistant Teachers, sponsored by the International Association for Montessori Education, a new Teacher Education Program forming in Spokane, Washington.  Gwen, the owner of Spokane Valley Montessori School, graciously allowed us the use of her fabulous school for the day!  Wow!  What a perfect setting for assistant teachers to practice and see the importance of the prepared environment.  The school is gorgeous, spotlessly clean, filled with beauty and light, and everything is in its place and ready for use by the children.  Gwen has been involved in Montessori education for forty years, and Montessori education is her passion!

The building was purpose built for a Montessori School, so sinks, toilets, etc., are all just the right size for the children.  The rooms are filled with natural light from the big picture windows.  On the day I visited, snow was falling.  I could just imagine the excitement of the children gathered at the windows watching the first snow of this winter.  Magical!  I could imagine the children watching the birds flock to the feeder.  How lovely for children to be so connected to the outdoors, even when inside.  I also loved the direct access to the outdoors from the classroom.

I really loved the seasonal work offered to the children.  You could see the colors and shapes of the season all through the environment – napkins for folding in greens, oranges, reds and browns, napkin rings shaped like leaves, pumpkin work, corn work, fall colors on offer at the easel, seasonal books . . .


The rooms were really spacious, with lots of floor space for big works.  All of the classrooms had lots of practical life tools ready for the children to use, and lots of lovely cozy spaces, too!



I enjoyed the day so much!  We had teachers from five different schools – Spokane Valley Montessori, Spokane Falls Montessori, Spokane Montessori North, Children’s Montessori, Inc., and the Montessori School of Pullman.


We learned a lot from each other, and shared a delicious soup we cooked together, in a retelling of the story, ‘Stone Soup.’  Thanks once again, International Association for Montessori Education, and Spokane Valley Montessori School, for inviting me.  I send a special big thanks to Gwen, the owner, for sharing her beautiful school with the larger Montessori community.  Your school is an absolute gem!


Big, real practical life work! June 7, 2017

At this time of year, when the weather is good and the children are full of energy, what a gift it is to come across an opportunity for real effort, and really big practical life work!  Scrubbing furniture is one such opportunity, and helps the children to prepare for the end of the school year.  “We are washing everything before the end of the school year, so we will leave our classroom clean and ready for the start of next school year.”  This big work can be done within the classroom, or out on the playground.


Practical life that is real and necessary is so much more meaningful than works on trays on shelves that practice skills, but don’t have any real-life purpose.

Today, due to having to reschedule three times (don’t ask!), we finally had a big delivery of bark for our playground.  This bark was needed for under the swings to ensure safety in case of a fall.  Our old bark had just become too compressed and worn out.  After rescheduling three times, our parent volunteers were thin on the ground, and the bark pile seemed enormous,  (Three truck loads!)  What could we do?  One of the teachers suggested that some of the children might like to help.  We had a handy supply of child-sized rakes, shovels and buckets, after all!  Thanks, teacher, for reminding me of how competent and capable and eager to help children can be.  What started off as a few children ended up as a school wide effort, with everyone involved except the two year olds.  (They were napping, by this time).  During an hour long effort in the morning, followed by an hour long effort in the afternoon, the children, with the help of a few teachers and a handful of parent volunteers, moved and spread three truck loads of bark.  What an amazing effort.

What was especially sweet was that as we were working this morning, children from the other school that shares our play area sat down to watch the effort.  After our children had gone inside to get cleaned up and rehydrated, they came up to me and asked if they could help, too.  I was already very hot and pooped out, but I couldn’t resist, so I filled one big bucket for every child.  They were so happy to join in the effort.

One of our kids told me, “I just love helping my school.”  This fits in 100% with some of our values – child-centered, dignity (of work), and community.  I hope parents involve their own children in the real life of their homes, including yard work!



Outdoor Science School ~ day four. Inquiry projects May 26, 2017

Today we returned to Sunnyside Park for our final day of our outdoor science school, and focused on inquiry projects.  The children divided into two groups the day before, and thought about what they were most interested in studying.  One group chose birds, and the other group chose more hunting for aquatic macro invertebrates ~ remember them from day one?  Next they chose a question to which they did not already know the answer, and designed a project, using the scientific method, to find the answer.  They learned and used new words like hypothesis (best guess), data (numbers), location, materials, conclusion . . .


The first group wanted to know whether there were more land birds or water birds at Sunnyside Park.  Five of the group shared the hypothesis that there would be more land birds, and two members of the group thought there would be more water birds.  To find the answer, they chose two locations – one on a hill, surrounded by trees, and then down on the edge of the pond.  At each location they decided to spend five minutes watching for birds, and using tally marks and columns to keep check of how many were water birds and how many were land birds.  They spent two five-minute bird watching sessions at each location.  After each five- minute session, the children spent time discussing what they saw and adding up their tally marks.

The second group wanted to know whether there were more macro invertebrates in the pond or in the stream.  Their hypothesis was that there would be more in the pond.  To find the answer, they decided to sample four tubs of water at each location.  They worked in pairs, as hunters and recorders.  The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch the macro invertebrates in the tub of water and to transfer what they caught to the sample tray – an ice cube tray.  The recorders used lenses to view each sample and a field guide to try to identify each organism.

The groups then used their best team-working skills to prepare a poster to communicate their inquiry project to the other group and parents who would be attending a presentation.  I loved watching the children work together as writers, illustrators and data managers to present their projects.

After a picnic lunch with parents, the children presented their projects and answered questions.  And what did they discover?  There were more land birds than water birds in Sunnyside Park.  The second group rejected their hypothesis, because they found about the same number of macro invertebrates in the stream as in the pond.


Next we sang two songs that the children had learned and one that they spontaneously composed.  The children’s songs were about habitat, eco-systems and perspective.

Finally, parents and children had time together to look through field journals, take a closer look at the project posters and try out some of the scientific tools we used during the week.

After a few group photos, we said goodbye to Ms. Audry and Ms. Rachel, our educators.  As a wonderful surprise, Audry and Rachel had prepared an individual note for each child, mentioning their strengths and skills.

This week went by so fast.  I watched the children grow not only in their science skills and knowledge but in their sense of community, their resilience and their independence.  One of our children said, while bird-watching, I could keep doing this forever!  We will definitely be interested in another Montessori Outdoor Science School next year.

Thanks once again to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman, and one of our students’ Grandfather.