My, How Things Have Changed

My name is Vanessa and I am a Montessori Assistant in Washington, D.C. Montessori is an educational theory in which children are allowed to learn by following their interests which in turn leads to them being naturally motivated to learn new things and practice skills until mastery. Learning is individualized so each child follows their own path to learn different skills, such as focus, memory, sensory acuity, counting, reading, writing, and operational math, biology, geography and more. Authentic Montessori classrooms have a mix of children within a 3 year age range. Each classroom is overseen by a certified Guide, a role which is somewhat comparable to a lead or head teacher in a traditional school. 

I haven’t posted much in the past few months because so much has changed and I was looking for the courage to write again. Well, I’ve found it.

For the 2018-2019 school year, I happily accepted a position at a Public Charter Montessori School in Washington, D.C. After becoming entrenched in the difficulties of carrying out a high fidelity Montessori program, on an ever-tightening budget, I realized this school was not going in a direction that I wanted to follow. As I would tell my students, if what you’re doing doesn’t make you feel good, let’s find something else that will. So I made the leap to leave the school before the end of the school year.

When searching for a new position I looked towards my personal interests to guide me towards something that will make me feel good. I found my way towards a full-time internship at Nature Sanctuary. I was nervous at first; I knew very little about nature, I was frightened by insects and I did not like dirt. But I knew I enjoyed working with children and exploring non-traditional educational methods.

At the Nature Sanctuary, I was in the Environmental Education Department and would assist our team and facilitating lessons in classrooms, forests, and after-school programs. I began by shadowing, and within a few weeks I had given lessons on:

  • Creating Compost
  • Exploring Worms
  • Modeling the Journey of Pollution in a Watershed
  • Paper Making
  • Harvesting Vegetables from Schools Gardens
  • Learning the Edible Parts of Plants
  • School cleanups
  • Macroinvertebrates in Local Creeks

In addition to off-site lessons, I would also lead field trips where we would explore the different areas of our Nature Sanctuary. Initially, on nature tours, I didn’t know what to talk about. Children would point to different things and I would propose hypothetical answers to their questions but I felt like I wasn’t able to sufficiently quench their thirst for knowledge. My coworkers and volunteers so graciously shared their knowledge with me and I became a more confident tour guide as the weeks went on. After a while, I had so much to share with the children I was spending twice the amount of time planned for at each stop!

Now that I knew more about our sanctuary I was able to change the format of my tours from them asking me questions, to me asking them questions. We worked with children from age 3 to age 18 and I became more skilled at changing my approach for different age groups.

“As we walk towards the meadow what types of plants and animals might like to live here?”

“Which insect with wings loves milkweed?”

“Yes, there are a lot of birds in the trees. Why do you think they hang around the meadow? I’ll give you a hint, why might you hang around your kitchen?”

During the last week of nature tours, I heard several children shouting,

“This is the best field trip ever!” I judge my success for each day by the number of smiles I’ve helped to create.

I had an amazing time at the Nature Sanctuary and this experience has been transformative to my career as an educator. I have been inspired to enhance the use of nature as a tool for learning. I will be leading a cooperative early learners camp this summer and I am so excited to use what I learned at the Nature Sanctuary to help my campers explore Nature.





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