The Relationship between Cosmic Education and Environmental

The Close Relationship between Cosmic Education and Environmental
Education in the Montessori setting
What is Cosmic Education?
Cosmic education, one of Dr. Montessori’s fundamental principles, provides the students with opportunities for
exploration and appreciation of the world around them. “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers
itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and
closing them in cupboards”. (Montessori, 1994)
Cosmic education gives our students the keys to the universe when they are able to see the larger picture of the
universe and the earth, including all the miraculous components of nature through environmental education.
What is environmental education?
Maria Montessori noted that, “the children are inspired with a feeling for nature.” (Montessori, 1964) and she was right! Although the term
“environmental education” was not commonly utilized during Montessori’s lifetime, she wrote extensively in her works about the close
relationship between student achievement, cosmic education and the role that nature plays in the development of the whole child. Never before
in our society has this need to experience nature been more necessary. As electronic devices, computers and television replace outdoor play,
educators must provide these opportunities at school to compensate. Environmental education is a curriculum that encourages children to
explore the wonders of nature, including botany, zoology, preservation of the earth and even other scientific concepts that are present in
Montessori such as the study of the earth, water, weather and the universe as a whole.
Long before environmental education and electronic distractions, Montessori noted,
“How often is the soul of man-especially that of a child-deprived because one does not put him
in contact with nature?” (Montessori, 1994)
Maria Montessori, well before her time, knew that we must offer our students nature filled activities. Recent
educators deem this generation’s children as suffering from “nature deficient disorder” (Louv, 2006). Our
children are more sedentary, less involved in play outdoors and heavily scheduled with indoor pursuits.
Offering outdoor experiences, both at home and at school, gives our children the movement necessary for
education, encourages exploration and creativity and brings the knowledge learned in the classroom to life.
Proponents of the need for nature in education note, “multisensory experiences in nature help to build the
cognitive constructs necessary for sustained intellectual development. “ (Louv, 2006)
The nurturing the spirit of the child manifests itself in the recent movement
in environmental education and benefits our children of today.
“Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, exposes the young directly and immediately to
the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air and other living kin, large and small.”
(Louv, 2006) and if this quote doesn’t support cosmic education, we are unrealistic to think we can find
other evidence that does. Dr. Montessori would have embraced the role of environmental education in
Montessori classrooms, finding that it complements her desire to teach the cosmic curriculum to students.
Although the concept of cosmic education is as old as the Montessori philosophy, the nature of our society has
evolved to such a point that our children have little contact with the outside world. For this reason, now more
than ever, the importance of the co-relationship between cosmic and environmental education becomes a
predominant need in our Montessori classrooms.
“John Dewey advocated immersing students in the local environment: experience (outside the school) has
its geological aspect, its artistic and its literary and its scientific and its historical sides. All studies arise
from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it.” (Louv, 2006) Montessori schools are finding it
easy to correlate specific studies of the earth, the extensive geography, history and science curriculum with
the more recent concerns on our planet such as global warming, recycling, reduction of waste and the like.
With concern growing today about the so-called “zombie effect” from an overexposure to television and
computers (Healy, 1990), educators around the globe are more and more aware of what Montessori has known all
along. ...
Environmental and cosmic education, which throws open classroom doors and allows for learning to take place beyond
the four walls of classroom, fosters creativity and an awareness of self and the universe and becomes more important to
our children as they have less opportunity for physical, outdoor movement at home.
As our society becomes and more and more technologically advanced, we must make a concerted effort to not displace
the role of cosmic and environmental education in our classrooms and in fact, to place an increased emphasis in our
nation’s classrooms.
Howard Gardner, a professor of education known for his multiple intelligences theory, has now added an eighth
sign of intelligence, “naturalist intelligence” that gives additional validity to Montessori’s theory of the
importance of the connection between nature and intelligence.
Interestingly, it has been noted, “The Montessori movement, along with other education approaches has
made this connection for decades….the impact of nature experience on early childhood development is
understudied..Gardner’s designation of the eighth intelligence suggests another rich arena for
research…the theory has immediate application for teachers and parents that might otherwise overlook the
importance of natural experience to learning and child development.” (Louv, 2006)
Although we don’t know “if there are any geographic or class divide in terms of which kids spend time in nature”
(Chawla, 2006), we do know that “copious studies show a reduced amount of leisure time experienced by American
families, more time in front of the TV and computer and growing obesity among adults and children because of diet and
sedentary lifestyles” (Louv, 2006), we do know that now…more than ever…we need to focus on meeting each child’s
need for outdoor play, exploration of nature and cosmic education to counteract these growing issues in society.
As Montessori educators, we must provide environmental education as it relates to the cosmic curriculum. Fostering
creativity, independence, allowing for unstructured play, caring for the earth and its inhabitants are all the foundations of
Montessori. The recent emphasis on these activities in education in our classrooms only brings light again to our century
old philosophy of education, that we must nurture the spirit of the child by giving them the keys to the outdoors.
“In unstructured play, the children discover the power to amuse themselves” (Cooper, 2008) and as they
amuse themselves, they develop a sense of who they are, their place in society and their role as caretakers
of the Earth.
Tying in the role of cosmic education with the current movement in environmental education seems to be a
natural step for many in the Montessori field. As Nicole Vigliotti, Head of School at Montessori of Mount
Pleasant notes about her school in Tomorrow’s Child Magazine, “the language we are allowing the children to
absorb is the language related to the rhythms of the earth-its cycles and ability to give life and our role in
protecting and caring for it in order that it becomes the essence of each child in our care (Alexander, 2008).
Encouraging Cosmic Education Through Building Green
With more and more of an emphasis in education on the importance of bringing nature filled activities and components to Montessori, it
should be mentioned that many schools have chosen to build “green”. Green buildings can be certified with the USGBC (U.S. Green
Building Council) as LEED rated. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design and is a standard accreditation to determine
how green a sustainable building really is. The interesting point is that green buildings have been deemed more healthy and preliminary
studies have shown that academic performance is improved with “greener” learning environments that can also instruct our children in the
preservation of the earth. So, not only can environmental education be TAUGHT in the Montessori classroom, it can be LIVED in the
building itself. What a possible path for Montessori schools to follow that would allow cosmic education to be lived each day by the
Montessori students themselves!
Teaching Environmental and Cosmic Education Also Improves Learning
The benefits of building green and teaching environmental education through the facility that serves the children is
enormous and in keeping with the Montessori philosophy of cosmic education, along with the increased interest in
environmental education around the globe. Beyond teaching our students in a living and breathing facility that
teaches earth conservation through the use of all natural products, fresh air and other working models for
sustainability, these facilities have been shown to demonstrate positive correlations between day lighting, appropriate
acoustical environments and other components that directly affect student performance (Heschong Mahone, 1999).
As more and more Montessori schools desire to provide cosmic education instruction through their facilities, the
classroom walls can easily be replaced with windows, outdoor gardening, composting, recycling and other opportunities
for environmental education for the children. “Green construction provides environmental benefits” (Scott, 2007) that
pay for themselves well beyond the initial construction of the building, along with fulfilling Montessori’s desire to teach
children the importance of their place on earth, the positive change that can occur from their work and the awareness of
the universe and the planet.
As we continually strive to keep our Montessori values intact, while changing with the times for our students, the role of
environmental education as it relates to cosmic education will continue to influence Montessori schools around our globe.
As evident, environmental education is consistent with the cosmic curriculum and this movement can manifest itself not
just through the curriculum, but even through the facilities that we inhabit. Without a doubt, it’s a new path that
Montessori would have appreciated and valued.
Alexander, M .(2008) Blue grass for a green Earth, Tomorrow’s Child. 9-11.
Cooper, A and Keitel, E. (2008) I just want my kids to be happy!. Late August Press. 125-127
Healy, J. (1990) Endangered Minds: Why children don’t think and what we can do about it. 203-204
Louv, R. (2005) Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature deficit disorder. 71, 85, 87, 91
Montessori, M. (1964) The Montessori method.159-161.
Montessori, M. (1994) From childhood to adolescence. 19-20
Scott, M .(2007) It isn’t easy building green, Montessori Leadership, 22. (YES, that’s my article!!)
Schneider, M .(2002) Do school facilities affect academic outcomes?
Note: Photos of school are Hilltop Montessori School in The Town of Mt Laurel, Birmingham, Alabama. Hilltop Montessori
School is LEED certified with The U.S. Green Building Council. The Head of School is Michele Scott.