Montessori Philosophy & Practice

AGE 1-3 YEARS—Plants & Animals

The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
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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 life is the best foundation for the study of plants and animals. This begins in the home.

The most impressionable lessons come from first hand experiences of plants and animals in nature. Nothing can substitute for walking in the woods and listening to 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 have lovely flowers, and fresh fruit to look at in the house and garden, and expose her to the shadows and rustling of the leaves on trees. 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, and the corollas of flowers, the looking at brightly colored pictures and books of plants and flowers. When the child is "exploding" into language in the first three years, he wants to know the names of everything. 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. He can cut and serve fresh fruit, learning the names of each. 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 a the family, and is just the right size for the child to participate in the gardening in the beginning.

NOTE - SAFETY: 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 first observing birds, insects, and other animals in nature, to arouse an interest 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 open-ended-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.

Books can help the child explore animals outside their immediate surrounding and learn even more names.

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

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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
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