Grace and Courtesy: Caring for Plants and Animals

Discussing the proper way to treat plants and animals is one very important aspect of grace and courtesy. Maria Montessori felt strongly from birth a direct link between child and nature must be maintained. As a school that bears her name, Montessori Tides preschool, creates an environment of love and respect for everything beholding the breath of life. We feel providing an atmosphere of plants and animals in both the home and school lays the best foundation for a lifetime of comfort and interest in nature. After all, a child has been given every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. In addition, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. In researching for this blog, I discovered that something royal belongs to a ruler. Therefore, plants and animals are royalty and a child becomes a steward of the earth and must learn to care for it. And the time to learn is NOW!

Kathy Graham shared in her Renaissance Parenting Series, “nature is the great source of order in our life.” Children find great satisfaction spending sometime in the great outdoors experiencing nature every day if possible. No matter what the weather condition or season there is always something a “little scientist” can observe and make “what if” discoveries about their world. Maria Montessori pointed out, “Solicitous care for living things affords satisfaction to one of the most lively instincts of the childs’ mind. Nothing is better calculated than this to awaken an attitude of foresight.”

There is a lot a young child can do related to plants. Toddlers enjoy exploring flowers, fruit and vegetables by sight and smell; gathering leaves, watering flowers, watching the shadow of tree leaves and the sound of their rustling in the wind; a lady bug crawling over a leaf in its natural habitat. This is also a time when a child is absorbing, without effort, every experience and the name of everything. “Lessons that leave a long lasting impression come from firsthand experience of plants; nothing can substitute for seeing, and smelling flowers, and watching the daily growth of a flower or vegetable in the garden.”† These lessons also help a child to “explode” into language. First we point out, invite to touch, and give descriptive words, such as red, small, and soft. Not just flower but Tulip. Discussing the way plants help us (providing oxygen, shade, food, beauty, homes for animals, etc.) show the nature of their royalty and prepare a child’s heart to respect and care for them.

Just as a child is learning to be kind to one another, and to respect plants, this is the time to give careful hands-on lessons on being kind to animals too. Children naturally have a wonderful disposition toward animals. Having animals in the classroom (also the homes) provide a child with daily and correct demonstration of how to care for them. Children find satisfaction in learning the tiny details of feeding, giving affection, and cleaning after animals.

It is astonishing to see how a child can focus and become still when the interest in watching a bird or spider unveils. Montessori felt animals are best observed free in nature. If we hang a bird feeder outside on the playground or by a window we can show the child how to sit quietly without freighting the bird away and watch the bird being natural, rather than in a cage.

The purpose in all the caring for plants and animals goes far beyond the actual doing. It is linked to the child’s lifetime ability to know and understand, and steward our earth.

†From, Child of the World by Michael Olaf (pg.28)

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