“Every child is unique, and therefore, each one learns in different ways.”
This philosophy is a major tenet of Montessori education and the primary reason for the construction of four specialty nature gardens, which debuted in September at Villa Montessori School in Arcadia.
“Based on their individual interests, students participate in their own learning activities in the natural world,” said Athena Moskoyes, fundraising and development specialist. “We want our kids to love nature enough to want to protect it as adults.”
Named the storytelling garden, the bugs and birds garden, the monarch butterfly garden and the music garden, each supports the Montessori method, which includes taking the learning experience outside. Connecting with nature is just as important.
These four distinctive learning spaces took about two years to complete. Currently, Villa Montessori is working on establishing an art garden. Since these educational outdoor areas are privately funded by donations from parents and other benefactors, the process isn’t a quick one.
According to Moskoyes, three women were instrumental in spearheading the project: Margo O’Neill, the head of school, Marilyn Burbach, the founder of Villa, and Mary Orlando, a former employee who is still involved in school activities.
“Margo foresees what we need,” Moskoyes said. “Marilyn still resides near campus, and Mary is another Villa guru. These wonderful ladies have great insight and influence over Montessori systems and take charge of implementing programs to best help our kids.”
Because Villa Montessori houses its elementary and middle schools on separate campuses, the nature gardens are primarily used by the first through sixth grades.
“Teachers use the gardens for reading and music time,” Moskoyes said. “We have discovery tools like binoculars, and children can also draw and do art; it’s all their choice. Letting the child lead into what they would like to learn is the Montessori way.”
The storytelling garden is a “magical, fairy place where imagination can spring to life and grow.” With trees all around and ample chairs to relax in, this oasis is the place to savor the outdoors and a good book.
The bugs and birds garden features brightly colored birdhouses, bird feeders and a pavilion with eight vibrant toned pillars, or Peace Poles, representing minerals, earth, animals, humans and ancestors. This cheerful color spectrum attracts bugs and birds.
The monarch butterfly garden is an accredited and official Monarch Butterfly Waystation, which means this area helps to support and preserve butterflies during their seasonal migration across North America.
While butterflies only call Villa home for a few weeks, students have the opportunity to learn about them through the Monarch Waystation Program.
The music garden is home to three permanently-placed instruments: a “duet” metallophone/marimba, a “contrabass” chime and a “lilypad cymbals” bell. Here, kids can play music and stage musical shows. Moskoyes describes the instruments as being “multi-sensory,” meaning students can hear and feel the music as they play.
“In addition to our specialty gardens, which we liken to our front yard,” Moskoyes said, “every classroom has their own individual garden, which we consider our backyard. Each class has their own planters where they grow flowers, veggies, fruits and spices. Every Friday, students pick what is ripe, and eat their bounty for lunch.”