Nature Our Teacher

By: Matthew Rich


“… free the child, if possible, from the ties which keep him isolated in the artificial life of a city (Montessori 1988: 69)” .

The field of educational resource development, especially in the pre-school sector, seems to be mushrooming almost out of all proportion. Parents and schools are shelling out money like it’s going out of fashion while publishers and manufacturers battle it out to stay abreast of the latest technological developments and market trends. Children are inundated with countless images and noise all day and are enlisted in a fierce competition to become an early-reader or math whiz even before they are aware that they have a choice in the matter.

The great irony of this whole palaver, of course, is the fact that it is entirely unnecessary and in many cases may actually prove detrimental to the child’s holistic development. As is so often the case with human beings what we are busily striving to create already exists and is right under our noses. The natural world provides us with a far more sophisticated, multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary, self-correcting, energy-efficient, and developmentally appropriate teaching resource than our puny technology has come close to rendering, and it is available for a very reasonable price: all we have to do is step outside.

It is striking to consider how well prepared the great outdoors are for meeting so many of these developmental sensitivities. They provide space and challenging terrain for moving about, they create a feast for the senses that no virtual reality can serve up, they are a gloriously rich source of new nomenclature, and are filled with a multitude of little things to explore and seek out. From the infinitesimal ant to the awesome expanse of the summer sky nature broadcasts the curriculum of life in technicolour and surround sound. Despite our best efforts to petrify knowledge into easily digestible portions it continues to live and evolve just beyond the thresholds of our sterile nurseries. Nature beckons us to come and play with her.

No other classroom could ever be so well equipped to meet the special needs of childhood, because the creator of this classroom is the ultimate artist, teacher, psychologist, and philosopher endowed with an omniscient insight into the workings of the child. It is very easy for us to get caught up in preparing our children to do well in exams, but when we are honest with ourselves we need to acknowledge that this profoundly misses the point of being human. Let us rather remember that we are a small but important chapter in a grand unfolding cosmic tale. We have a task to play in the universe and the universe is more likely to reveal that task to us than any text book. Maybe the back yard is a good place to start our journey of discovery.

For some inspiration check out:-

Play in the Wild

The Association for Experiential Education

The Center for Ecoliteracy

The Institute for Humane Education

Swaraj University


Montessori, M. 1988. The Discovery of the Child. Oxford, England: CLIO Press.


Matthew is presently reading:-

Haruki Murakami, IQ84

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri: a legend and a symbol

Edgar Morin, On Complexity


Currently listening to:- 

XTC, Apple Venus

Bon Iver, For Emma forever ago


Shadow element Matthew is working on:-

Overcoming the stoic macho-ism of an Afrikaaner youth.


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