A quick glance into many Montessori classrooms will showcase not just students, guide, materials, and furniture, but also often plants. Why is that? Does the teacher just like ferns, or is there a reason? As usual, there is always a reason in Montessori. For why we have plants, there are several reasons! Let’s explore those together.
The first Montessori school was called the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, and it’s the name of many Montessori schools still to this day. In our own homes, many of us bring plants inside, for a bit of color, for the air-purifying benefits, to name and take care of the way we would a pet. It’s the same as displaying photos or artifacts from adventures, or putting art on the walls. It’s the final piece of living in a place.
If the Montessori classroom is a home for children, we make it as homey as we do our own houses. Art on the walls, artifacts to examine or to polish, and plants livening up a corner or a shelf.
Additionally, bringing plants into our work space gives us more, well, work! Those plants around the classroom need tending to, and the children are primarily responsible for the care of their environment.
Children can dust or wash leaves of a plant. It’s hard to imagine leaves getting dusty until a child returns a freshly-dusted cleaned to its spot and the leaves simply shine!
Children can water plants, and learn the effects of over- and under-watering. Fortunately, plants are often very forgiving.
When plants have outgrown their pot, children can help to re-pot, examining roots, stem, and leaves, finding a new container with just the right drainage, and a space with just the right light.
Children can cut blooms from flowering plants for flower arranging, which also helps to encourage more blooms!
All this exploration with leaves and plants naturally leads to academic work, too. There’s a material called the Botany Cabinet, which children use to learn the names of different leaf shapes. Yes, they all have names! If a child is particularly interested in Botany, they can learn about not just leaf shapes, but how the shape and size of the plant and location of the leaves is directly related to where and how that plant collects water. We can discuss the name and role of different parts of a plant. We can observe and learn about how animals and insects aid in pollination, and how seeds spread and germinate. This is only a drop in the vast ocean of learning a child can dive into about the world of botany.
Finally, plants are symbiotic. We care for the plants, and they care for us. NASA published a list of air-purifying houseplants, and when their leaves have been cleaned and their soil watered, they can do an even better job of turning the components in the air into food and oxygen through photosynthesis. It can be a bit abstract for young children to wrap their minds around, but they do understand the “I help you, you help me” nature of the plant and human relationship.