On any given day of the week, around lunch time at The Environmental Center, it’s common to hear the laughs of preschoolers drifting upstairs to our office from the Kansas Ave. Learning Garden below. If you look out the window, you’ll see an excited group of Bend Montessori students in reflective vests (as they just safely walked across the street) who are now enjoying outdoor play time – digging in the garden beds, raking around gravel, and climbing on trees and picnic tables.
Bend Montessori School has been our neighbor since they opened their current location in 2013. Owner Jessica Born, Miss Jessica, has created a special place for 3-6 year olds and their families. Bend Montessori School’s mission is to cultivate the human potential in an authentic Montessori program. At school, students demonstrate a respect and love for themselves, others, and the world.
The school is in close proximity to The Environmental Center’s Kansas Avenue Learning Garden, Troy Field, and Mary Jane Park. Outdoor play occurs each day, and the children get to choose where they’d like to go. Being able to offer an outdoor play experience so close to the school is a huge part of the unique Bend Montessori approach. Born explained that unstructured play time allows the kids to discover a lot in the moment, and have a sensory experience that changes with each season. This has been a compelling draw for many of the Bend Montessori families. And even though these outdoor spaces may not have playground equipment, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in any weather!
Bend Montessori School manages three beds in our Learning Garden. One is full of strawberries that return each year; and one is used for practicing how to use garden tools and watering cans – the “digging bed,” as they call it. The students are also sprouting seeds using wet cotton balls back in the classroom. As soon as they sprout, the kids will transplant beans, sunflowers and corn to their third garden bed.
Miss Jessica’s favorite time of year is when children are able to experience the height of growing season, when food is being produced right before their eyes.
“When a child can pluck something from the vine or stem and taste it right then and there, it creates an instant connection to their food,” she said.
We’ve witnessed firsthand the kids’ excitement over chives, tomatoes, hot peppers and berries. Recently, chives have been the biggest hit! Miss Jessica said even the most selective eaters are willing to try new foods in the garden.
Students are also introduced to garden insects – butterflies, lady bugs and bees. Back in the classroom, students care for “Lady Bug Land” and raise caterpillars in a lesson about the process of transformation. In fact, the class will release newly emerged painted lady butterflies in our Learning Garden this week. The students also learn about the importance of bees and other pollinators. Throughout the season, they observe and become comfortable with our beehive in the Learning Garden. Eventually, they will differentiate bees from wasps and hornets, and begin to understand bees’ function in nature.
Miss Jessica is also committed to exposing families to alternate modes of transportation. She strongly encourages families to walk or ride bikes to school – and many do! In addition, she enjoys educating our community about riding the bus. Bend Montessori takes two field trips per year, and they take the bus roundtrip to their destinations. This provides the kids with a sensory learning experience, and it also encourages the parents to look more seriously at public transportation, since their kids are participating in the outings.
The first field trip is to Base Camp Studio, where students craft a group costume for our annual Earth Day Parade. Earth Month is a big theme in the Bend Montessori classroom, largely due to their relationship with The Environmental Center. In 2017 the class dressed up as buzzing bees in a swam; and this year, they were slithering snakes.
The second field trip is to Knott Landfill, a very visual experience for this age group. The excursion really drives home what kids practice in the classroom – sorting recyclables using labeled bins, and composting fruit and veggies. While at the landfill, students AND parents learn where our garbage ends up when it goes ‘away’.
“Through both of these field trips each year, we’re supporting our families through education, as well,” said Born.
Miss Jessica and the staff of Bend Montessori will wrap up the school year with a picnic in June. Learn more about the school here – check out upcoming events, sign up for an introduction workshop, and read more about the unique Bend Montessori community!