By Parham Neal-Pishko & Mary Simpson
There are many unique aspects to secondary education in Montessori, but the one that seems most impactful to the students is the multi-day field studies. Field studies are designed not only to buildcommunity among the Middle School students and teachers, but also to foster independence and practical life skills. Secondary Montessori programs use field studies as a critical place and time for social development of budding young adults.
“It’s such a sensitive age, and there is so much that can go wrong. Being in this environment can make all the difference,” says Mary Simpson, middle school humanities teacher.
Dr. Maria Montessori referred to adolescents as Erdkinder, or “land-children”, and believed that having the children of this age work and live together to create their own community is the best way to cultivate their independence. “Life in the open air, in the sunshine, and a diet high in nutritional content coming from the produce of neighboring fields improve the physical health, with the calm surroundings, the silence, the wonders of nature satisfy the need of the adolescent mind for reflection and meditation” (Montessori 67).
“Of course, living on a farm away from their families for all of the secondary years is not quite feasible, so our version of Erdkinder means taking the students away for four overnight trips over the course of their two-year cycle in Middle School,” says Parham Neal-Pishko, middle school STEM teacher.
This year, the group stayed at Camp Piankatank, located on the Piankatank River in Middlesex County, VA. Over several days, the group of 12 to 14-year-olds bonded through team-building activities, canoeing, swimming, and a community service project–weeding and clearing flower beds.
This spring, they will travel to New York City this spring for the Montessori Model United Nations.
Each field study is designed to tie closely to some aspect of the curriculum. There is service to each community visited whether it be volunteering, preparing meals, packaging eggs on the farm for sale at the local Whole Foods, or helping communities on the Chesapeake Bay collect data to analyze the health of the Bay.
The students start to see serving less as an obligation and more as an important contribution to society.