Nature in Education

At the Institute of Education, UCL

This years conference is inspired by the following quotation from The Nature Principle, the latest publication by Richard Louv, our distinguished keynote speaker: The future will belong to the nature-smart those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.

Having explored technology in the life of young children last year, this years conference invites you to reflect on some of Montessori’s ideas on the importance of nature and how you can bring it to the everyday life of your setting. Early experiences of the nursery garden, woods and forests, hills and mountains, and rivers, lakes and the seashore whichever are the closest to your setting will provide the child with physical and intellectual learning opportunities. They will also nourish his/her soul and lay a foundation for later understanding of his/her connection with responsibility for our planet.

In chapter four of The Discovery of the Child Montessori reminds us that Education in school can fix the attention of a child on special objects which will show exactly how far s/he has been able to stir up within him/herself a feeling for nature or will arouse within him/her latent or lost sentiments. A child, who more than anyone else is a spontaneous observer of nature, certainly needs to have at his/her disposal material upon which s/he can work.

We hope that this year we will not only provoke but also offer the Montessori community inspiration and practical ideas for bringing adults and children closer to the wonders and treasures of our world. Being mindful of the finite resources of our planet we will only provide you with the essential materials to enjoy this conference your programme, the certificate of attendance and the evaluation. Please feel free to collect promotional materials of personal interest from the exhibition stands.

We hope you will enjoy what promises to be an exciting event in the Montessori Schools Association history.


Barbara Isaacs

Chief Education Officer

Montessori St Nicholas Charity


Our morning speakers are Annie Davy of The Nature Effect and Richard Louv of Children and Nature Network.

Annie Davy has over 20 years experience working in play, human development and nature connection practise. She has a background in teaching, lecturing and writing in early years and playwork and was Head of Early Years for Oxfordshire County Council for 12 years.  Annie now works freelance as an accredited coach, mentor, training and Action Learning Facilitator.   She established forest schools in Oxfordshire and is a founding member of Barracks Lane Community Garden Project and The Nature Effect CIC. Author of bestselling textbook, New Playwork, she has contributed to numerous books and journal articles. As adviser for Learning through Landscapes she co-ordinated an award winning toolkit for development of outdoor learning and developed action research and practitioner research projects.

Annie will explore the teachers role as companions to children’s learning outdoors.   She will look at how the landscape and culture is changing for children in each place and generation and explore how Montessori practitioners can  become good companions for this new generation of children as they develop their own sense of place in their homes, their communities and the natural world.

Our next speaker who will give the keynote for this conference is Richard Louv.

Richard Louv is a journalist and author of eight books, including Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. His books have been translated into 13 languages, published in 17 countries and helped launch an international movement to connect children and their families to nature.   He is co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organisation helping to build the international movement to connect people and communities to the natural world. With artist Robert Bateman, he serves as honorary co-chair of Canada’s Child in Nature Alliance. In 2010, he delivered the plenary keynote at the national conference of the American Academy of Paediatrics, and in 2012 was keynote speaker at the first White House Summit on Environmental Education. His most recent book, The Nature Principle is a 2012 Nautilus Award Gold Winner.

Richard will talk about how the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.   He will show how ultimate multi-tasking by living simultaneously in both the digital and physical worlds has affected us.   We now use computers to maximise processing of intellectual data and natural environments to ignite our senses and accelerate our ability to learn and feel combining the resurfaced primitive powers of our ancestors with the digital speed of teenagers.

While there’s no denying the benefits of the Internet he will show how electronic immersion without a force to balance it, creates a hole in the boat.   His talk will explain how this drains our ability to pay attention, think clearly, be productive and creative.  Further he will explore how our society seems to omit the natural domain for the building of better brains.

In the afternoon, Jeremy Clarke, Michelle Wisbey and Wilma Grier will give a Montessori perspective on what influences a child’s relationship with nature, how children manage risk, and the challenge of embedding the natural world in the learning environment.

Jeremy Clarke is the Leader of E-Learning at Montessori Centre International. He trained as a teacher specialising in Early Years and Outdoor Education at Charlotte Mason College in Ambleside. Having taught across the Nursery, Reception and Year One age ranges he joined Gorton Mount Primary in 2001 and taught there for over ten years. As the Foundation Stage Coordinator he oversaw their adoption of the Montessori approach and at the same time began his own Montessori journey.

Jeremy’s talk will look into what influences a child’s relationship with nature, and why it matters. He will investigate the relationships both adults and children have with nature. His presentation is set in the context of Maria Montessori’s writing in this area, looking at her theoretical and practical approach to enabling connections to take place with nature, and how this develops more than any other area the spirit of the child.

Michelle Wisbey has been working as a Montessori practitioner for 20 years. She currently owns four pre-schools in Essex and one pre-school in Hertfordshire. Michelle is a qualified forest school leader and leads MCI Essex in delivering the Diploma in Montessori Pedagogy birth to seven (Early Years Educator) Level 3 & Level 4 based at one of her settings.   She has been awarded funding for her Masters Degree by Essex County Council, which sparked her interest in linking children’s risk-taking with the Montessori philosophy of trust the child. Through her Doctorate and her continuing research in practice, Michelle intends to explore how children and practitioners can work together in promoting children’s competence in risk assessment.

Michelle’s presentation is about how risk is an inevitable part of children’s everyday life. She will share appropriate tools to support children’s learning and guide them towards good and thoughtful risk-taking.

Wilma Grier has enjoyed a successful career in education for over  40 years. Starting out as a drama teacher her passion for better learning outcomes for children prompted her to become a Montessori teacher and trainer. She has established several innovative educational programmes in Ireland, Australia and Indonesia.   Wilma has worked extensively with children, teachers and parents and has recently retired as principal of Montessori School Bali. She has presented workshops and seminars at conferences in Australia, Europe and USA.

Wilma will explore ways that the natural world can be integrated into the everyday routine of the classroom. Using the outdoor programme at Montessori School Bali and environments from Australia as examples, she will take participants on a journey of discovery using Powerpoint to present ideas and to show a variety of outdoor and indoor possibilities of integrating nature so that it becomes embedded in the daily classroom routine.

There will also be short presentations whereby practical ideas on nature in education are imparted by environmental organisations in the UK: Catherine McCusker of the National Trust, Chris Young of the Royal Horticultural Society and Lord Peter Melchett of the Soil Association.

Catherine McCusker grew up eating blackberries off the bush, making musical instruments from sticks, and watching Dippers in the stream.   She did a wide variety of jobs including working in Human Resources in a big refurbishment company in London, running their training facility.   She has  organised  fundraising for a local nursery and primary schools to develop their outdoor space.   As a teaching assistant she delivered lessons in all subjects with a lot of dance, art and RE.   She now works for The National Trust at  Box Hill where she learns every day and gets to engage and inspire children, teachers and parents from all over the region about the outdoors.   Catherine’s presentation will look into how the development of a person and the outdoors are inextricably linked.

Chris Young has been passionate about horticulture for many years. After a career in Engineering and IT, he served an apprenticeship at Down House with English Heritage. Moving to the RHS at Wisley as a trainee, he worked with the Yorkshire Schools Adviser, which sparked his interest in education and a determination to become involved. Following this training he spent three years in the Propagation Department at the RHS Wisley Gardens, building his knowledge of propagation and plants and delivering training courses for audiences of all ages and experience.  Chris will show ways to teach a whole class with practical examples to illustrate the many benefits to learning with nature, and also show ways to overcome some of the challenges to teaching a class in the garden.

Peter Melchett has been Policy Director of the Soil Association (the UK’s main organic food and farming organisation) working on campaigns, standards and policy, since 2001.   He runs an 890-acre organic farm in Norfolk, with beef cattle and arable seed crops. He is a member of the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Governments Rural Climate Change Forum and Organic Action Plan Group, and the Department of Educations School Lunches Review Panel.   He received an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University in 2013, was on the Board of the EUs £12m Quality Low Input Food research project, and is a Board member for two EU research projects on low input crops and livestock.   Peter will be sharing ideas on Seeing, growing, cooking and eating good food.   He will also talk about the Soil Associations work on changing the UK’s food culture in schools.