"Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and when the grass of the meadows is wet with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet..."
—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
One spring day I took my primary class outdoors for a nature walk. The children enjoyed splashing in puddles with their bright yellow and red galoshes. We sang favorite springtime songs. We marveled at how nature was coming back to life after a long, cold winter. Children noticed the buds on the fruit trees, a red robin flying off with a worm dangling from its beak, and daffodils poking up from the dark earth.
Maria Montessori discussed the beauty of flowers with children, explaining that flowers use their bright colors to call out to insects, "Come! Visit me!" African-American poet Alice Dunbar-Nelson put it evocatively: "... And the still, warm life of the roses fair/ that whisper 'Come...'"
After going outdoors to smell, admire, and draw flowers, we brought flowers into the classroom for further exploration. Edible flowers can be tasted. "They're so peppery!" one child exclaimed, after sampling some bright orange nasturtiums. (Please caution children not to taste flowers without adult approval.) We began to look at flowers in greater detail, to understand the function each part of the flower plays.
Introducing children to scientific study and observation, dissecting flowers is a favorite activity in both primary and elementary classrooms. Lilies, irises, tulips, and daffodils are excellent for dissection because they are large and have all of the main parts. The lily is the closest match to the Montessori flower puzzle.
"I found my ovary! I found my ovary!" a five-year-old boy in my class sang out with excitement as he dissected his flower.
The steps for dissecting flowers are as follows:
Children can dissect different flowers, comparing the parts of each flower to others they have dissected. Older children may enjoy dissecting flowers using an exacto knife and then looking at each part under a microscope.
Elementary-age children can organize "going out" experiences, with trips to outdoor gardens and arboretums. The DeYoung museum in San Francisco has an annual flower exhibition, with ingenious arrangements, which sometimes include a dragon made of flowers climbing up the stairway banister.
One year my favorite display was created by Planned Parenthood. At first, I thought it was a pin cushion, with hundreds of thin pins sticking out. As I got closer, however, I saw that it was the torso of a female mannequin, completely covered with just pistils and stamens!
Maria Montessori was surprised to discover how much young children enjoyed dissecting flowers.
"The children with the keenest interest dissected a section of violet with remarkable accuracy, and they quickly learned to use all the instruments. But my greatest surprise was to find that they did not despise or throw away the dissected parts, as we older students used to do. With great care, they placed them all in an attractive order on a piece of white paper, as if they had in mind some secret purpose."
—Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method II
What do you think might be the children's "secret purpose" that Montessori mentions?
—by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She holds both primary (ages 3-6) and elementary (ages 6-12) Montessori certifications and has taught at all three levels. For over 20 years, she has served as a Montessori consultant and teacher-trainer for primary and elementary levels, and has presented workshops for teachers at schools and AMS conferences. Her work with students and teachers is infused with her passions: storytelling, history, social justice, non-violent (compassionate) communication, poetry, meditation, music, and the natural world.
—Originally Published 2021