The Child in Nature Introduction Mountaintop students of all developmental stages develop a kinship with the natural world and act as stewards for the environment. Children can become anxious and overwhelmed with messages about endangered animals and dying ecosystems yet have limited personal attachment to the world around them. This abstract form of environmental education can leave children feeling hopeless and distanced from the vibrant ecosystems and flora and fauna right outside their back doors. Mountaintop works to build optimism and hope instead. At Mountaintop we are creating a rich natural world on our Pantops campus. Our native plant habitats, home to animals and birds, are green, inviting, safe spaces that offer a laboratory for encouraging curiosity, observation, critical thinking and intellectual growth. These outdoor spaces invite participation and engage children in unstructured physical activity, providing a hidden curriculum that children discover on their own. Toddler and Children’s House At Mountaintop we guide the children to connect with the natural world and develop a relationship with the earth. The Toddler and Primary ages are the most critical periods for bonding with the world and developing what entomologist E.O. Wilson calls biophilia – an affinity for the living world. During these formative years, our main objective is to cultivate empathy between the child and nature through stories, songs, seasonal celebrations and direct experiences with plants and animals. Elementary Elementary children are natural explorers. Their activities include experiencing the living and nonliving forces of nature. They collect specimens, explore the woods and streams, observe amphibians, insects and birds, hike trails, plant gardens, compost and recycle, tend animals and ultimately make the connection that human beings need to live in harmony with the earth; that all things, natural and manmade, are interdependent. Middle School As Montessori children enter adolescence, they turn their personal relationship with nature into a catalyst for social action on behalf of the environment. This devotion to the world around them provides context for studying the challenges facing our world today. These young adults emerge from Mountaintop understanding the unique relationship between human technology and nature’s gifts. The Mountaintop student feels empowered to make positive and purposeful contributions to local and global environmental efforts out of genuine understanding and experience. 26