Westmont Montessori School: How a Sheltered School Garden Brings a Community Together

We’re delighted to update you on the Westmont Montessori School garden, one of our funded projects. This project combines two of the Foundation’s core priorities – the creation of school gardens and providing outdoor learning experiences. When children can explore and engage in in the great outdoors, they become more connected to  nature and to one another. Westmont Montessori School’s story is a testament of how a garden can bring a community together and how outdoor experiences enhance learning.
Thank you to the wonderful team at Westmont Montessori School for sharing their story. May you continue to inspire, nurture and guide these young students in your community.

Westmont Montessori School is a hidden gem in the heart of Metchosin, Vancouver Island, BC.  The school has been part of our community for over fifty years and has provided an independent educational experience to generations of local families.  The school’s strong ties to the community and to the natural bounty of our region have always been a strong element in the educational experience of students at Westmont. 

“The Westmont Learning garden is a place where memories are made, exciting times to be forever cherished occur, and lessons are learned. Growing up in the welcoming community of Westmont and participating in a Montessori program, the garden that we have access to made learning fun, creative, and helped us connect with nature.”  Alexandra, Grade 8

 

Westmont Montessori's Alexandra (left) and Hannah

Westmont Montessori students (left to right): Alexandra and Hannah

The learning garden at Westmont is a vital resource that has been a much-loved element in the education of generations of students in our community.  The garden reinforces a key aspect of the Westmont Montessori philosophy – that movement and cognition are closely entwined, and that movement enhances thinking and learning.  At Westmont, this perspective is linked with the strong connection to nature and to outdoor exploration that is central to much of our practice.  As students move around the garden and interact directly with the plants, the animals and the soil the teachers engage with them, guiding their curiosity to explore and explain what they encounter. 

“I love the learning garden! It is a wonderful tool that helps students us of any age learn about botany, nature, and teamwork. There are so many exciting things you can do in the garden; you can plant seeds, water plants, look for insects, pull weeds, explore, eat herbs, and so much more. My favourite thing to do in the garden is explore all the different plants species and try to make new discoveries. Overall, the garden is filled with knowledge and it makes everyone happy, rain or shine.” Hannah, Grade 7

The new teaching shelter lies at the heart of our garden – literally and figuratively.  It is here that the students gather to share their discoveries, to learn about the plants and animals that surround them, to develop their understanding of the natural world and their place in it.  The teaching shelter forms a natural hub for all the activities in the garden and will draw students and families into the heart of what Westmont strives to be. 

Jen McAllister, garden coordinator and parent, is deeply committed to the success of the learning garden and is delighted with the new teaching shelter: “constructing the new shelter was a great expression of the Westmont community’s commitment to enhancing the educational opportunities for our students – local businesses, craftspeople and parents all came together to build the beautiful new shelter.”  Jen’s background as a Certified Organic Master Gardener has meant that all the aspects of the garden regeneration have been thought through and linked to her guiding vision – along with the help and support of parents and a local landscape designer. 

Jen McAllister working on the roof of the learning garden

Jennifer McAllister, Garden Coordinator and dedicated parent worked on the school’s learning garden.

Westmont’s learning garden acts as a true extension of the classroom.  Students and teachers make countless connections between the curricular areas. They explore in the classroom what is growing and developing in the school garden.  A great example of this was the spring project when the upper elementary classes decided to plant wheat.  The class talked to a local farmer who donated seeds and gave specific planting instructions.  The students worked together to prepare an area in the garden and seed it.  At the same time, the students researched the historical context of grains in various civilizations around the world. They discover how we are still connected to this process thousands of years later.  As the students cared for the crop throughout the spring, summer and fall they came up with ideas on what to do with the harvest.  In the following fall, more than forty students went into the garden and harvested the grain. They began the process of separating the wheat from the chaff and then grinding the grain. Once they had made flour, the students decided to turn it into pizza dough and bake pizzas for the entire class.  Throughout the entire process, students talked about the math, science and language of growing, harvesting and grinding the wheat into flour.  It was powerful experience for all involved – and a tasty one at that!     

Photo of Magnus Hanton, Head of School

Magnus Hanton, Head of School

“Our school has always held the philosophy that our classrooms have no walls. We can bring this philosophy into reality through the new teaching shelter, which is a much-needed addition to our renovated learning gardens.  The staff and students have been eager for a place to gather together and share their curiosity and their questions.  The new shelter will greatly enhance our capacity to engage with our students in the very moment of discovery.” Magnus Hanton, Head of School, Westmont Montessori, Victoria, BC.

 

James Boxall

Written by: James Boxall
Westmont Montessori School

Like this story? If you do and would like to hear more about how the Foundation is creating opportunities for children to explore the outdoors, please sign-up to be a Friend of the Foundation.