Taking Inspiration from Nature: A Montessori Classroom Tour of wBees Forest School
Many families that I work with ask how to incorporate nature into their homes and their family life. It isn't always easy or practical to get outside after a long day. Most people value nature and outdoor space...but how to make it work for the average family? I spoke with Lanny of wBees Forest School and she has some ideas! I have been following wBees on Instagram for a while and I love the simplicity of the space and the way that natural elements have been seamlessly incorporated. It feels like such a calm space in the middle of a very busy city (Brooklyn, NY). I have taken so much inspiration from this classroom and the tenacity of parents banning together for their children, hopefully you will as well!
1. Tell me a bit about yourself and your program...
My name is Lanny and I was a public school educator in NYC for 8 years and then worked for a charter school in San Francisco for 3 years before returning back to NYC to start my family. When my eldest daughter was turning 2 years old, I looked for preschool programs that were part time with an emphasis on nature and a richness in the arts and play. I didn't find anything that resonated with me so a few moms and I decided to start our own cooperative that fall. We introduced the idea to our community of families and unwittingly ended up starting a little school with 24 families, 4 classrooms that included my own living room, 2 other living rooms, and a church basement. We hired 3 teachers and had an amazing year of learning with a sweet cooperative where parents rotated as teacher assistants. The following year, I felt a strong urge to have my city kid immersed in nature so we became wBees Forest School where we were strictly an outdoor learning community that would jump on city busses to get to local green spaces and community gardens. Each year since then, the program has morphed and changed into a co-working classroom where parents stay on-site in a separate co-working room while the children have their own Montessori-inspired classroom. This fall, we opened up our first proper licensed Montessori preschool and it has been amazing to think of the journey of our school from a living room to now having a program with 3 classrooms!
2. When did you first learn about Montessori?
I was introduced to Montessori in a two-prong experience where my eldest was enrolled in a local Montessori program in Brooklyn for her 4's year and that same year, a local Montessorian mother reached out to me with interest in enrolling her son in wBees but also wanted to try to return to the classroom in some small way. Together, we started a small and beautiful Montessori Bridge program where young toddlers and their moms would attend a class together throughout the fall and then bridge to a drop-off program in the spring. I got to act as a teacher assistant in the Bridge program throughout most of the school year and I saw how very young children can build so much order and concentration as well as independence through the prepared environment. I saw the affinity for practical life works and how care of the environment works allowed children to become stewards of their own classroom. That same year, I saw my eldest daughter blossom into a confident and curious young person which really affirmed my belief that the Montessori approach can bring out the best in each and every child.
3. Nature is a main focus of your program. Why is it so important to expose children to nature?
Living in Brooklyn, NY, we have to truly carve out the space and time to connect to nature. Children naturally run, play, and open up when they are out of doors and creating as many opportunities as possible for nature is a worthy endeavor. We believe that fostering a connection to nature helps children understand their place in the world.
Every winter, we have a chick-hatching program that comes to us from a farm in New Jersey called "Rent-a-Coop." They bring us a coop with two baby chicks and an incubator with 7 incubated eggs. We get to candle the eggs to see the chicks growing and developing the children learn to care for the chicks by holding them carefully. Our classes use this opportunity as a platform to learn about other bigger concepts such as farm life for our Seedlings (toddler) class or the difference between birds and mammals in our Sprouts (primary) class. We had a very successful hatching this year with 12 out of 14 eggs hatching but sometimes a wee one doesn't make it and that's ok too. It's part of learning about the life cycle in our world.
In the spring, we've had tadpoles grow into frogs, larva grow into ladybugs for release and caterpillars to butterflies. All of these experiences help children connect to the wider world that we live in which is a big part of our philosophy and mission.