“The Universe is full of magical things”

Introducing the work of Annie Davy

“It does not need much in terms of material ’stuff’ to ignite children’s capacity to learn, but it needs your everything to ‘tend the flame’ and build a fire in the hearts and minds of young children – a resilient fire of enthusiasm for learning and confidence to have a go.”

Davy, 2019:6

Davy invites us to engage in ‘shared learning’ with opportunities at every turn to share in awe and wonder, curiosity and engagement. She invites us to explore our “ecological identity and Earth-mindedness” (Davy, 2019:6).

During the past year we have witnessed the impact that being connected with nature, or not, can have on children, their families and ourselves.  We have also witnessed the blossoming of children’s play whilst they have spent more time outside of their classrooms, and their teachers have shared the joy of  learning with parents and amongst themselves.  We must not loose this important element of nursery and school life as we return to school.

Davy’s book, A Sense of Place, mindful practice outdoors (2019), is filled with wise guidance and many practical ideas, offering us contemporary language for what Montessori expressed in the 1940’s when she formulated the principles of Cosmic Education whilst living with her son Mario in Southern India.  Davy rejoices in being part of our Cosmos and chooses Macy’s  (2007) quotation to express it:

“To be alive in this beautiful, self- organising universe – to participate in the dance of life with sense to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it – it is a wonder beyond our words.”

I hope that these introductory paragraphs resonate with you as they reflect many of the key principles of the Montessori approach – the child’s need for autonomy and the importance of connectedness with nature. When working in any favourable environment (including Montessori classrooms) young children need to experience freedom, trust, respect and have opportunities to repeat activities, really engage and concentrate without interruption, and learn from their experiences. And the outdoors is the ideal place to do this.

I love the way Davy weaves some of the topics we have discussed in our Musings sessions – she talks of windows, doors and skylights in a similar way to Styles’ (1988) ideas of “Mirrors and Windows”.  She introduces us to mindful pedagogy in the early years which, together with nature pedagogy, offer opportunities to establish roots of resilience.  I am particularly thankful for her connections with justice, fairness, kindness and compassion as well as sustainability, understanding the global impact of our local actions within our diverse communities.  If you have been following our Musings webinars since last summer, many of these important principles of our practice will resonate with you.  What is so brilliant about Annie’s book are her practical ideas of how to promote these lofty ideas with very young children whilst working outdoors.

It is not surprising that Davy’s suggestions for fostering resilience are presented in the book in the same systematic and mindful way. She offers us tools not only for establishing roots of children’s resilience but also reflects on the need for the teachers and adults to consider their own capacity for resilience; a quality we have all needed during the past year and will need in the future as we embrace the many opportunities life will offer us.  In the introduction to the chapter on resilience, Davy shares a powerful quote from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke “If we surrender to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”  We all need to listen to the changing rhythms of the Earth and the message of climate change.  Children and adults across the globe will need to open the skylights today and embrace the changes and, as Montessori tells us, also take responsibility for our actions and fulfil our Cosmic Task.

When exploring roots of resilience, Annie touches on the many systems which underpin children’s development such a family and culture, as well as social and political and our own body system.  It is clear from her writing that we are all interconnected and interdependent and we all require understanding of the complexities of the many elements of our lives which will influence our own resilience.  Her resilience wheel, which I believe we can apply to both adults and children, addresses the relationship between children’s independence, their agency and sense of self, empathy and self-regulation, attachments to people and places  and children’s engagement and wellbeing – all of these qualities contribute to the child’s capacity to be resilient as they learn to love and care for themselves, each other and our planet.

As you can see, I am a huge fan of Davy’s writing and am delighted that Annie has agreed to join us for our webinar on 16 March.  Register here.

Some of you may remember the MSA conference some years ago, devoted to Nature, in which Annie presented her earlier work with families and very young children in sharing the outdoors. To learn more about her work visit her website, and we highly recommend her book A Sense of Place, Mindful practice outdoors published by Featherstones in 2019. 

Barbara Isaacs, March 2021

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