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MAGIC IN THE SAND: With Her Students, a Teacher in Riyadh Comes to Love the Desert

About the Author

Erum Kamran is director at a Montessori school in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. She loves nature and children. The work of the Children & Nature Network inspired her to start a campaign in her region dedicated to connecting children to nature and to understanding why the nature connection is so necessary for the healthy development of children in every country.

“There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all of the life to be found around them in a real forest.”
— Maria Montessori

Living in Riyadh, the largest city of Saudi Arabia, was not an exciting experience for me until I trained as a Montessori teacher. Then I fell in love with both nature and children.

Every morning my students and I take a nature walk. We walk through the garden or a green passage very quietly, trying to catch the sound of a bird, a crunchy yellow leaf, crawling ants , whispering bugs and windy weather. Children are naturally attracted to every natural stimulus and often react in the most scientific way.

girls in desert
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Sometimes we carry a bag to collect specimens. Once we are back in the classroom, they take out their tiny discoveries and lay them on the floor. We sort, count, match and pattern. We ask: Is it a plant? Is it living or non-living? What do we know about this object? What do we want to know?

We explore the desert, too. I am always amazed to see how children interact with the desert in the same way that others are excited by woodlands.

Young people here love to sit in barren desert areas during the summer nights. Some of them come from farms. They know many facts about horses, but they have a special love for camels which can be found at the outskirts of the cities and towns and sometimes on the main highways. And yet, even with this background, children have much to learn in nature.

As my children become more nature-observant we search for specific types of leaves, rocks, ants or grasses. We press the plant specimens in a leaf/flower press (or between wax paper and some heavy books) and make booklets out of our collections. And we do not always have to collect things. Sometimes we just go on a nature walk to observe and discuss the weather, the seasons, the things we see. I explain to the children that if we always collect things from nature when we go out walking, then those things would not be there for us and others to enjoy and observe next time.

This is a difficult concept to get across to small children, but it is one that should be introduced.

When we visit nearby sand dunes, my students talk about the wind which blows the sand, its speed in relation to the sand that it blows away. And when they sit on the dunes or walk they discover the texture of sand, its weight and its impact on the human body. One child asked me, “Miss Erum, I felt tired walking in the dunes. Why do I never feel the same feeling when I am walking in a garden?” He realized that landscape matters. He experienced first hand the connection of topography to the lives of humans. This is real learning which can never happen in the classroom.

erum wid kids
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A few months ago, we went to the old city of Dirriyah, which is trying to preserve its deeply rooted culture and its landscape. As we were discussing the historical background of this place, some of the children wandered off.

“Look at this stem, it’s so dry,” one of the children shouted to us. Another said, “These plants haven’t received any water for months!” A five-year old called out, “The color is so dull. The plants lose their brightness when they need water.” One of the children still with me asked, “Miss Erum, can we bring our bottles and water the plants out there?” “Wait! “ said a very concerned boy. “Our house is far away. Please don’t use the water.” These children made these connections, on their own, while discovering the desert eco-system.

As that small group discussed the desert plants, another group climbed rocks. They experienced balance, coordination of gross motor skills and control of fine motor skills. They used eye-hand coordination, predicted height, found the perfect grasping positions, discovered the relation between man and nature. Upon reaching the top, the children viewed the whole landscape with binoculars. A sense of achievement was in their eyes. Then they took out a magnifying glass. “I see a spider!” said one. Everyone gathered there to look. They counted the number of legs, inspected its body parts and eyes, and studied how it walked.

None of this can be taught through lectures or books.

A book of botany or zoology has the power to stimulate the already curious human mind but nature has the power to change this curiosity into discovery.

In nature, I see the child’s immense concentration. In nature, a teacher does not need to build their attention spans or speed up their curiosity or raise their concentration level. All of these ways of being are already there, in their souls.

12 Comments

  1. I fully agree with whatever is mentioned & described by Erum Kamran in her blog. Good approach with positive mind set for real betterment of children to grow with practical involvement to see every thing around them, available in the Nature.

    Reply
  2. Erum, this is really a great discovery for everyone. I am so happy for your discovery with the children and sharing it. You have been a joy to teach.

    Reply
  3. Thanks everyone for your wonderful replies.
    Dear Sandi its been all your effort as my mentor to train me like that. It’s all your minute by minute deep Observation and reminders which paved the way for a Directress to enter into a world of children with love, care, and Observation and to create an environment where they feel trusted, loved and explore like a scientist.
    Thanks for being a source of inspiration for me.
    Thanks ,
    Erum

    Reply
  4. It is wonderful to see so many people embracing nature in so many countries and habitats. From the countries that have four seasons, to the two distinct seasons in tropical parts of the world. Where we are the indigenous people of the land say we have six seasons. Lets share this valuable knowledge and wisdom from both the ancestors and traditional people of today, enrich our children , enrich our world.
    Thank you
    Andrea

    Reply
  5. It was heartening and delightful reading your account of sharing nature with children. Here in India we also enjoy sharing the 6 seasons with the children in Nature.
    warm wishes,
    chit ra

    Reply
  6. An inspiring effort towards flawless education . Highly commendable .
    Look forward to more . Best wishes , Z

    Reply
  7. Dear mam,, Iam very amazed to see the way u r teaching them being with nature … Being one with the nature is the best way to learn things I strongly believe in that … My little one is 3 yr old looking for only montessori schools, as Iam strict follower of ur posts in face book it inspired me a lot ,, so pls can u guide me to reach ur school , the appropriate time, the day to meet u and seek ur advise on admission as we r staying quite far from ur place.. Thank u

    Reply
  8. Great observations about children, learning and nature. It is amazing how the outdoors is such a great space for children. Thanks for linking up to the Outdoor Play Party.

    Reply
  9. Brilliant post Erum, I love watching all that you get up to with your class & thanks for adding this to the Outdoor Play Party.

    Reply
  10. kindly inform about reasonable cost english medium montessori schools in riyadh (preferably ones providing islamic education too). My daughter is about 4 yr old and currently going to traditional school and my son is 2 yr old.

    Reply
  11. most amazing job you do Erum; keep it up; I personally organize volunatarily magic shows for children in schools and community etc wherever they need me and wherever I can reach just to bring some smiles on their beautiful faces

    Reply
  12. Hi Erum. Great post. Which montessori are you a director in? I am currently in riyadh and looking for a montessori for my son.

    Reply

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