By means of Montessori education, children aged from 3 to 6 years were introduced to the basics of earth-sciences in general and of glaciology in particular. For this purpose, a one-year-program was established under the principles of Cosmic Education (Sensu Montessori) in order to provide an insight in some parts of the afore mentioned sciences via 3 steps. Step 1 brought up introductory informations about earth sciences, historical geology, planetology, and climatology. In Step 2, specific information about the Ice Ages and glaciology was given by introducing a story about a personified glacier which included information on mass budget (ablation/accumulation), dynamics, features (crevasses), and in relation to those, the dangers of a glacier. Step 3 completed the program by giving the children the opportunity for depicting and acting out their knowledge via glacier-"modelling", painting, dancing, and making music.
After this one-year-program the children were able to give a simple account of the basic principles of climatology and glaciology, which may contribute to a more careful and respectful attitude towards their environment.
The program turned out as a helpful and appropriate tool for giving an introduction into the great cycles of nature to preschool children, not only in nursery schools, but also at home with their families. In addition, the interactive and hands-on ways of presentation described were responded by the children with interest and sometimes enthusiasm, which is taken as further evidence for the tool's efficacy.
In the Austrian Alps, lots of glaciers still do exist, even if they are currenuy melting away (due to heavily increased ablation) (Patzelt, 1970). The last time that most of the Alpine glaciers were growing again (with positive mass-balances over 10 to 15 years) was in the eighties of the last century (Patzelt, 1985). Even though the glaciers exist, lots of children in Austria, especially in urban environments, have no idea of glaciers and of glaciology, respectively. Because glaciers are a good example to vividly illustrate the water cycle and the sensitivity of nature to climate changes to children, we started a program to teach children aged three to six about the life of glaciers and glaciology.
A three-step program was used to introduce young children to glaciology and climatology. The methods of Maria Montessori (1913) were applied within this program because of the success of this system of instruction for very young students. M. Montessori, the first woman in Italy who earned a physician's medical degree, started and established her method during her time in a school for mentally disabled children. After the great success that she achieved within some years, she expanded her method to children from the slums of San Lorenzo, Rome, Italy (Stephenson, 2004). A great deal of attention was paid to M. Montessori internationally when she established a glass-walled classroom at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition (Sobe, 2004). Today the methods of M. Montessori are a recognized educational theory that achieves great success; in Austria, they are mainly applied in nursery and primary schools. The main principles of the Montessori method are the strong attention to the individuality of the students, leading to work in small groups, times of free work during school time, and the individual use of different materials to achieve knowledge.
Figure 1 shows in a diagram the organization of the glaciology program within the framework of Montessori pedagogics. A key idea of Montessori education is Cosmic Education, first presented in London in 1935 by Maria Montessori (Haspel, 2004; Kaul, 2005; Salvenmoser, 2005). Cosmic Education addresses all themes related to nature - but not just in a strictly scientific way. Montessori wanted to teach children something of nature's mysteries, of the philosophy and value nature has (or better, should have) for all of us. …