"If we try to think back to the dim and distant past... what is it that helps us reconstruct those times, and to picture the lives of those who lived in them? It is their art... It is thanks to the hand, the companion of the mind, that civilization has arisen."
—Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Art is one of the many ways children express themselves. Art is a way for children to communicate their feelings. It is through art that children develop their fine motor skills. In the Montessori environment, we provide open-ended art activities that help children explore and use their creativity.
When it comes to art, it is the process not the product that is important to the child. As adults, our goal is to produce a product. The child interacts with the world differently. The child works to develop self. The focus is on the process not the product. Once a child creates something, he does not feel the need to keep the product. It is the process that gives him satisfaction and inner joy.
Getting this point across to parents may be a challenge. "Make something for me today, " is a phrase we often hear parents say at the beginning of the school year. An explanation and then a friendly reminder will help them change their mind set: "It's the process, not the product."
Like many teachers, I have received artistic "gifts" from children. Have you ever suspected such gifts were given because the children didn't "need" the finished product... and because they wanted to move on to the next painting without the interruption of walking to the drying rack?
Art, along with all areas of the classroom, gives children a solid foundation for future growth. Through art, they are exploring, creating, expressing, and developing self. Provide a rich art area in the classroom. Give children a chance to choose their medium: paints, pastels, clay, pencils, crayons.
Do they have supplies for gluing? Cutting with scissors? Tearing paper? Sculpting in three dimensions? Are there a variety of choices for drawing self-portraits or landscapes? Opportunities for abstract art? Is the collage tray stocked and waiting? The possibilities are endless and up to the child.
You might be thinking, "I'm not an artist.", "I don't have endless amounts of classroom prep time." or "My budget is limited." Have no fear. You can include art in your classroom with minimal effort. Start slowly.
Here's an easy idea. Make room on a shelf for a box full of recycled items:
You get the idea... Ask parents for donations, stash them in your supply room, and you'll be set to replenish as needed. Place a supply of glue on the shelf and your prep is finished.
The recycled materials were a big hit in my classroom. Each day, I'd add different items. The children were thrilled, especially one friend, Brandon. As we approached the end of our pre-work-time circle, Brandon's excitement over the addition of an extra large egg carton or a cereal box was written all over his face. I knew he wanted to be dismissed from circle first, in order to get to work on his latest sculpture. He'd look through the box, as if it were a treasure chest! He'd find just the right pieces for his creations. His enthusiasm was contagious and his creations were inspiring!
Incorporate art and literature. When I read Harry the Dirty Dog, I set up an art activity and children created their own Harry (black dog with white spots). A colleague created an activity around Harold and the Purple Crayon: paper, a purple crayon, along with the classic book by Crockett Johnson. Eric Carle is another wonderful source for inspiration. These art activities are placed on the shelf, and the children are free to choose (or not to choose) and to work at their own pace.
In addition to having an "art" area in the classroom, we prepare children for both writing and expressive drawing by providing materials they can freely choose throughout the entire classroom. Children are encouraged to explore outline and color with the Metal Insets. Children spontaneously decorate the borders of their papers (in Math, Language, Sensorial). When children write in their journals, they often illustrate the story. When they do research, children draw a picture of their subject.
We can incorporate art into our continent studies. Who are the artists? How are utensils made and decorated (straw baskets, clay pots)? What museums are located there? Children love to draw and then paint the continent puzzle maps.
"The human hand, so delicate and so complicated, not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment... man 'takes possession of his environment with his hands.' His hands, under the guidance of his intellect transform this environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission in the world."
—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child
—by Pamela Personette, M.Ed., Montessori Educational Consultant, for Montessori Services. Fully committed to Montessori education, Pamela earned an AMS Montessori Primary Credential and a Master's of Education in Early Childhood, Montessori Education, from Notre Dame de Namur University. Pam's passion for Montessori has taken her from head teacher for more than a decade to a unique consulting business that uses Montessori principles to teach the art of superior customer service to adults in the retail trade. Pamela continues to serve children by teaching at Montessori schools.
—Originally Published 2011