Montessori Art

By Tula

See also Art

Montessori wanted her prepared environment to have real works of art hung at the child’s eye level and changed frequently. She also insisted that the rooms be well kept, clean and attractive to the children with fresh flowers & plants or objects from nature. In most Montessori schools I have been into there are objects of art for the children to explore, either visually or by touch.

Most of the Montessori emphasis on art comes from the development of the hand, the “prehensile organ of the mind”. The Montessori environment provides extensive materials & activities to develop & train the hand. Predominantly, the Insets for design, which are geometrical stencil shapes used to prepare the child’s hand for writing. Montessori wrote : ” The so-called ‘free drawing’ has no place in my system. We do not give lessons in drawing or in modelling, and yet many of our children know how to draw flowers, birds, landscapes and even imaginary scenes in an admirable way.” (The Discovery of the Child)

A lot of the exercises of Practical Life within a Montessori curriculum are artistic in nature, e.g. cutting, weaving, sewing, use of stationery tools, stencils, etc., yet they are also presented in a formal manner. I have seen paint and chalks available in all the Montessori schools I have worked in or visited and most have some element of controlled use. Rather than inhibit the child I think this encourages thoughtful application of colour, especially after the child has selected his own materials to work with, maybe even mixed the paint himself. They have a growing understanding of the medium itself & quickly develop knowledge of amounts to use & how to prepare their work environment. Materials are freely available but the child manages to take responsibility for them and their use.

I have seen huge wall murals using Montessori principles and one of my favourite pieces was a large piece of binka threaded with a variety of ribbons and materials, with buttons & pieces of wood & shell attached all over. The binka had been hung in the quiet book corner & the children were free to sew, weave & add to it as they felt inclined. By the end of the term a collaborative masterpiece had been created! ” The sensory education which prepares for the accurate perception of all the differential details in the qualities of things, is therefore the foundation of the observation of helps us to collect from the external world the material for the imagination.” (The Advanced Montessori Method)

Montessori believed that the child would only produce art when he had a need to and should something more interesting come along he would be distracted & abandon it. However, if he was engrossed in creating art (or any other subject) he could repeat the same task over & over without tiring. “The development of character (is) a natural sequence of events resulting from the child’s own individual efforts, which have no reference to any extraneous factors, but depend on his own creative energy” (The Absorbent Mind)

One of the most important elements is to leave the child free to develop as interfering can interrupt the inner drive for expression. It is extremely hard not to comment upon the child’s work & try to find a title or explanation for it, yet the work should exist for itself, ‘art for art’s sake’. The pictures do not necessarily have to resemble anything we recognise, nor be anything that needs words to explain them. After hearing piece of music by Mozart we do not ask for a verbal description or explanation it speaks for itself! . The adults are as ‘servants’ to the child: “The teacher can find a very good model for her behaviour in the way a good valet looks after his master. He keeps his master’s dressing table tidy, puts the brushes in place, but he does not tell his master when to use the brushes” (The Absorbent Mind)

Some Montessori schools even go so far as to not write anything on the picture at all, not even a title, and do not write the child’s name on the front either. In addition, some feel that to even display the work is tantamount to destroying creativity, as the child believes that the adult is satisfied with work on display & therefore the child no longer needs to create or continue exploration. Some children remain stifled and do not progress until their work is removed from display. “It is not necessary to say anything to a child creating, other than the technical “Would you like to do another collage or shall I show you how we clear up?” “(Montessori International Autumn 2000)

This leads to the question of motivation; who is the art for? It is so common to say ” Draw a picture for Mummy”. Instantly the child has been given a motivation other than the pleasure & experience of creating something for themselves. Some children insist on using an eraser constantly with their work, desperate for a perfection that is so frustrating to find. Others simply refuse to even attempt art work, afraid of their own inability and lack of skill. How do children feel like this about art? Why do children feel like this about art? What do they perceive ‘art’ to be?

There is a commonly accepted approach to art appreciation within the Montessori curriculum in the work of Aline D.Wolf, entitled ‘Mommy, It’s a Renoir’ and ‘Child Sized Masterpieces.
The basic idea is to introduce art to children as young as 2 years old. They use a collection of postcard sized prints of famous artists to match into pairs, recognise styles & techniques and use as a springboard for discussion and creative work.

I have used Wolf’s techniques myself by buying double sets of postcards from art galleries. The children have paired them up, hunt around the gallery for the originals, discuss interesting details in the paintings etc. For example, “Where is that road going?” “Why do the trees at the top look so small compared to the ones at the bottom?” “Where would you like to be in this painting?” “How does it make you feel?” “Does it look the same close up as it does far away?” This is such an exciting project to do with young children – they see amazing details!

The child should be given freedom to explore and the adult should refrain from comment. It would be fine to discuss works of art & their effect upon our senses. It is equally acceptable to visit a gallery & say absolutely nothing, although I doubt that this would happen. When we go to the gallery we always take paper, pencils & some other medium, e.g. plastercine or pastels.

I find it is liberating for a child to be exposed to a variety of art forms, crossing a range of styles & techniques, past & present. In looking at the diversity of artistic style and accepting art as a personal expression can help free a child from anxieties about his own work. My personal belief is that art is dangerous territory to anybody in search of perfection (many a ‘tortured’ artist) and it is vital that young children be given as much freedom of expression as possible. Too many people are damaged by early feelings of inadequacy over their art attempts and as a result exclude themselves from a wonderful outlet for self-expression and communication.
“We are here to offer to this life, which came into the world by itself, the means necessary for its development, and having done that we must await this development with respect.”

Recommended Books

If you are looking for ideas for improving drawing and new ways of seeing the world of art I can think of nothing better than Betty Edwards ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ (ISBN: 0-00-638114-6.) Although this is not intended as a child’s book I have used some of the techniques successfully with a 7 year old. The concepts in the book are very interesting and the practical tasks are an enlightenment.

I also highly recommend the Artists Workshop series, published by Black. There are four titles; Portraits,( 0-7136-4407-9), Landscapes, (0-7136-4406-0) , Animals (ISBN: 0-7136-4405-2) & Stories. Each one focuses on famous works of art, past & present, whilst providing a springboard for discussion and inspirational ideas for creative projects. The books also show examples of children’s work & I find these books really informative & enjoyable.

The work of Fred Sedgwick, together with his wife Dawn, provides a new perspective for art as a holistic experience for the child. My favourite book is ‘Drawing to Learn‘ (0-340-57341-4) which covers development from 3-11 yrs. Although it is primarily a book for teachers it has many ideas for art exploration, practical ideas for setting up art environments & is stacked full of child’s work. (Fred Sedgewick is also a poet & if anybody comes across any of his books then I can recommend a peek! He has also published on the subject of poetry writing for kids.)

Paragon publish a range of books entitled ‘I Can Draw.’ (E.g. We have ‘I Can Draw Cars & Trucks’ by Terry Longhurst (0-75254-893-X) ) which provides older children with step by step stages to recreate some of their favourite vehicles.(These are out of stock at Amazon, but Tesco regularly sell them very cheap!) They encourage the use of perspective, proportions & attention to detail. Younger children could try Usbourne’s range of similar books. We have ‘I Can Draw Animals‘ ISBN:0-7460-2943-8. It has clear, easy to follow instructions that even a young child could attempt.

Montessori Play & Learn‘ by Lesley Britton (ISBN: 0-09-175214-0) is full of practical ideas for artistic games & activities for children up to the age of 6 years. It includes other curriculum areas such as maths, geography & science as well as creative ideas and all have been written from a Montessori perspective & using Montessori practices.

A few other titles with creative ideas are
Play Together, Learn Together‘ published by Kingfisher (ISBN: 0-86272-119-9)
365 Things to Make & Do‘ published by Parragon (ISBN: 0-75254-359-8)
200 Boredom Busters‘ published by Dorling Kindersley (ISBN: 0-7513-5891-6)
365 After-School Activities you can do with your child‘ by Cynthia MacGregor (ISBN: 1-58062-212-7)(A terrible title for HE’ers I know but it is packed with fantastic ideas for all ages up to 10years)


Vax 45
Make Stuff
Activity Village
Paper Paradise
Family Education
dltk kids
Kids Domain