By Elise Hawthorne
weaving art through different areas of study
Parents are offered an abundance of education options for their children; what makes a Montessori education such a compelling choice is the philosophy of education set down by Dr Maria Montessori over one hundred years ago.
Dr Montessori’s way of learning considers the child as a whole being. She believed that like English – art and music are other languages. In the same way one teaches children letters to form words, write sentences and stories, it is the same with art. A Montessori education emphases teaching the elements of art; giving children the tools to be able to express themselves artistically.
How is the Montessori visual arts curriculum integrated into the primary school classroom? Kei Ikeda, Lead Teacher, Cycle 2, Wangaree class (ages 6-9 years) at Montessori East Pre & Primary School in Bondi took me through the process.
Montessori East’s approach to teaching visual arts understands the big picture – it is designed in a way to take into consideration the psychological characteristics of children including their imagination and reasoning mind.
Visual arts education gets interwoven within a Montessori classroom – it’s not taught as a stand-alone topic. Subject integration happens naturally through the lessons given by the class teacher as a normal daily event.
For example, Montessori East teachers incorporate Dr Maria Montessori’s ‘Great Lessons‘, into the classroom. The Great Lessons are five big and bold stories that present the whole or ‘cosmic’ view of the world. They stir the imagination, fueling exploration and discovery into different subject areas about the world around the children – perfect fuel to stimulate artistic expression in any child.
At Montessori East teachers believe that engaging children in visual arts supports the development of a child’s thought processes – their way of understanding both verbal and analytical language as well as visual and perceptual language.
“Just as we need to train a child’s verbal analytical thought process – reading and writing – we need to do the same with their visual perceptual; training the eye to observe effectively.
Learning to draw is helpful for everyone, as through drawing children can actually learn to see the world differently, ” said Kei Ikeda.
Kei goes on to explain that in a Montessori classroom art is seen as another form of language, “We give children the artistic tools for self expression and self investigation. The children learn a variety of techniques using various mediums, which equips them to explore creatively. It’s the same in other subject areas. We build the foundation of knowledge to equip the child with the knowhow and skills to express themselves confidentially.”
“The world is filled with a special kind of beauty achieved by the interaction of line, colour and form, ” says Kei and she uses the many rich lesson in the Montessori art curriculum to cultivate the wonder of precise observation by the children.
“When teaching visual arts, I use nature and our Earth as a source of inspiration to create. For example, I discuss the colours in the sunset, the lines of mountains, shapes of canyons and valleys. My aim is to encourage my students to feel confident to imagine and invent and to enjoy the process.”
“The history of the alphabet is taught as a perfect example of how humans once communicated oral culture via symbols. Discussing cave paintings combines the teaching of history and art. Kei believes that, “there are so many ways of travelling through art education whilst combining other learning areas.”
Kei goes on to explain that at Montessori East, “facts and concepts are presented to our students in isolation to make the concept being presented very clear. For example, I don’t present everything about colour in one lesson – I break it down to a lesson on primary colours, then colour mixing followed by secondary colours and so on.”
“I teach the history of language and the alphabet so that children develop an understanding of how and why words became standardised and how books came about.”
“Art is also incorporated into the study of botany; looking at the parts of a flower opens children to exploration, which is an important creative component of their learning.
“Montessori children use watercolour and sketching to illustrate what they see in their natural environment. Using botanical art to inspire children opens them up to being observant, it trains the eye for detail and mixes art with science.”
Teachers at Montessori East incorporate history and geography into the visual art curriculum by looking at the different kinds of art from around the world.
A group of children might become interested in conducting a research project on the Middle Ages and a study into the art of this period could be included. Model making often accompanies these research projects and in this process the children use different materials and design processes.
In a Montessori classroom art is not taught by a specialists art teacher; Montessori teachers want children to know that art is for everyone and not just for a select group of people.
Montessori East Principal Bill Conway believes, “Art is a universal language and all people express themselves through some kind of art. Art connects children to their own heritage and culture and develops aesthetic sensibilities. The child comes to aesthetically appreciate the world around them through a multi sensory experience.”
Kei Ikeda believes that the importance of art education in the Montessori classroom is, “about supporting the creative expression of individual children as well as training the eye and the mind to perceive the world.”
I feel it is fitting to end with a Dr Maria Montessori quote, one that encapsulates her philosophy of learning.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, The children are now working as if I did not exist.” The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 27
For more information visit: www.montessori.nsw.edu.au