A comprehensive exploration of how the method is employed to deliver rich, meaningful art education
Art education within the Montessori Method has qualities that are different from other approaches to teaching the visual arts. The philosophy, the principles, and the practices of Montessori Education are quite unique. Children in multi-aged groups are educated in a prepared environment where they are taught how to choose and do work from a rich array of activities. They are given new lessons as they progress through the available ones. Children naturally repeat activities until they are no longer interested. All activities have been chosen by the teacher as appropriate and able to meet the needs for that group of children. The curriculum created by the Montessori Art Mentor seamlessly blends to the rest of the environment as each didactic material, structured activity, or lesson isolates the difficulty of what is being learned. One activity indirectly prepares the learner to use that information for the next, more complex activity that succeeds it. More than one way to structure a concept is presented as a “parallel activity,” so as to increase the likelihood that it will be understood and applied to the next level of difficulty. Many activities have built in controls so that the child can discover their own errors. The answers for other activities are present in plain view so that the students can research the answer and check their work independently. The environment changes and grows as the year progresses, based on the teacher’s observations of the children as they work. Art activities and lessons will be much more interesting and effective when enhanced by these Montessori principles. Children start with lessons that involve real, concrete objects. They experience a concept in concrete form before being introduced to the abstract meaning the materials embody. The young child is interested in the process of the activity and only becomes product oriented later. There are “sensitive periods” for each level of education. When children seem more able to master certain skills and kinds of information, the teacher uses these periods to design an appropriate environment for them. There are key lessons that introduce large studies to which the individual classroom activities relate. These key lessons serve as a reference point since the study may last for a long period. Charts and diagrams are often used to organize an enquiry, and often illustrate information by analogy. In the Montessori Art Mentor (MAM) curriculum, children are supported in finding their own ideas and how to make art from preschool on. They are continuously presented with affirmations that enhance their ability to call upon their own interests and sensitivities as sources for self expression (See: Generating Personal Ideas). Over time the children are given lessons and activities that help them to use their own ideas. Teachers are given help so that druring a presentation the teacher can share with his students how he arrived at his idea. The children are given the opportunity to create individual works of art, and to plan and create works as a group where everyone’s input is accepted. Children will agree with and accept an idea even if it is not their own. They seem to understand what is best for the whole. Remember, a group of children is able to plan an idea that may be beyond your abilities, and you may need to seek help from other adults in order to make it happen. Enjoy the stretch. Like the general curriculum, art education has a different emphasis for early education and for elementary education. Even within the elementary level, the emphasis changes as the students mature. Early education centers on building skills, exploring a large number of media, and introducing art concepts with concrete learning materials which will be important for later learning. The foundation is laid in early education. Elementary students continue to be highly creative with materials and processes because of the opportunity they have to explore a variety of media over time. In general, the responsibility for original ideas and self-directed production of artworks starts in preprimary. Over time, the role of the teacher becomes more and more of a support system for the students rather than an originator of work. Like other parts of the Montessori curriculum, students team up to help each other using their complementary skills. Montessori art education stimulates artworks which are highly personal expressions of creative thought and which are truly the product of spontaneous activity. The MAM curriculum art activities can be presented in the environment concomitantly with the rest of the curriculum, or can be presented in a studio designed by a Montessori trained art specialist. Either way, children discover the connections between the concepts of art and concepts from other disciplines. Likewise, the artwork can be used to show evidence of learning in other disciplines. Note: The MAM curriculum reflects the principles and practices of Montessori Education. Without the integrity of the method, art becomes nothing more than busy work.