Art Smart: Integrating Visual Arts in the Montessori Classroom
The visual arts are essential to a comprehensive elementary education. In the Montessori classroom, art should be offered in 3 ways—as a work choice from the shelf, as an extension choice for topics the child is learning about, and as direct instruction, like through a formal art class or series of art lessons.
The child at the first plane of development, which is from infancy to age 6, should be provided a firm foundation in exploration art as a process, rather than product. This means that rather than focusing on arriving at a finished product, the child is often cutting, gluing, painting and sculpting for its own sake. The younger children may have little attachment to their artwork—for them it was about the moment, the experience of making that art. Older students tend to enjoy giving their artwork away to friends and loved ones, using art as a means of expression.
The child in the 6-9 stage is primarily concerned with social development and the shift to relationships becomes apparent in his or her artwork.
Why We Teach Art
Appreciating art and what it does for the child may be the first step in bringing great art experiences into the classroom. Art plays many roles in education:
· Creative outlet to self-expression
· Therapeutic tool
· Enhancement of motor skills
· Synthesis of information
· Development of confidence
· Diagnostic aid
· Promotion of decision-making
· Connection to world cultures
· Enhancement of social and emotional connections
· Use of sequencing skills
Paramount to all other benefits, art requires and fosters executive functioning and engages a child’s whole personality. “The child should love everything that he learns, for his mental and emotional growths are linked. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear, striking his imagination. Once this love has been kindled, all problems confronting the educationist will disappear” (Montessori, 1989, p. 25)
The Montessori guide at the Elementary level is responsible for offering open-ended art activities on the shelf. These open-ended activities might be structured on a tray or might be materials such as markers, paints or stamps offered on the shelf for the child to utilize. In addition, specific art works, such as a Matisse-inspired collage tray or a coloring Mandala are choices for students.
Extending Lessons with Art
Art is a great tool in that it helps children consolidate knowledge. Whether illustrating a story or making a mural of ocean life, the process of making things and drawing cements knowledge and understanding. If we made a model or diorama of something as a child, chances are we remember it even as an adult. Consideration should be given to diverse learning styles and strengths. Teachers should encourage all students to illustrate or choose art extensions periodically; however, for those students who might struggle in other areas but have strengths in the visual or artistic areas should be offered those art extensions consistently.
Direct Art Instruction
The goals of an art program should be centered on students looking at, appreciating and creating original works of art. An art program should develop in students’ motor control, physical skills, drawing and modeling techniques as well as foster creativity and problem-solving. When art classes, projects and ideas stem from studies in the classroom or connect to the spiraling Montessori curriculum, these art choices will reflect and enhance student discovery. The vital connections across the curriculum are to serve that goal.
Students may develop skills in physical, intellectual, interpersonal, emotional or even spiritual areas through art experiences. Art for the young child should include opportunities for open-ended art discovery.
Montessori, Maria (1989). To educate the human potential. Oxford, England: Clio Press.