Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Do You Teach A Child To Paint - Exactly Like You Taught Them How To Write

This child is an artist. I love the expression on his face.

(photo credit: )

To learn to write or paint requires the ability to hold and manipulate a tool. While most adults can write, although many dislike their handwriting, not all adults consider themselves artists. There are many skills required for both, the later requiring more; at least this is the common thought. I partially disagree. The skills needed to aquire good handwriting and the ability to paint should be similar, if not identical. However, imagination and creativity are unique to each individual as they represent expression and it is these that mark the difference between reproducing an image and creating one. Before I continue, let me state and make clear that I am not talking about easel painting but instead watercolor (acrylics, etc.) painting

Most of the children in my classroom can reproduce an image of a bird or a turtle by tracing puzzle pieces and some may do so simply by their own hand alone - the image retrieved from memory. But only a few of my older students can manipulate the image of a bird so that it is either sitting on a nest or in flight. These same students are meticulous in the details of their artwork. To me this work, this creative extension of art, is parallel to the leap to abstraction with the sensorial materials. They have mastered skills and are now using them to create without hesitations associated with immaturity (such as illustrating everything like rainbows), lack of focus / concentration and underdeveloped motor skills. They no longer seek others to compliment their work as they know it is excellent. They are so immersed in their art that they decline snack and work with dance or music specialists. They moan when the bell rings as they don't want to leave their work. Maria Montessori writes about the spirituality of work using phraseology similar to Kandinsky’s in his text, "The Spirituality of Art." However, if you don't want to consider a child's behaviour during focused work in terms of spiritual transcendence (Maria Montessori writes of the spirituality of work) , then think of it as transcendence towards maturity, a move away from childhood towards adolescence.

I have put together the following series of images (I will add images of punch work and sewing to this incomplete survey soon) to visualize the work that the child does prior to using a set of watercolors to paint.

All of the work in the Practical Life area. Here a child is doing wood polishing.

Lessons with metal insets.

A lesson on shading using the metal insets.

Work with color tablets, including the starburst which displays shading of colors from darkest to lightest.

Tracing the sandpaper numbers and letters which provides the child with the muscular memory of numbers and letters, while also developing prehensile finger positioning and wrist rotation skills.

Tracing the outline of the botanical shapes held in the botany cabinet (my training called for an orange stick to do this work, but my students prefer their finger). This same work is done with the geometry cabinet.

After tracing the plexiglass hemispheres, the child paints the interior of the circle blue using brush stroke techniques learned from shading metal insets. Another way of doing this work is to have the child paint the outline of the circle first and then fill it in. Both ways are fine.

Above, an older child uses a pencil and tracing paper to trace the outline of each state (the black and white guide is underneath her paper) as a preliminary step towards painting the map.

The child begins by tracing the outline and then paints the interior of the state. Eventually, the entire map is illustrated. Note the materials on the working mat: set of water color paints, small bowl with a sponge. The other bowl is for water. Its matching pitcher is out of the frame of the image. The ceramic eggplant's original use was to hold chop sticks. Its use here is as a paint brush rest.
During the first lesson on watercolor painting, the child is instructed to carefully dip the tip of the paint brush into a specific color and then dab it on the top of the sponge before placing the color on the paper. This aides in reducing the amount of paint carried by the brush to the paper. It also slows down the process allowing a moment's pause for the child to eye exactly were to continue with the brush. These built in pauses are essential to the child's success at this skill. Hasty actions often result in the spilling of water and/or the smearing of the child's arm across the already painted areas.
Additional attention is made regarding the angle at which the paint brush is held. Note how upright the brush is held in the child's hand and how her wrist is angled. This positioning allows the child more control in regards to following the drawn outline with the paint brush. Filling in the space recalls the child's earlier or ongoing work with metal insets. Too often only one lesson is giving with this material when in fact there are several itemized in our albums. Before the child selects another color they dip their brush into the small bowl of water to rinse it and here again dab it on the top of the sponge to wipe away excess water/paint. Each step is a deliberate act.

And then one day you will walk by a child's table and see a painting such as this one done by a student at the Mountain Montessori School. Maybe this child had a vase of flowers on her desk that served as a model for her painting or maybe she saw flowers out the back seat window of her parent's car on the way to school. This work is the unique expression of an individual child who has mastered many skills so as to create her own images. This is beautiful work.


Eileen Dowds Minarik said...

Bravo! All of the activities you show are also preparation for reading, writing, math and life. Even cleaning up after snack develops order, control of the body and of tools , concentration and independence. As for art, it is more important than ever in our fast paced world to know how to slow down and look at the world through calm eyes. Thank you for this blog.

Luke said...
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My Child's Diary said...

Good evening, Susan!
Do you have any suggestion for a book describing Montessori approach to teaching art?
I've learned of so many different Montessori approaches on this subject, but I trully agree with yours. May I ask you a few questions: When you describe the first lesson on watercolor painting, do you mean by this the first time a child is exposed to watercolors? If yes, what are the signs for you to decide that he is ready? What are you drawing at this first presentation - do you paint the interior of a shape using brush stroke techniques? If not, when do you suggest offering him the watercolors?
Thank you,