Monday, August 24, 2009

Introduction to Pattern Making for the Third Year Student

If you have never been in a Primary classroom for a three year span than it is difficult to completely imagine or view how practical life skills truly become the cultivated skills of the students in no less a way than a potter or woodworker, an architect or an engineer rely on their foundation skills to forge their own aesthetic. I once heard a child say after I gave an art lesson, "Oh, painting a single stroke like that is like carrot work. When you do carrot work you make one long peel with the peeler and then another. When you make a stroke like that you make one long sweep with the paintbrush."

This third year child was a living file cabinet of muscular memory regarding the Montessori materials.

What I find most inspiring and affirming is looking out at a classroom of children engaged in work at various stages of the three-four year cycle. It is a visual echo of the placement of work on the shelves. We can see the work laid out in such a way as to see the evolution of lessons. When a student filled classroom is actively engaged in a variety of work, that single moment encapsulates the entire three year cycle. They are a collective representation of the entire Montessori method for the primary casa.

Last year, I had several six year olds in my classroom. Their commitment to work and their ability to work independently was impressive. During the final few days of our school year, two of these students (one in her fourth year and the other her third) began work which relied on their muscular and mental memory of many prior lessons given to each of them using a wide range of the Montessori materials.

One of these lessons was using tracing paper to record an image or shape. My four year olds love this work. Once they began tracing images found on the cover of and inside books, they do it again and again. It is an extension of tracing the outline of a metal inset or its frame. I keep a large stack of tracing paper out on the shelf available for children to use as needed. It is often needed.

This tracing over and over again of book covers and various drawings creates a sort of muscular memory sketchbook. I have seen children do this work and then leap to drawing a frog or a bird freehand (without tracing an image) and the work is much more mature in its construction than work done by children the same age who did not do any tracing. I have also seen older children trace an entire page of a poetry book including the poem and then carefully illustrate the piece with colored pencils. Finally, I have observed third year students trace a few images onto a piece of paper and then embellish these with their own art work. This work takes days to complete. The quiet focus of a child doing such work draws to one's mind images of early scribes.

Another of the significant lessons in regards to the work of the above mentioned six year olds was sewing. Once a child has been shown how to sew they acquire a love for the needle and its thread.

An older three year old can sew a button. I had a five year old bring a pair of torn pants to school one day and mend them during the three hour work period. She put them back in her backpack at the end of the day and returned the next day wearing them.

Sewing projects such as pillow making are favorite holiday gifts from the children to their parents.

There must be a correlation between sewing a line and walking a line in a child's mind. The practice of staying steady, not leaving the path, small steps and small stitches are poetic acts in the canon of movement.

After much work tracing the outlines of images, students are then given a lesson on how to trace the individual pieces of a puzzle onto a corresponding color of construction paper. They then cut these pieces out and reassemble them onto a background sheet of paper.

Often, children add other elements to the construction such as a nest or a tree limb.

In a wonderful fusion of writing (the creation of lines with specific forms), practical life (sewing), math (the calculation of size and the spatial placement of objects within a bordered space) and art, third and fourth year students are given a lesson on using tracing paper to create sewing patterns. When I present this work, I talk about all of the other work that came before it. Then I lean forward and tell those students the most amazing thing,

"There are large books in fabric stores that have many, many patterns for making clothes, dolls, purses, Halloween costumes and so much more," I say as if revealing a sacred secret of the cosmic universe.

It is this work that the two students began this past Spring. When I told Zoe and Meaghan about the pattern books, Zoe's mouth dropped open. "Miss Dyer, is that true?" she asked with wide-eyed curiosity.

"It is absolutely true. You should ask your Mom or Dad to take you to a fabric store one day so that you may see for yourself," I answered. "The patterns are drawn on paper like tracing paper only it is slightly different. This paper is called tissue paper. It is much thinner and almost always a tan color," I explained.

Then I asked, "Would you and Meaghan like to learn how to make your own patterns and use them to design a pillow?"

"Yes," the duo replied.

First, I asked them to think about a subject that they were interested in. Next, I instructed them to go and find objects in the classroom that represented that interest and bring them back to their work tables.

Meaghan was interested in the beach so she brought several sea shells to her table. Zoe was interested in the solar system so she selected a few books on the various planets and returned with those.

Soon they were using sewing pins to position their traced and cut out patterns on small pieces of colored felt. After cutting these shapes out, they spent several minutes carefully deciding where they wanted each piece to be placed on the tops of their later completed pillows.

Above: Zoe is tracing and cutting solar system shapes for her pillow, including a rocket ship. Below: Meaghan works on her ocean scene.

Below: This was what they had completed on the first day after working most of the morning.

Once they had all of the pieces placed and pinned, they started sewing:

Every now and again, I stopped and watched them work. I imagined the pair of pants that Zoe might make for herself over the summer or the Halloween costume Meaghan might design and sew one day. I listened to their conversations, now much briefer than when they were younger. On a few occasions I heard one of them say to the other, "Let's not talk so much. Let's concentrate on our sewing." This beautiful work was the concluding work for these two girls in the Primary environment.

(Note: Due to the early closing of my school because of possible Swine Flu, Zoe and Meaghan finished their pillows at home. I am confident that they are being used daily - put no photos - yet)


Koko's mama said...

So inspiring. I know I can't replicate the classroom, but I still hope to at least do the "heart" of Montessori at home. It's not easy for me to be structured and disciplined!

Anonymous said...

WOW. You've given me something to shoot for this year, and I will now present all the sewing materials with a view of what is possible in the third year.

Susan Y. Dyer said...

I love observing in lower elementary classrooms - Montessori is implied - because I see what comes later on and it helps me serve my students as their guide. It is hard to be a guide when you don't know what is going on in the next valley over...metaphorically speaking.

Thanks for the comment.

Susan Dyer
The Moveable Alphabet