By Carrie Caffee-Martin
In the Montessori prepared environment, the Guide’s job is to prepare and present materials that meet the developmental needs of the specific age group served. At the Primary level, which serves three to six year olds, our aim is to give children the “keys to the world” which will provide them with a strong foundation for future exploration, both in the classroom, and in the world around them. At the same time, the prepared environment should contain materials that nourish the whole child: her mind, body and spirit.
Providing the means for artistic expression, the Art area in each Montessori classroom is well-loved. It is small but multi-functional. As with all other materials in the Children’s House, the Art area is specifically designed to meet the developmental needs of the primary aged child. Often containing basics such as snipping, cutting on a line, clay, crayon, easel painting and watercolor, these materials offer children the chance to explore different mediums and to perfect skills that support more advanced work. Materials are carefully selected to challenge children to increasing precision, and are limited in quantity. The limitation of papers available each day encourage children to treat their work with care as well as providing a natural boundary. Seasonal crafts are rotated and provide novelty and fun!
The mind of a primary aged child is busy with the task of organizing itself. Creating order out of chaos is no easy task! As children experience the world around them, they seek to organize and interpret their experiences. To do this, labels are given to abstract ideas and concepts. The Art area supports the child’s efforts to organize their experience with language offered through their work in both the Sensorial and Language areas. Words that describe color, shades, shape, and dimension help children as they begin to refine their creative efforts. The scribbles and explosions of color that are typical of a three year old artist begin to show shape and definition. Colors that were once randomly chosen are now carefully selected, and there is purpose in the creative effort.
How children choose to create art often depends on their ability to use the materials. When children first enter a Primary environment, they often greatly enjoy large easel painting and clay. These two art materials have a lot to offer a child who is working on gross motor skills, balance, or hand strength. For children struggling with manual dexterity, working with clay supports their future success with chalk and pencil work. Likewise, exercises involving cutting with scissors require a certain hand coordination that can be very challenging, especially when following a contour. While the Art area tends to be open-ended, many of the materials offer increasing levels of challenge, and are presented to children as readiness becomes apparent. For example, watercolor work requires a more refined and delicate touch of the brush.
Beyond the mind and body, there is the spirit of each child which needs nourishment in order for them to thrive and reach their full potential. It is this part of the child that seeks to create, and finds true love in the process rather then the product. Many children find art to be a grounding experience. Often children will become deeply absorbed in their work with a level of focus that is truly amazing. They emerge from their work with a contentment and a sense of well-being. Some children find art soothing when experiencing a challenging day or situation, while other children choose to celebrate with art after a lengthy project is concluded. Whatever the internal motivation, art is often the vehicle for self-expression among Primary aged children.