Art in Montessori education doesn’t just make sense, it’s mission critical. Montessori education focuses on hands-on learning, creative expression and freedom of exploration; art lends itself perfectly to these concepts.
Art also plays a crucial role in teaching interconnected lessons. This cross-curricular approach to Montessori education provides children with a deeper meaning to their lessons and strengthens their understanding of complex concepts.
Think about it in the context of understanding history and geography.
Perhaps Maria Montessori herself said it best:
If we try to think back to the dim and distant past... what is it that helps us reconstruct those times, and to picture the lives of those who lived in them? It is their art... It is thanks to the hand, the companion of the mind, that civilization has arisen. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)
Further, the inclusion of art in any educational opportunity creates more natural interest in children. In light of the fact that children in Montessori learning environments choose their own works, this makes art a powerful tool for engaging students.
Art and Learning
Specific to the primary learning environment (ages 2.5-6), art also plays an important role in developing fine motor skills as well as hand strength and coordination.
Ultimately, art connects the hand to the brain in a way that Maria Montessori emphasized as critically important to learning:
“What the hand does, the mind remembers.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)
Integrating art into your Montessori homeschool by adding blocks of art time to your homeschool routine is a great way to teach grit, focus, creative expression, and motor skills. The more your children create and process their emotions through their art work, the more confidence and understanding of the world they build.
So, if you’re wondering if art belongs in a Montessori classroom (at home or otherwise!), the answer is a resounding “yes”! Let’s take a look at the hows and whys of adding art to your child’s Montessori learning journey.
The benefits of art education
As with all things Montessori, you should be curating your child’s experience and allowing them to freely explore the appropriate materials in a gently structured manner. With art, the concept is the same, but you might need to guide small children a bit more at first. Paint, after all, can get quite messy but it shouldn't take long for them to get the hang of a brush (or fingerpaints of course).
Art engages the senses, particularly touch and sight, so it is immediately appealing to children. While they spend time focusing on art, they will learn to become confident in self-expression and their motor function.
Art is very good at helping children stay on a single task for a long period of time, as their only limit is their imagination. This makes it an ideal type of work to help develop focus, a critical skill for all children.
Using art in Montessori classrooms
When you first approach art in your Montessori homeschool, consider the age of your child and determine what types of materials are appropriate.
For instance, a very young toddler won’t get a lot of use out of oil pastels but would love crayons and finger paint. For older primary aged children, markers and colored pencils are great for helping to hone fine motor skills. As children age past 6, real clay with tools can be a wonderful way to learn to create in 3D, teaching them perspective and depth and further developing fine motor skills.
Demonstrate each lesson to them without imposing your own beliefs or thoughts on what art should be. Their process may be as simple as putting on a smock, dipping a brush in paint, and then dragging it across paper or canvas. And, that’s ok!
Remember that when it comes to children’s artwork, the focus is on the process and not the product. As adults, this can feel confusing because we work to create a final product. But, the child’s mind and focus works differently. The child works to develop themselves, not something external.
Be certain to not only show your student(s) how to use the materials, but also how to prep their workstation and clean up afterward. In fact, art time can be hugely beneficial in teaching children self-management and practical life skills, because it can get messy and they will need to return their space to normal each time.
Materials on a budget
You don’t need to splurge on an expensive art kit, easel, and canvases. Children like to create on just about any surface - it’s probable you know this already because someone took a marker to a wall or two in your home. But, honestly, the best art medium I’ve found for my now 6 and 7 year olds is computer paper. Don’t make it costly or complex!
One budget-friendly thing you can do is save recyclable materials like tissue boxes, toilet paper tubes, and other sturdy cardboard to paint on. These types of materials introduce a three-dimensional concept into their art, as well as give them extra perspectives to consider while painting. And, if you’ve ever seen a toddler’s excitement at the idea of drawing inside a huge cardboard box, then you know that no expensive art “stuff” is really needed!
Add things to their art shelves that involve multiple different textures, colors, and design elements. Play Doh is cheap and you can get similar brands that are even cheaper if you look around. Puffballs (pom poms), glue, and paper can be picked up for very little investment, particularly in the fall when traditional schools are starting up and supply sales are all around.
Assembling a prepared art environment
Consider first what you want your child to accomplish. The intent is to build confidence and self-driven work, along with motor skills and creative expression. Surely any artistic materials can help with this task, but not all are suited for kids of each age. A 6 year old is not likely to want to play with finger paints, but a toddler probably doesn’t have the fine motor dexterity for cut-and-paste activities. Gauge where your child is at and prepare materials according to their interests and abilities.
If you can, give them a variety of materials within a single concept.
For instance, if you’re currently learning about painting, use finger paints for a week, move to watercolors for a week, then switch to tempera.
After they have mastered setting up a painting station, using brushes, and cleaning up, then allow them to add crayons to the mix (for instance). Painting watercolors over a crayon drawing behaves in a way that is extremely novel and teaches children how different materials can work together in a single project.
Bring art into other subjects
Part of art’s wonder and beauty is how it can be used as a vehicle for any subject. Creating cutout letters and numbers with construction paper is a great way to reinforce mathematical and reading skills. Painting a map of the world can help make geography more tangible, and drawing plants and animals they’re learning about in science makes the concepts come to life.
Art is also the perfect block of time in which to introduce the color tablets. Color theory is important, and a great place to introduce superlatives.
Yes, art even reaches into language arts!
As children learn more about colors and how they can change, they will become more confident in their own art and sense of expression. You’ll see, for example, their descriptions of paintings change when they can use lighter and darker forms of colors and explain why they used them. Again, this enhances understanding of attributes and provides more perspective for their minds to absorb.
Naturally, you can use art as a way to teach art history as well. This is a great focus for lower elementary students. For instance, teaching about Monet or Van Gogh and then interpreting their artistic styles can teach a child that all forms of artistic expression are fascinating. It also teaches them that just because their art doesn’t look like other peoples’ art, it’s still important and can be considered beautiful.
Art is civilization
You will find the human desire to express itself in everything from the most mundane daily tasks to the grandest of human engineering and ingenuity. Art makes its way into everything we do, because it allows people to express what’s in their hearts and minds. Art IS human history.
From an early age, art engages children like few other things. It allows them to explore their inner world and express it onto a page, a lump of clay, or through scissors and glue. It teaches them to be proud of their effort and creativity and allows them to naturally cultivate focus and determination.
Art can be expressed in every subject you teach your child, further reinforcing both the subject at hand and their mastery of artistic concepts. Starting an art project is also a great way to reinforce practical life skills - setting up their art space, taking care of brushes, putting on smocks to protect their clothes, finishing their project and then cleaning up for next time. Every time your child completes these steps, they reinforce appropriate behavior, stewardship of space, and personal responsibility.
You don’t need to spend a ton of money on art supplies, either. Using recycled goods and taking advantage of back-to-school sales can get you a whole hoard of art supplies quite cheaply. In fact, using recycled materials for art teaches children that not everything is just garbage and that everything can be used multiple times, and even better, still be quite beautiful.
To say art is important to Montessori is an understatement - it’s fundamentally one of the purest expressions of the Montessori mindset. A child allowed to focus and create art is directing their education, motivating themselves, and expressing themselves. Art is one of the greatest joys in the Montessori classroom, and your children will love every minute.