Parents often wonder what art materials to provide and how to introduce them to young children. I have seen art tables with every conceivable applicator and containers of colours in every shade.
Glue, paint and glitter are all used at once in a haphazard way. Adults misinterpret “freedom of choice” and chaos reigns. Children then take charge and ask for changes of colour as they want to try all that is on offer. Adults scramble to provide what is demanded.
It is better to provide a tray with one art exercise per tray. The trays are kept complete and ready to use.
When the child chooses to use a particular tray, she takes it to a table and is shown step-by-step how to use the materials and then is invited to try herself. She can then work with it for as long as she chooses.
At this age children are capable of many forms of art and craft. These include cutting and pasting papers, drawing with chalk, black and coloured pencils, beeswax crayons, painting with watercolour and poster paints and modeling clay. Avoid felt-tip pens and paint and clay with strong dyes.
If a child is interested in painting on an easel for example, she will find an apron, paper, paint and brushes all clean and ready to use.
Colouring books are not found on the Montessori shelves.
When you give a colouring book to a child they go for it, and can be happily occupied for a long time. But when the novelty wears off you notice them making futile attempts to fill in the forms, as it doesn’t engage them fully.
The child’s pencil hold improves and the point of interest of staying within the lines holds them on task. The disadvantage is that there is no possibility for the child to express her own ideas other than what colour to use.
The images offered, often cartoons, imprint subliminal messages on the child’s receptive mind of how to draw in a particular style. There is neither the value of drawing lines, or the emotional release that drawing and painting can give.
Dr. Montessori offered a solution. She introduced metal insets (pictured below) that are used in a precise way. The child presses a pencil against the side of the inset to describe a geometric shape. They then draw lines within the shape.
The inset exercises develop a good pencil hold and increase the ability to manoeuvre the pencil.
In a Montessori classroom children are “colouring in” but they colour their own designs. They become fascinated – not just occupied.
Montessori separated the precise copying of shapes and the freedom of expression necessary to develop the artistic mind.
Working with the insets is a precise exercise, but there is a choice of shape and colour and how the shapes and lines are organised. It also helps the child recognise that when attempting to draw anything, the image can be analysed and reduced to simple shapes. Artists do this in preparation for their work.
This provides more scope for freedom of expression when children make their own designs with the insets, or form abstract designs without them.
Free drawing, insets and designs can replace colouring books and lead to good pencil control for writing and delightful original work.
The drawing above was drawn by my grandaughter Tahlia on an iPhone in a matter of seconds. I think Montessori would have been interested in its potential, but for children under 6 the traditional materials still fascinate.