I met up with 20 Taiwanese student Montessori teachers in Taichung to demonstrate some methods and principles behind music and visual art in a Montessori classroom. On our second day, we discussed what holds us back from simply allowing children to create. For me, it is key is to acknowledge the power agenda. If the project is for an adult agenda (the teacher, school, education department or external examination) then we need to ensure the projects have a real purpose which can motivate, inspire and positively engage the children in the outcome, which is usually the focus with these kinds of projects. However, Montessori art projects are always spontaneous and child-led, the process is the most important.
In our discussion, we found that teachers did not often allow art projects to be child-led because they were concerned that the processes would be difficult for them to manage. We discussed that the adults need to find a way to scaffold the process so that children have an opportunity to learn the skills to manage a project. So when we allow children the chance to lead an art project we are giving them an opportunity to overcome the difficulties which put us off doing art in the first place. We identified these as being,
- Time management
- Care of environment, resource use and restoring the classroom after using the materials.
- Planning the project, deciding who is involved and what they will need, responding to changes as the work develops, by extending the work, limiting it or making adjustments so that it has an ending which everyone can live with.
- Overcoming disagreements by finding enough consensus to continue the work.
- Managing what happens when group members want to leave.
- Facing perfectionism and overcoming disappointments in the outcomes of our own work, building personal resilience and learning to balance wanting to improve with being satisfied that our creativity is ‘good enough’
- Engaging with our audience, the families, school communities and wider cultures response to what ‘good’ art is. While art can positively enhance a child’s self-esteem, sometimes we need to protect children from critical voices.
As we discussed some teachers gave examples of art projects which they thought had been successful, in these students had reflected on their gender identity and children with disabilities had been included and found success.
We discussed that parents and schools need to keep talking about what art is and not only its intrinsic value but as a medium to explore general skills. One teacher told the story of her student being very upset after taking an art piece home. Her mother had criticised the work and so the teacher had spoken to the parent to discuss the effect her criticism had on the child as an artist, her self-worth and the mother-daughter relationship. While each classroom had its own specific difficulties some teachers were encouraged to see the process of making space for art as a way to teach the skills they want the children to master and in the process helping foster diverse, inclusive and self-reflective communities.