Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Montessori and Reggio

I am both an artist and a Montessori teacher.  I received my first Montessori training ten years ago and have been teaching ever since.  As a Reggio inspired studio art teacher in a Montessori school, I certainly don't ignore all that I have learned over the years as a Montessorian.  My studio philosophy follows the Reggio Emilia approach and the corresponding theories of social constructivism amidst an emergent curriculum.  I begin each year with questions and curiosity.  These questions determine the studio set up and my Montessori roots ground my approach.  I give attention to detail and believe strongly in the importance of a fully prepared environment and the role of a teacher as a conduit for experience and a model of behavior.
Consistent with the Montessori classrooms, I begin the year with a few shelf works that encourage independent activity.
Every child begins their studio experience with a daily drawing, this serves two purposes: 1) It provides a gentle transition between classroom activity and studio explorations and 2) It is a wonderful opportunity for me to connect with each child and gauge how their day is going.  Once drawings are complete, we spend some time talking about what was drawn and often touching on one or two of the basic elements of art.
At this time of the year, much of the activities are basic and I spend the bulk of my time observing children at work, giving grace and courtesy lessons (these are the simple rules that help our community operate smoothly: like putting on an apron, pushing in a chair, using an art mat, asking for help, etc.), chronicling the number of children choosing each activity to gauge interest and listening to children's dialog and conversations.  There are also several areas for children to relax, reflect and observe.  I find these important all year long but particularly at the start of the year when children are getting used to so many new things and schedules.
I have included a number of sensorial activities.  We talk about how artists "see" through all of the senses.  We use our sense of smell and taste to explore herbs at a sensory table.
 And our tactile sense to investigate a variety of textural surfaces.
We have a shelf devoted to interesting natural objects,
 A fountain that flows water over blue/green river stones,
And a natural wood tree house on a table with a number of provocative materials including: moss, stones, branch building blocks, bamboo "rocks", and several little people.
This activity affords opportunities for dramatic play and is a rich resource as I observe the children, their interests and interactions.  As the year continues the studio will become a place to explore ideas, questions and theories in collaboration with others, more and more.
Overall it has been a very interesting week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Outdoors in

The classrooms are also exploring connections with the natural world in a variety of ways.  I took photos of many of our veggies and fruits along with photos of their leaves and the teachers created a matching work.  The older children forage in the outdoors looking for an eggplant, tomato, carrot, squash, pepper, peach or pear and carefully match it to the photo cards.  These foods may then be used in classroom food preperation activities and collaborative cooking projects in the studio.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

parts of a pear- observation

After many days sorting, washing, cutting, tasting, cooking and observing pears, the extended primary class spent a day drawing them.  In line with my Montessori roots and Reggio philosophy, I believe it is critical for children to have lots of hands-on experience with something before they delve into more structured activities, thus curiosity and wonder progress into a desire to discover.
Instead of telling the children what the parts of a pear are (rather straightforward and boring), I simply ask a lot of questions.  "I wonder what this is? And what does it do?" (pointing at a stem)  I don't assume a possession of authority, but engage in equal measure with their adventurous spirit of investigation.  They come up with great answers every time: "It holds the tree", "It grows the pear", "It keeps it on the tree til a storm comes and it falls off".  We practice holding onto imagined branches, we let go and fall toward the earth.  They tell me about the mushy pears outside and the bees all over them.  We wonder about this.  "The bees like them cuz they smell so sweet".  We all smell our pears.  They do smell sweet!  We taste our pears! Delicious.  We look at the surface with it's shades of green and yellow and orange.  We examine the tiny dots on the surface.  We trace the shape with our fingers and we draw that shape- the outline- on our paper.  We decide which colors are in our pears by laying crayons and colored pencils nearby to examine color relationships. We draw.  I do too.  Not silently.  I say as I draw, in a quiet voice, "I am using my looking eyes.  I see a bump here, I will draw that." or "Wow.  My pear has green that blends into yellow.  I will need to blend two colors to draw that."  The kids are listening.  I don't need to tell them how to blend.  I blend.  They watch.  They try it.  A child next to me says, "I am using my scientific looking eyes.  I am using my color eyes.  I am using my scientific, color, looking eyes. I am a scientist looking."
After drawing the outside, I dramatically (and silently) cut a pear in half.  They have seen this before.  We have been doing it for weeks, but they are rapt.  We guess what might be inside and then the big reveal...a collective gasp and a chorus of "seeds".  Some of the children choose to draw the seeds and stem, the flower and the flesh.  Everyone chooses to eat another piece before returning to their classroom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I  grew up with a dual relationship to the natural world.  My immediate experience was one of deep love.  Playing in sand and sea, hiking along wooded trails, bouldering canyons and spending nights sleeping under starry skies.  The dual element came in the form of a fearful "save the earth" campaign that permeated my youth.  I grew up hearing about the destruction of rainforests, children starving in Ethiopia, nuclear threat, global warming and a vast array of other daunting niceties. I had no immediate ability to impact these larger concerns that confronted my generation.  This didn't change my love for the natural world but it did engender a feeling of apathetic, bury your head in the sand, frustration.  As a teacher, I feel the weight of providing real connections with the natural world while offering immediate opportunities to steward the world in a positive way.  In short, that means connecting children with what is right outside the door.
So we have spent the last several weeks caring for our gardens and fruit trees, sorting fruit and filling baskets with foods to use and filling the compost with rotten fruits and veggies to revitalize our soil.
We washed, cut and cooked the fruits and veggies into a variety of recipes including pear butter and ratatouille.
We harvested bushels of peaches.  The children sorted these and into labeled brown bags and these were sent home with each child to share the bounty with families.
The remaining baskets were processed by the children on outdoor tables into delicious peach pies.
We ate the peach pies while drawing the peaches.  These drawings followed weeks of observation.  The children had already identified at least five colors visible in each peach, while investigating the texture, taste and smell with our other senses.
These drawings were wonderful opportunities for us to communicate our learning and observations with one another, while solidifying them for ourselves.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Do you ever wonder what life might be like if we didn't encounter our concept of a thing but instead discovered it fresh and new?
Well children are fabulous examples of the curiosity and wonder that spills from such newness.  Every bug is worthy of a gasp, every new taste or sensation is worth a big reaction and all of life is teeming with inspiration.
In connecting children with the outdoors I am humbled to admit how much the children already know and how much I need to remember.  I follow them, asking questions and lending my own enthusiasm to their investigations.
And in turn they remind me of a world utterly overflowing with a magnificence and majesty...a world worth preserving and nurturing...a world that has the power to heal us if we will only step back and let it.