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Added Nov 21, 2016

Montessori Monday: Painting at the Easel

Not all Montessori materials are Montessori\\'s materials. Sure, we all love the ones she designed herself (or appropriated from other theorists like Froebel.) We love the Pink Tower and Broad Stair and we can spend hours admiring the beads in the Long Bead Chains.

But what makes a Montessori material appropriate for the classroom is not whether Montessori designed the material herself. Instead, a material warrants space in the classroom by whether it meets some key standards: Is it self-correcting? Is it didactic? Is it child-centered? Is it concrete? Is it hands-on?

The easel is a great example of a lesson that, while unfamiliar to Montessori herself, is a common material in modern Montessori classrooms. Children using the easel aren't just splattering paint on paper. They learn to care for the easel itself, to operate the clips to hang their paper, to manage the fine motor control needed to direct the brush, to use the sponges to clean up and to carry the heavy bucket of water. The child knows that he or she is done by paying attention to the easel itself, to prepare it for another child to use.

It's important to note, too, that most of the work children do on the easels in our classrooms is open-ended. That is, they are not trying to match previously designed paintings or to paint "within the lines." Because the purpose of the easel work is to let children explore the materials freely, we avoid limiting the ways in which children can make their imaginations visible on the paper.

While your child may spend a lot of time at the easel, you might never see the product of that time. Children in early childhood are generally less interested in the actual painting they've created than in the process of painting itself. For children in Montessori classrooms, this is a balanced opportunity to explore paint, color, and intent, to be responsible for themselves and others, and to create something new. That they are disinterested in that painting after it's complete is no disappointment: it merely demonstrates that their interest, as we see throughout the classroom, is in the process and not the product of their learning.

Catherine McTamaney, Ed.D.

Christopher Academy Alumna

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