Have you ever wondered how to encourage creativity in your students? The Montessori method, as usual, has a different approach.
I believe I have heard Montessori education criticized for its supposed lack of creativity. And if paper crafts from Pinterest = creativity, then I guess it is lacking.
But, really, creativity means the ability to make something new. And the way we get there in early Montessori education is by caring less about the final product, and more about the process the child goes through.
Because if we’re making all the three-year-olds in our classroom crank out the same Van Gogh inspired paint project, they’re not really making something new. They’re not being creative.
I think that, to a lot of us, this makes sense. But for some reason it doesn’t really play out in most pre-schools.
“Art time” is the perfect example.
Many preschools implement certain time-slots in their schedule for art. The teacher is supposed to lead her students through a cute craft. Sometimes it involves painting their hands and placing them on a piece of paper, then drawing in all the other details herself. Other times, it involved hours of cutting out paper, then hovering over her students to make sure they glue the little papers into exactly the right spot. The resulting handprint fish or paper sunset is lovely, and the kids proudly take it home to tell their parents, “look what I made!”
And while some fine-motor skills may have been involved, there was not much creativity, decision making, or any sort of character building on the part of the child. So much for “art.”
But those crafts are so fun and cute! And the parents love them! I totally get it. But here’s what we’re missing out on when we emphasize cute crafts over real creativity.
The Importance of Process
“His work is the expression of his mind.”
– Maria Montessori
Say that, instead of guiding our children through a specific craft that’s going to look a certain way, we give them the opportunity to paint whatever they like. If a child decides she does want to paint, and takes the opportunity, here is what happens:
Externally, we see that she paints for as long as she wants. She might repeat the same strokes long past when we think it looks “done,” and cover the whole paper blue. Or she might paint two small shapes in the corner and decide that’s good enough, long before it looks “done” to us. The result may or may not be fridge worthy, but that’s not what matters.
Internally, she is listening to her inner teacher (that would be nature, not us.) She is repeating movements with her hand, and by doing this she is “making conscious something that [her] unconscious mind earlier absorbed.” (The Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori.)
In other words, she is building her mind through her actions. She is building her will, by choosing when and what to paint. She is building her personality, by expressing something she took in from her environment. She is working out and clarifying all those little impressions living in her brain.
This isn’t just nice. It’s necessary.
“The child’s intelligence can develop to a certain level without the help of his hand. But if it develops with his hand, then the level it reaches is higher, and the child’s character is stronger.” (The Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori)
“Whatever intelligent activity we chance to witness in a child – even if it seems absurd to us… – we must not interfere, for the child must always be able to finish the cycle of activity on which his heart is set.” (The Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori)
I hear you, the child does develop by gluing things where we tell him to glue them. He is still working with his hands, and that’s good. But the deeper development only happens if he willingly glues them, and you don’t interrupt him. Not very conducive to completing that craft just as you envisioned it.
By allowing the child to carry out his own creative work, we give him the freedom to build his mental powers. He develops focus and concentration. He begins experimenting, or following an idea in his own mind. Do we really want to sacrifice that for a cute project we found on Pinterest?
I’m not saying you can never do a craft project with your students. But shake off the pressure to do one every week, or even every month. Ask yourself, “who is this for? Is it for the students, or for the parents?” I can tell you right now, the students don’t need the crafts. They need more opportunities for process, without worrying about the result.
How to Encourage Creativity
One of the biggest objections to eliminating crafts is this: crafts are good because they give kids a model to follow. Crafts show them how to use techniques to get a certain effect. They give kids limits and guidelines to follow. They teach that discipline gives good results.
The good news? Techniques, limits, and discipline do play an important role in the Montessori approach to creativity. Basically, there are two components to encouraging creativity: freedom + limits. Today, we talked about how important freedom and process are for encouraging creativity. In this post, I go over limits, discipline, and techniques and show you a different way to use them. It’s super cool.
And now, I want to hear from you! Would you be sad to give up doing crafts with your students? Or is this the excuse you’ve been waiting for? Let me know in the comments!