Instead of doing group crafts, find out how to encourage creativity in children with these two Montessori strategies.
In case you were wondering, the Montessori method of education does not encourage crafts. At least, not the way we usually think of crafts.
You won’t find children tracing hand-print turkeys in a Montessori classroom, nor participating in a group art project led by their teacher.
You will find children painting, or making interesting things out of clay, or maybe even embroidering. Although the Montessori method doesn’t encourage crafts, it does promote creativity. Here’s how you can nurture your children’s creativity without spending all your time cutting out paper feathers or trying to come up with a craft everyone can handle.
How to Encourage Creativity In Children
1. Teach Techniques
I’ve written about how the process of creating is much more important for a child than the product he ends up with. This is why we don’t want to tell him, “today you will paint a bird, and this is how you will do it.” Instead, we want to give him the opportunity to build his mental powers through working with his hands and following his inner seed of development.
So here’s the trick: give your students the tools to create art that is an expression of their own experiences and observations.
For any artistic medium, there are basic techniques, or tools, the artist uses. Painters use different types of strokes, sculptors have different ways to shape their clay, etc.
Teach these foundational skills, and then give the child freedom to use them.
You don’t have to be a master artist to teach these techniques! I’ll give you a few examples to show you how straightforward this can be:
- Painting: Start with an easel, paper, paint, brush, and jar of water. Tell the child you want to show her something. Have her watch you dip the brush in the paint, and make a few big, fluid strokes across the paper. Then make some bristly dabs with the brush. Just show her a few things at a time, and make sure she knows how to rinse the brush between paints. Then give her a fresh piece of paper, and let her paint. A few days later, you can show her some more techniques.
- Working with Clay: Start with a block of clay, a work mat, a damp towel, and one or two tools. Tell the child you want to show him something. Have him watch you kneed a piece of clay, then form it into a few different shapes, such as a coil, or a slab. Show him how to wipe his hands on the towel. Then let him work.
- Embroidering: Start with two embroidery hoops, two pieces of fabric, two needles, scissors, and embroidery thread. Tell the child you want to show her something. Have her watch you choose a color of thread and thread your needle. (This might need to be a separate lesson given previously.) Then show her one or two types of stitching, and you can tell her what each stitch is called. Show her what to do with her needle when she is done. Then let her choose her own color of thread, and stitch away on her own piece of fabric.
You get the idea! By giving your children these tools and techniques, you open to them a whole world of true creativity. You show them how to learn from others, and at the same time give them the freedom to create their own art, and develop their own will and personality.
There’s a second component to encouraging creativity in children, and it might be surprising…
2. Set Limits
“A child needs freedom within limits.”
– Maria Montessori
At first this may seem counter-intuitive. We just finished talking about freedom, baby. Wouldn’t that mean no limits?
Actually, no. In fact, freedom and limits always go together in the Montessori world. Maria says, “to let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.”
So, to balance the child’s need to develop his will by making his own choices, with the reality that he is still developing that will, we give him freedom inside of good limits.
For example, when showing the child how to paint at an easel, you could start by giving him only one color of paint. When he seems mature enough to remember to rinse his brush, you can give him a second color, then later a third, and a fourth, and so on. You might also limit him to one painting per day.
And fear not! Limits don’t hinder creativity, they can actually help it. Creative limitation is the concept that limits provide a challenge that encourages creativity in order to overcome that challenge. For example, this 6-word short story.
“Limits are a secret blessing, and bounty can be a curse…No matter how limited your [creative] resources, they’re enough to get you started.”
– Twyla Tharp
It is up to us, the adults, to set those limits according to our best judgement. When setting limits, it helps to keep a few things in mind:
- Consider the strengths and tendencies of each child as an individual. One child may need tighter limits than another.
- Consider the classroom and family as a whole when setting limits. If one child can handle a wide limit, but this disrupts the other children, then it’s not the right limit.
- Set up the limits matter-of-factly as soon as you introduce the activity to which they apply. Don’t tell the child, “That would be more than you could handle.” (I mean how rude would that be.) Just tell him, “This is how we do this.”
- Limits are not punishments, though they might be consequences.
Of course, creativity, like development, is never something we can force. We can’t make the child be creative, or make him want to be an artist. But we can give him the tools, and the freedom within limits, to nurture whatever talents God put inside him.
Your turn. What strategies do you use to encourage creativity in children? Have you tried these two? Let me know in the comments. I can’t wait to read what you have to say, and I always get back to you.