Read any current article or book about maintaining your mental health in the modern world, and you will see the word “mindfulness.” While it would be easy to believe that mindfulness is an invention of the 21st century, the concept of working to be more present in the moment, completely aware and accepting of your emotional state is nearly as old as humanity, particularly in ancient Eastern traditions. Montessori education also has a long history of promoting mindfulness, which can be clearly seen in the intricate beauty found in a Montessori classroom. Montessori classrooms from birth through high school are more intentional than other spaces typically occupied by children, and if you walk into these classrooms, know that each object has been placed with purpose, only included because it adds something specific and related to the development of the child. This intention and mindfulness is particularly seen in the design of toddler art experiences.
Art in a toddler classroom is about the joy and the process without regard to the quality of the end product. There will be plenty of time for these little souls to have to focus on the product, to meet deadlines, dot the i’s and cross the t’s, to bask in the rewards of a job well done. Toddlerhood is not this time. Toddlerhood is the time of losing one’s self in the act of using all five senses. A toddler should enjoy the feeling of paint on her hands, watch the way the colors mix in a beautiful pattern until they eventually turn to brown or gray, smell the fresh crayons when a new box is opened, and enjoy the crinkling sound of a fresh sheet of paper. Art that focuses on the end product does not often allow for these indulgences, but it is precisely these indulgences that light up the toddler brain and lead him into a kind of meditation.
Parents often want “proof” of their child’s daily accomplishments, but Montessori toddler teachers beg your patience as we do not routinely collect and save the children’s work to send home. We will quietly keep some special mementos for you, but if we save the work, we are forcing the child to forget the process in an effort to create a gift that will please the parents. However, the best gift your toddler can give you is the gift of focusing on activities that are so well suited for his or her development. These gifts will continue to give as your child grows into a mindful, intentional person. What better way to prepare them for this 21st century world? We also hope that you find some time in your adult life to simply enjoy a journey now and then without so much regard for the destination.
Montessori-based Ideas for Process Oriented Toddler Art:
Drawing with a stick in the sand
Painting with water with a paint brush on a sidewalk or paper
Painting only with a single color on a standup easel
Using chalk on a board to create movement
Drawing with a crayon on blank sheets of paper
Play is the work of the child. — Maria Montessori