“When children experience pleasure not only from an activity leading towards a special goal but also in carrying it out exactly in all its details, they open up a whole new area of education for themselves. In other words, preference should be given to an education of movement: practical activities are simply an external incentive to the educational process, they provide a motive and urge the child to organise his movements. ” ~ Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Painting is layered with practical life learning experiences and more! When an invitation to paint is offered to the toddler, it is almost always received with great enthusiasm. And as an activity, it is a great opportunity for layers of learning. With a little advance thought, painting can include practical life, sensorial, language, math and cultural experiences too.  

Prepared Art Cart 

Knowing this, I prepared our art cart with a few different paint colors, paper and brushes choices. I had placed age-appropriate books about famous artists to read together in a nearby book holder. As usual, it was a Montessori-at-home “work” morning with a young friend and she was due to arrive any moment.

After her mother left, she walked into the prepared space. The paint set caught her eye and clearly sparked an interest. With one hand, she picked up the paint box and, with the other, she lifted a paint brush. Next, she turned and looked up at me.

Adult Guidance is Needed When a New Activity is Introduced 

“Would you like to paint?” I asked. “Okay,” she said and she set them on the small work table.

Already familiar with the space, she began to pull the child-sized chair out from our small table to sit down. I knew this was the moment to step in to begin guiding.

It is the adult’s job lead the child through any new activity or process. Certainly, it would have been easier to collect the materials for her, open the paints and let her begin. But, as with all activities, there is so much to gain from start to finish. It’s the process––not the end product––that matters most.

Eye Contact Reassures 

I sat at her level and asked that she, “Please, find my eyes …

Once eye contact is made, I knew she was listening. Next, I reassured her that she would soon be able to paint.

I continued, “First, we must set up the work together. Hmmm,… Let’s see …”,

Intentionally Slow Down and Pause to Give the Child Time to Process 

“We need a mat to protect the table from paint spills. Do you remember where the mats are kept?”

Offer Choices

Giving her several color choices, she selected yellow and set it on the table. Sportscasting, I said, “I see you chose the yellow mat. What a nice choice!”

Next, using the same approach, I asked that she (one at a time) choose a soft cloth for spills, a piece of paper and a small ramekin bowl. Finally, I reminded her to carry each item carefully and with two hands to the table.

Remaining Nearby for Support and Encouragement

As she leaned over to set the bowl on the table, she started to lose her balance. Close enough if needed, I watched and trusted that she would be able to recenter herself. Both her small and large motor coordination were working together as she began to regain her footing.

Always Incorporating Movement 

Incorporating movement helps to refine her motor skills, both large and small. Once she was centered, she gently placed the bowl on the mat while showing great focus. I was delighted to have captured that moment!

As a reminder, I said, “We will need water for the painting activity. Would you like to pour the water into the squeeze bottle?” Her big nods signaled, “Yes!” 

After walking to our water station, I said, “I will take a turn first to show you how to fill the bottle.” Note: I didn’t ask her if I could take a turn first; toddlers will often say, “No, I want to …” 😉

Show (Slow Hands Omit Words) 

To begin, I unscrewed the soft squeeze bottle’s top and placed it directly under one of our two water dispensers. The first dispenser is filled with our work water and the second is filled with filtered water for drinking. I then opened and closed the dispenser’s tap as she watched. 

Invitation to Take a Turn and a Successful Outcome 

“Would you like to add work water to the squeeze bottle?”

Normally, I would offer the child a small ceramic or glass pitcher to fill and pour from. Instead, I opted to offer her a squeeze bottle for this activity. With the many steps already involved, I felt the squeeze bottle was more familiar and therefore offered a greater chance for a successful water transfer outcome.

With a little verbal and hands-on support from me, she filled the bottle with water, closed the dispenser tap and and tightened the bottle top. Once tight, she carried the bottle to the table upright and with two hands.

Coordinating her movements and positioning the small wooden chair was the next step. She had to make spatial judgements both with her body and the connection between the table and chair. 

She settled in and I asked, “Would you like me to push you closer to the table?” She smiled and said, “Okay.” 

Language learning opportunities 

While she added water to her ceramic bowl, I offered the simple language, “squeeze” … She took a turn and repeated the same, “squeeze” .

Next, she dipped the brush in the water and then a paint color before making long horizontal strokes across the page. She continued for a short time and then paused to touch the paint with her fingers. After collecting the necessary sensorial information she needed, she returned to her brush strokes. She painted for all of about three minutes.

It’s the Learning Process, not the Product That Matters Most

Was it worth all that work for three minutes of painting? Absolutely! Although painting was the invitation, the greater learning was in everything that led up to the painting. An art cart prepared as an invitation to paint also offered great hands-on learning. Meanwhile, her colorful art ‘work’ is a reminder of all she had accomplished that morning: her growing independence, coordination, language, dexterity, balance, confidence, judgement, reasoning and so much more! 🖌🎨✨

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