A long time ago I stumbled upon Montessori, but did not see it as my life path. I was to be an artist and I simply needed a job in a Montessori school. Alas, I feel in love with the classroom and was swept into a new direction. I am sharing with you my required Montessori Thesis: Montessori Clay which illustrates how I combined these two paths. MECA-Seton Training Center and Celma Perry in Chicago continue to influence me daily and my own Montessori school is celebrating our 25th anniversary.
(A condensed version)
As a novice Montessorian, I began to use art and writing as a way to communicate with the children. Acting as assistant, I was overwhelmed and touched by these minds and hands that so freely expressed themselves. Their images on paper were often so clean, so strong and exact that I became enthralled with their method of creating. I saw this time as a chance to cultivate their spontaneity, to analyze and dissect their learning processes for putting line on paper.
I began to focus in on the children’s written steps to shaping letters. It was my shift to sit at the sound table and child after child traced sandpaper letters learning their sounds. I began playing with the process. What steps are taken by a child who transcends from random marks to mastery of prescribed letter symbols?
I began observing and in researching the steps in which a child learns how to write, I set up a course of introduction that has little to do with Montessori’s guidelines. At the time, however, it had much to do with my own understanding of the process. I wasn’t trained as a Montessorian as yet, and even though Maria had formulated a precise method, I needed to manipulate the variables myself during this first taste of discovery.
As we sat at the sound table I took many children through a step process.
Step one was to ask a child to write their concept of a letter without showing it to them. I simply asked, “Please write the letter “a” for me.” I would let them write whatever they pleased with no interference but encouraged them to write a series. What I witnessed was fascinating. Usually, the form of each line that was put down was totally different than the last. These roving lines had a magical quality to me like primitive hieroglyphics.
Step two was to show the sound. Their concept changed little.
Step three was to trace the sandpaper letter 3 – 5 times. Here was the starting point of their recognition and hand control, an obvious deduction for Montessorians, but an eye opening one for me, an artist.
In a sense, I was sad to see the children’s spontaneity regimented. Soon enough they would be drawing a pre-schematic set symbol for “bird” and “house”. To see these initial curving, searching lines slowly being structured into letters had a great impact on my art work. The extemporaneous, chance occurrences of shape, line, and repetition of their writing surfaced as my own investigation on “line as symbol” in clay. My aim was not to copy but to emulate or empathize with the same excited technique employed by the children. By throwing clay coils onto a surface they took on a random quality, shaping themselves. Similar to a child, I became a non-manipulative creator. The coil-lines themselves projected the freedom of act I had been searching for within my own body of work. The following photos express it best…
A child's drawing inspires the tiny inscribed plate below:
"Ok Set" platter. The result of a child's desire to write sentences becomes a theme set in porcelain.
In the evolution of lines into letters a frame often arises to accentuate the grouping.
This standing slab echoes this child's wanderings.
Taken from a child's drawing, this fantasy of "R" is restated in a colored coil porcelain version.
Two Standing Bottles
Slanting Evolution of "R"
The importance of these grouped symbols is most evident!
Nastl = 10 Bottle
The grace of a three year old's hand reasserted.