Montessori and Arts Integration

“The human hand, so delicate and so complicated not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment. We might even say that man takes possession of his environment with his hands.”                                                            Maria Montessori

Montessori Beliefs that support Arts Integration ~ by Lisanne Pinciotti

This is a mind-set type of workshop, so as we begin, ask yourself, “How does this new idea fit or extend what I already do in my classroom? ”The following ideas (slides) are our shared Montessori beliefs and therefore a good place to begin our discussion on the integration of arts and literacy. When you go back to read her original writing, you may be surprised to find how often Montessori refers to the arts.  It shouldn’t be surprising, however, because she’s Italian…and the arts are such an integral part of the culture…via architecture, opera, paintings, sculpture, drama, as only a few examples.

The following ideas (slides) are basic Montessori concepts:  they don’t need elaboration, they come directly from the philosophy.  They are here as a reminder of where we begin as we continue our work today. To continue the quote from above…Montessori goes on to say,“the hands, under the guidance of the intellect, transform the child’s environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission.” (Secret of Childhood)

Hand Leads the Mind

  • Use of the tongue (to speak) and the hands (to work) are movements most associated with intelligence.

The two bodily movements most associated with intelligence are:

– use of the tongue to speak (today we are talking about literacy, which is the integration of the skills of listening, speaking, writing and reading)

use of the hands to work (today that includes the arts, fine and dramatic)

You’ve heard the quote that “hands are instruments of intelligence.” But do you know the full context of that quote?  It ends with the phrase, “rather than locomotion” It is an anthropological reference to the development of humans as a more intelligent animal. This new human had the use of his upper limbs for work, as opposed to 4-legged animals, or earlier humans who moved on 4 legs. Montessori says we should, therefore, study the child’s speech and how he uses his hands in working, because we will gain information regarding the child’s mental life.

  • Objects provide motivation for the child’s activity.

Therefore, it is our goal as teachers to be sure that the work in the classroom provides sufficient motivation and challenge for the child.

  • Knowledge always precedes movement.

We also recognize this phrase… the “child’s knowledge always precedes movement.” “When a child asks to do something in the classroom, it is because she has seen someone else do it and wants to do it herself.”  Those are Montessori’s words. The children are eager to do what they see us and others doing…unfortunately this phrase is often misinterpreted that children have to know how to do the work before they can engage with it.

  • “Never give more to the brain than we give to the hand.”

The final line sums it up…“never give more to the brain than we give to the hand.” By this, Montessori refers to the belief that sensorial exploration of the material is regarded as two-fold creative activity…the young child can only understand (brain) what has been manipulated by the hand (work) , our youngest children especially can only fully comprehend what they have literally put their hands on.

Movement is essential

This idea is the natural outcome of the previous one.

“Analysis and economy of movement are naturally bound together…this is the source of all aesthetic movements and artistic attitudes.”

Montessori says that “analysis and economy of movement are naturally bound together”…that we ultimately work toward being able to reach a goal without any unnecessary actions.  When we accomplish this, we say that we have a high degree of perfection in our actions.  Think of how long you practiced table-washing so that your presentation would accurately break down the steps into a manageable, logical progression for your young workers. Montessori goes on to say that “this is the source of all aesthetic movements and artistic attitudes” and she gives several eloquent examples to illustrate the point. (Check it out for yourself in Discovery of the Child)

  • Childhood is when movements possess a fascinating interest.

Montessori says these tasks may seem complicated or difficult to teach…but that the “period of childhood is when movements possess a fascinating interest.”

*when muscles and nerves begin to respond to exercise

*when a person acquires habits which will mark him in the future as a cultured or uncultured individual

What!  The first time I read that it stopped me in my tracks to re-evaluate my motives…Now the idea of arts integration was not just about planning some great art activities that will help the kids learn to write and read…I realized it was about something much bigger than that in the big picture.

  • The child has a natural desire to master voluntary use of muscles so he can “externalize the fruits of his intelligence.”

Muscular movement is made possible by means of the Central Nervous System (CNS), which works as a whole, therefore humans are said to be “in relation to their environment.” Montessori says the “CNS gives us the beauty of impressions, perfection of thought, and is the source of all inspiration.”  (Absorbent Mind) She said humans are endowed with spiritual riches, with aesthetic feelings and a refined sense of conscience.  It is not only for ourselves, but so that our gifts can be used for the benefit of all and take their place in the universal economy of spiritual life. In the language of art, we say that the child keeps working so she can express what she knows, thinks and feels.

  • Brain, senses and muscles are a system of relationships. Humans are, therefore, said to be in relation to their environment.

“The brain, senses and muscles are a ‘system of relationships’.”

Sensory Experiences – Foundation and Inspiration

  • We begin, as infants, as essentially sensory beings in all aspects of development.

Infants touch, taste, smell, hear and see in the concrete world, we begin as completely sensory beings in all aspects of our development. Sensory experiences provide opportunities for the child to discriminate details through activities which cause them to constantly refine understanding of things in the environment. According to Montessori, education has a two-fold aim:

1. Biological – to assist natural development of the human being

2. Social – to prepare the individual to live within the environment

She goes on to suggest that the arts provide opportunities to acquire both sets of skills through repeated exercises, i.e.:

*The spinner uses a refined sense of touch to distinguish threads

*The weaver uses refined vision to distinguish details in pattern

Both are creating something unique that will ultimately be shared with others.

  • Aesthetic and moral education are closely related to the training of the senses.

We know that young children are attracted more by stimuli than by reason, we all know that it’s more effective to entice a 3 year old with a colorful set of materials than by explanations of why it would be good for him to do the work.  *The geometric solids are engaging because they are the perfect size and a pleasing color. Think of how many times children told you, “I love this work!”

  • Training of the senses makes a more efficient observer…which prepares her for the more important needs of life.

“Training of the senses makes man a more efficient observer” which helps him adapt to his present environment…but also prepares him for the important needs of his future life.

Development of Imagination

  • Imagination is rooted in prior sensorial experiences.

Previously handled objects can be mentally manipulated in the mind, even by our younger kids…older kids in the early childhood classroom are also moving toward the ability to use their imagination in their work. We need to give them opportunities to explore and practice with it. The guided visualization we will experience in this workshop will give you a personal experience of the power of imagination as a tool to extend your work. When you engage in conversations about this work, be sure you are really clear on the difference between fantasy and imagination… the two are often confused or misinterpreted by adults, even in Montessori environments. An example using of using Fantasy would be to tell a story about Alice visiting with a mad hatter, a white rabbit and an army of cards in a garden wonderland as a beginning activity. An example of using Imagination would be asking the children to recall their previous visit to a rose garden in order to create a picture, which conveys their observations or feelings from the experience.

  • Imagination is based on reality…it is always social.

Everything we do is based in a social context…whether through interactions or observing others within our environment.  We can’t imagine anything that we haven’t already had previous experience with. Those are two concepts you can agree on …and so did Montessori, by the way.

  • The brain is cognitive and affective…the arts are a means to bring the two together.

The next portion of the workshop will devote time sharing current research in Brain, Arts and Learning to elaborate on that point… current research reinforces these concepts from this Montessori Philosophy we share, so pay attention!   J


Lillard, P. P. (1972)  Montessori, A Modern Approach.  New York: Schocken Books.

Lillard, P. P. (1996)  Montessori Today. New York: Schocken Books.

Montessori, M.  (1995) Absorbent Mind. New York, Henry Holt and Co.

Montessori, M.  (1967) The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books.

Montessori, M. (1966) The Secret of Childhood. New York:  Ballantine Books.

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