Process Over Product
Your child is a brilliant artist. I know that you already know this, because when you have a small child that you adore, even their gas and drool seems like a work of art. You also know this because, if your child is in Toddlers or Primaries, you see the plethora of art that they bring home. The question I pose to you is this: is the process of creating the work of art what makes your child an artist, or is it the piece of art that is produced that makes one an artist? Was Picasso an artist because he was compelled to create art or was he an artist because he created so many priceless works that have enriched minds across the world for decades?
This question, although it may appear to have nothing to do with your child’s curriculum, is fundamental to the purpose of the Montessori environment. The work that the children do in the Montessori environment is all about process. Although there are often end results to the child’s work that can be truly fantastic, it is the work leading up to the result that is what we truly value and encourage.
We are a very product oriented society. We like things. You will often hear adults grumble that kids today have no respect or work ethic, this is happening because we have moved away from emphasizing effort and instead look at results. When a child is making a picture an adult will often say something like, “who is that for?” The answer to that is that it isn’t for anyone but the child that is making it. When we focus only on the thing that is the end result, we devalue everything that happened leading up to that result.
Have you ever done something with the very best of intentions only to end up with terrible results? The worst part about it is that everyone around you sees only the results because they are tangible, but they don’t see all of your intentions and efforts that went into it. This can be very frustrating because it’s almost as though people don’t see you, they only see the thing in front of them that you created. This is how we make children feel all of the time.
In the Montessori environment when a child arranges flowers or cleans up a mess, they are doing so to internalize the process. The flower arrangement is beautiful because it was made by a child who put all of his effort into making the arrangement in the way that felt best to him. The purpose of the activity is not to ensure that there are plenty of beautiful flowers all over the room or for the child to be arranging flowers to give to somebody. The purpose is that the child is developing focus, fine motor skills, a sense of order, and that he is going through a process of creation. He is satisfied by the act of creating, the arrangement itself is almost an afterthought to the child. Focus, motor skills, order, and process are not tangible items. Therefore, it becomes very easy to ignore it and focus on the flowers instead. In our environment, we instead honor the child’s effort and concentration.
The good news for you as a parent is that you no longer have to feel guilty about putting your child’s art in the recycle bin. The important thing is not the painting, but instead it is the way your child felt while creating it. She was so satisfied by the process of her work and you can celebrate her efforts with her. Then next time you see your child doing something and you can’t quite understand why, just let it be and know that she is getting something that might not be tangible, but is just as valuable as any “thing” that she might produce at the end.
“We have to remember as adults, that we want things done, and a quickly as possible, so that they are finished and out of the way; whereas the child is interested and content in the doing, not the done.” –Margaret Stephenson The Art of Montessori in the Home
Teaching a child to be self-sufficient can be a daunting task! There certainly is more preparation up front, but it is absolutely worth the outcome of a confident, competent, independent child!
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