Visiting Montessori: Part 2

In Visiting Montessori: Part 1, I talked about my visit and observation to a Montessori school and shared some of the great things I saw. It was truly fascinating, be sure to catch up on that post if you haven’t!
If you are wondering what the differences are between a Montessori school and a regular school: Here is a handy chart I found that helps to explain it:
Now, I would like to cover some ways I see the Montessori philosophy relating to an art room.  To me, Montessori mirrors the Choice Based Art Room.  I find it interesting, though. I never have thought of myself as a choice-based art teacher.  I know there are great things about the philosophy from all the great people I know who teach Choice, but it’s not exactly for me.   I do, however, love the ideas and structures I liked in Montessori.  So where does the leave me?
The way I think of any new learning, take bits and pieces, fit it into what  I do in a manageable way.  Here are some ways you can use Montessori concepts and Montessori Materials in your art room:
  • Buy Quality– How often do we just buy something cheap to solve an immediate problem, and then have to re-purchase? The Montessori materials are quality, which means they do not have to re-purchase them very often. This is one takeaway we can glean from the visit. Fill your classroom with the best quality you can afford at the time. Then, someday you won’t have to replace it as soon.  I’ve battled with paintbrushes in this way. I keep ordering cheaper ones, and they keep breaking or I am not happy with the quality of the wood finish.  Finally I just splurged and am hoping this will be for the last time in a awhile!
  • Practice with Manipulatives – Many of the materials they used were not consumable. This seems strange, but there was very little paper and pencil. There were,however, lots of manipulatives where learning could take place without that product. Process seems more important here. As art teachers, we can’t exactly get away with no product, however we can incorporate more opportunities for practice and have meaningful activities in the hands of the students that involve one or more senses.
  • Kick the Clutter: Imagine if instead of locking up our supplies behind cupboards or bins, we displayed them beautifully with easy access for the students? Imagine if we stopped putting piles of paperwork and teacher instruction manuals on our shelving and stored them way out of student view. Again- What if we didn’t even have a teacher desk and stopped checking our email every half hour and paid more attention to listening to our students (guilty)… These are some of the habits and behaviors I saw the teachers exhibiting at the Montessori school.  Such a different mentality then most teachers I encounter and observe.
  • Weaving Practice: They had these really cool plastic weaving looms and strips. Looks just like a paper loom out of 12×18 paper, but made of a thicker plastic, for students to practice. I love this idea for kids in the art room who need extra practice before moving on to the actual weaving.
  • Color Plates: I also saw these neat color plates, (Pictured in the above image on the upper left)  they were like paint chips, only higher quality. They were used for sorting, and the ideas are endless the way you could use a nice set of these.
  • Using Textures: One of my favorite materials I saw were sandpaper letters. Students traced the letters with their fingers and could feel the textures as they traced. You could easily make these to practice contour line, different tips of lines or patterns, etc.
More Reflections:
The idea of stations around the room scares me to death. I am very comfortable with whole group instruction.  I do however, think this visit has inspired me to give the students even more choices when they are working and also helps me think about ways to set up my classroom to give more ownership to my students. It also gave me a lot of ideas for my own little one!
Along those lines, I found a nice website that has tons of ideas for making your own Montessori materials- The ideas out there are endless, depending on how deep you want to go and your budget.  I found this post could get you started: How to Make Your own Montessori Materials.
Overall, I think it’s a good idea for any teacher to get out of their own little world and see a different type of school setting.  We can take bits and pieces and broaden our horizons when it comes to education delivery and what we think, feel, and believe. I know each new learning experience I have, it makes me in some way, a better teacher.  Oepn your heart, mind and just explore what your classroom COULD look like in order to maximize on your teaching strengths and student abilities.
What kind of school would you love to visit? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • We send both of our kids to Montessori schools for preschool. We have been more then pleased with the result. Our kids lean how to sew, learn life skills and character building. Of corse they are learning their letters and sounds with great things such as the sand paper letters. And their math skills are growing everyday due to the ‘golden beads’. Montessori helps teach my kids to be good little people! I have learned and integrated a ton from the Montessori teachings.

    • Jessica

      Great to hear, Nic! For me, this was all new learning. What lucky kids you have!

  • Nancy

    Hey Jessica…
    Just reading your post and it reminds me of what we have been working on here at school for Differentiated Instruction…. based on student readiness and interests. Offering students choices is a lot of prep work but each year I’m getting more comfortable in implementing the strategies.
    Thanks for sharing what you observed!! I love reading your posts.

  • Vivian

    Montessori from what you have mentioned, reminds me of Waldorf Schools.  Like Montessori,  it’s a more nature based, whole learning approach, that incorporates art richly into the curriculum, with a lot of hands on learning. I really appreciated visiting there many years ago. I saw the students push their desks away from the center  revealing the wooden floor with a drawn circle, with divided spaces, like a pie, from which students practiced math skills, subtracting by jumping and saying #’s aloud.
    I’ve also seen student works displayed, including their own writings and drawings of various subjects of study, created into their very own books. Students do not use textbooks in Waldorf Schools from my understanding, not even in the upper grades. Also, teachers travel with their students from grades 1-8 I believe.  The material is mostly shared by the teacher. The Waldorf School I’d visited in Chicago, was just remarkable!  The preschools were learning sewing and worked on projects/dolls with the teachers. They have storytelling where students stood in circle and teacher lit a candle, then blew it out, meals together, bread making. Their play included bigger wooden blocks and such that they could arrange to build as well as lots of cloth to drape or create an atmosphere, and not many detailed toys so that children’s imaginations can fill them in. The mind behind Waldorf Schools is Rudolph Steiner.

    • Yes, from what I understand, they are similar. Also similar is reggio, but they do have their differences.

  • Cathy

    For me, what works best is a balance between traditional and Montessori. When I first started teaching I must admit I leaned a little more to the “Montessori style”. I found that my students weren’t “getting it” and became frustrated in art class. When I re-adjusted my teaching, offering a more “teacher-directed” approach to begin each art project or unit it make a 180 degree difference. My students are still somewhat “free” to venture into their own creative solutions to each project I introduce but I guess for me I have found that my art students work better towards the more traditional approach.

    The funny thing is that I would have just “floundered and failed” if I would have been in a Montessori school type setting when young. It is not for everyone….I think striking a balance is what is really works….at least for my students.

    • I can totally see the issue you were having and how moving a little more teacher directed could help those students. This is also thr way I try to run my classes!!

  • Catherine Karp

    Hi! I am an art teacher at a Montessori school I have had a Choice based classroom for a long time.  It’s quite natural for Montessori kids to come into another “prepared environment” and choose their own work. It’s not quite that simple, but it sure does work to have them fully engaged in the work they are doing.  It cuts down on discipline problems (I have none), and it makes the kids feel like they are making real art with their own ideas.  It takes some work to provide the structure and some courage to give up control!

    • Wow! Thank you for commenting, I am sure you would have a lot more to add to thr basics of my information! Montessori sure is fascinating.

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  • Kelly Phoninsan

    On the flip side, I am the Head Teacher in a Montessori Preschool and am responsible for sourcing ideas for our school. One of the things I’ve always struggled with Montessori is the lack of an Art curriculum (albums etc). I myself have an Art background, and our whole family lives/works with art so exposing children to art is REALLY important to me. So I search the internet. (I live in Laos) I am so happy to have found your classes and am looking forward to the “Rethinking Kindergarten” class. I also like reading more about Choce based Art Rooms… more articles please! :)

    • Kelly,

      It sounds like you have a really neat job and location, too! I have found a few resources on art for Montessori, but you are right, a lot of the art skills are incorporated into the everyday activities. Reggio has a great deal more art activities that are transparent through the program, I can’t wait to see you in class, you will bring so much to the conversation. I have a lot to learn, too. I also hope to provide more choice based information soon. One of the best choice based teachers I know has a blog for her classroom: Check it out!

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