Friday, June 15, 2012

Embellishment - or Doodling?

When most of us went to school, if we drew on our mathematics or language or social studies work, we were punished for doodling.

But in Montessori, we encourage children to make their work in any subject a personalized work of art. When they have done real work that they care about, they want to take their paper representation of that work and embellish it.

Embellish as a Montessori term: encouraged doodling ;)

So your stamp game paper for primary?
There are 7 rows. Enough space for 2 problems (if doing using just 2 terms within a problem), and a row in between. The division paper is longer and turned horizontally, so there are 3 rows - enough for two problems written straight across with a doodle-row in between.
That extra row: is designed for embellishment ;)

Short and large bead frame paper? Embellish around the edges and in between problems to keep them separate.

The graph paper used in elementary for so many subjects? Yep! Embellish with borders and separators.

Think of all the art and geometry a child is getting just embellishing all those squares, let alone the unlined paper he also uses. Repeating shapes; something new in each square; alternating designs; varying the colors.

Children in Montessori classrooms leave behind veritable works of art when they leave a classroom, because they do SO much of it.

Art is an external expression of the inner soul. Let's encourage it, entice it, and build on those skills NOW at primary and elementary, so that the child has plenty of strong outlets in the hormonal and emotional adolescent years, when they CRAVE artistic expression of their very souls.


  1. How and when do you introduce embelishment?
    Also, when children in the primary level (i.e. 6 year olds that are not yet ready for Elementary) only want to do art and avoid all other work, what do you do? I have a child that if allowed, she would spend all her day and days just doing art. We noticed that for her, it's an escape. What do you do in this case?

  2. Embellishment can be done in the primary level with the metal inset work once they have done the main work - many children won't, but they have the option (it's not officially presented).

    By the time the primary children are using the stamp game (if they have paper that is 5 columns by 7 rows), they are embellishing that center row in between two written out problems. That is the first "official" time we bring it in. So that could be age 5, 5 1/2 or 6.

    In elementary, they are invited to do so on any of their written works. A child at that age who would hide behind art work, could be told "you may embellish when you have done your other work" - they have their work plans, they have their conversations daily or weekly with the teacher, they know the expectations and that they need to reach them; so they can learn to balance things out.

    For the primary age child - the child MIGHT just need a new presentation or even a re-presentation of something to get their interest going; but it could also be an inability to make a choice from among SO many.

    For the primary child (and even for the elementary child), if the child is clearly hiding behind a work, there are two main options I choose from:
    -direct the child to choose from 2 other options (I provide the options); then they can do some art work (or whatever they are hiding behind) for a set number of minutes before being given 2 other choices; slowly expand out to 3 choices; then 2 choices and "something of your choice from around the classroom" - until the child can freely choose work again.
    -If I know they are capable of making choices, I will tell them to make a choice; that art work (or the work they hiding behind) is closed for the rest of the day.
    (there a lot of variations on these days - use what is going to work - it is OK to limit a child's access).

    It is also entirely acceptable to limit access to materials specifically. There is only so much paper available in any given work period; there is only so much polish available in the polishing tray (I do not refill during a work period); there is only so much of any given supply in any given area. If it is a consumable item, I set out a limited supply and it is NOT replenished until the children are out of the environment.

    I do that at home and at our co-op; I did that at all schools I've ever worked at. It is a natural consequence and a natural part of life; it is also teaches responsibility to use things wisely.

  3. I was thinking more about 6 year olds still in primary but not yet ready for elementary... this type of child is very likely quite ready for elementary in SOME ways if not all. The transition from primary to elementary does not happen overnight.

    So there may be several ways that the child would be better served by an elementary environment, or at least some of its manifestations (Great Lessons, work plan, etc). As long as the child is a typically developing child (no particular special needs), a work plan to introduce the concepts of responsibility might be in order - this work plan could incorporate review of the concepts taught at primary, with the final activities/presentations/follow-ups for each; it might be necessary to pull in some of the elementary language or math or biology or geometry materials/presentations. It might be the child is ready for elementary-style presentations.

    The solution just depends on what is the cause for holding the child back - maturity level perhaps? but perhaps they are ready for elementary level materials. Or is it that they are not ready for elementary style presentations, but maturity is fine - they can utilize the work plan, work with a partner on many presentations; perhaps visit an elementary environment for an hour or two hours at a time, slowly building up until ready to be in there full-time; etc.

    Hiding behind work is just not an option at any age - but how we address it changes from age to age.


    1. Thanks so much for the reply and the ideas. This child entered late into the primary program (almost 5) and it has taken her very long to get through the basic presentations. From the moment she entered our school, she was always looking for ways to avoid work. We have come far with her, but the avoidance of work still happens. We can say that she has not reached normalization yet (if she hasn't yet, will she get there eventually?). From what you write, I think she is then ready for the work plan, work with partner, etc. and we need to be more firm with her, starting with the couple of options.
      Thanks again for the advice and guidance.

    2. Maria,

      It sounds like she has yet to find her stride within the materials; she might really appreciate calling some of her work "challenges" so that it looks like "older child" work rather than "younger child"; and/or have her help show a younger child how to use something.

      With the older children I've had who were not in Montessori for 3 or 4 (or came from a not-very-good experience), they enjoyed lots of silly games, using lots of language, and other little privileges that acknowledge them as the oldest in the room despite being "new."

      I don't if any of that will help with what you have right now, but thought I would share my own experiences. :)