What’s New in the Classroom: Matisse, Vivaldi and Frida

This January we welcomed the children back to the classroom from winter break with a new artist and a new composer to study, Henri Matisse and Vivaldi.  Now that we are in the second half of the year, most of the children have had several presentations on materials in the art/expression area.  This signaled the readiness to move beyond talking about the artist, using our art appreciation folders and exploring their an artist’s work using sensorial vocabulary.  We forged ahead to “working in the style of” an artist and having acquired more self-control and co-ordination through the work of “walking on the line” we discussed interpreting the music we hear through our bodies.

To learn more about our artists we read:

I, Vivaldi – the story of Vivaldi’s childhood across the week during lunch. The children answered questions about setting, characters, sequence, plot and emotional state.

Henri Matisse (First Discovery) – small, compact book with cutout reveals of Matisse’s works and brief biographical facts.

Henri’s Scissors – a biographical account of Matisse’s life and discovery of collage with colorful illustrations.

After a discussion of Matisse’s technique of painting paper, the children then participated in choosing

Children cutting out colored paper.

colors and making their own paper cut out collages as Matisse did (classroom work that directly supported these efforts included: confetti cutting, pasting, color box 1&2; classroom work that indirectly supported these efforts through preparing the hands/eyes: pouring, spooning, transferring with tongs, washing a table, rolling an underlay, graded sensorial works that help children recognize dimensions, etc.).  This was a multi-ages presentation and activity so it was interesting to see the different challenges that the children came across.  Some of the children are still beginning to understand the physical mechanics of using scissors, others are just starting to understand dimension, size and proportion.  While their art reflected their development of fine motor skills and awareness of shape/dimension it also provided a backdrop for exploration of these concepts and how to problem solve.  Several children chose to cut pieces that were too large to fit on the provided canvas and had to figure out how to negotiate their pieces into place to get the effect they desired. As with all of the work in a constructivist classroom, the child is developing their own discipline and will, this was evident through use of the glue stick.  For some children the act of smearing glue on the paper was too much of an enticement for their developing self-control and an indicator to myself that we need to fall back to more lessons on Grace and Courtesy (in Montessori these are the cornerstone of our classroom management, they are how we exercise care and consideration for others, our recognition of our effect on others/the environment and how we exhibit good manners).

Later in the week we listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and discussed the different instruments, what images their sounds evoked and we expressed this through large body movement.  We tiptoed daintily like birds flitting from tree to tree in the Spring, and swayed like the babbling brook. We then fanned our selves with a summer breeze as we thought about the heat of the grass beneath our feet. The children enjoyed exploring all of the seasons in a kinesthetic manner and it deepened our ongoing discussion of the seasons and provided a brief segue into the names of the months.  If you are not already aware, everything in a Montessori environment is deliberate and the guide uses every opportunity to scaffold learning.

As the month of January progressed we merged our exploration of art with a tie in to our emotions

Working on self-portraits.

and expressions (they have a direct link to empathy, and therefore Grace and Courtesy).  I worked on constructing a new set of Emotions Cards during the winter break with the classroom children as our models.  These cards joined a small mirror in a basket on our social-emotional shelf.  The classroom received a group presentation on these cards which included discussing how we believed the person in the photo felt based on their expression.  Each child took a turn making their own expressions to match the verbally stated feeling.  This is a practice we regularly do as we read stories and another reason why realistic books are so valuable to social-emotional growth.  It is far easier to recognize, understand and name emotions seen on human storybook characters’ faces, and in their body language, which relate/resemble young children in the real world than anthropomorphic characters which children will never run across in real life situations.

We then moved on to a discussion of our faces, the shapes of our faces (as they relate to known shapes in the classroom – ellipse, oval, circle, heart, etc.), noses (pointy, round, large, small), eyes (almond, crescent, round) and mouths (thin, thick).  It was even suggested by a few students that they would prefer to have quatrefoil faces, which made us all giggle. Work that directly prepared us for this discussion included: the pink tower (large to small), the brown stair (thick to thin), the geometry cabinet and other tactile works in the sensorial area.

Our explorations were linked together by our reading of the book Frida: Viva La Vida! and a discussion of Frida Kahlo’s work as an artist.  We focused in on her use of self-portraiture to tell a story. Our book shelf also tied into Frida’s inspiration of her Mexican heritage with the book M is for Mexico (World Alphabets). The world alphabets series offers a wonderful pictorial exploration of other countries, with vivid and candid photographs.

To end our study of Frida we engaged in creating self-portraits.  Armed with mirrors, large pieces of paper and crayons the children briefly engaged in a recap discussion of facial shapes and took to work creating themselves on paper.  There were many interesting outcomes: drawings of television characters, self-portraits as mermaids, self-portraits with snowmen, large self-portraits that filled up the whole page, and small self-portraits.  No matter what the product, the process of engaging with art and self-expression is what matters for the development of each child in our classroom.