The Montessori School in Madison, a creative hub promoting interactive learning and artistic self-expression in young children, is a magical place.
I recently spent a morning there, surrounded by a group of delightful five- and six-year-olds, my collaborators on a project called Genuine Art, which brings together artists and children with the mandate to produce a collaborative piece of art on a specific theme every year. The artwork is then catalogued, exhibited and put up for sale at a silent auction in April, with the proceeds benefiting the school’s scholarship fund.
This year’s theme is Home, Sweet Home. Since the children have been studying Mongolia, I thought they might enjoy creating a miniature replica of a ger, the traditional yurt used by Mongolian nomads as they travel through the steppe with their herds of horses, sheep, goats, camels, yaks and cows.
While I created the framework it was the children who decorated the inside of the ger and placed the animals on the moss-covered platform around it. One student put the lone sheep behind the ger, facing the back of the tent. When I commented on the fact that this constituted uncharacteristic behavior for a sheep, the girl who had put him there said, with a smile: “He isn’t behaving.”
Working with children enchants me because they respond positively to my enthusiasm, spontaneity and, occasionally, eccentric comportment (just like the aforementioned sheep). In my travels I have taught English to Italian children in Belgium, French to American kindergarteners in New Jersey, and conducted cross-cultural training programs for the children of international assignees. In each setting I incorporated art, crafts, music, even dancing to engage the students. Why should learning be a drag?
The beauty of the Genuine Art project resides in its role as agent of transformation–not only for the children who gain a different perspective from their interaction with artists; artists, too, learn a thing or two, or even three, from listening to the students and observing the dynamics in the room. So do teachers and the parents who volunteer to help. It is a grand and lofty undertaking, one that culminates in awarding scholarships to families who would otherwise be unable to send their children to this school.
Stay tuned to find out what my young collaborators will be doing in the next session, which is scheduled to take place in the New Year, after my brain surgery.