Process Over Product
Your child is a brilliant artist. I know you already know this, because when you adore a small child, even their gas and drool seem like works of art. You also know this because, if your child goes to school or daycare, you see the plethora of art they bring home. The question I pose to you is this: What makes your child an artist? The process of creating the art, or the piece of art they produce?
This question, although it may appear to have nothing to do with your child’s curriculum, is fundamental to Montessori education. The work that children do in the Montessori environment is all about process. A child’s work may often result in fantastic end products. But the work leading up to the result is what we truly value and encourage.
Why We Don’t Just Look at Results
We live in a very product-oriented society. We like things. You will often hear adults grumble that kids today have no respect or work ethic. If this is the case, it’s because we’ve moved away from emphasizing effort and instead look only at results.
When a child is drawing a picture, an adult will often say something like, “Who is that for?” The answer to that question is simple. A child’s picture isn’t for anyone but the child making it. When we focus only on the end result, we devalue the valuable work that leads to that result.
Have you ever done something with the very best of intentions, only to end up with terrible results? It’s a hard situation to be in! Everyone around you can see the tangible end results. They don’t see your intentions, effort, or what you learned in the process. This can be very frustrating. It’s almost as though people don’t see you — they only see the thing you created (that you may not even feel proud of.) This is how we make children feel all the time.
The Value of Process Over Product
In the Montessori environment, when a child arranges flowers or cleans up a mess, he does so for the process. The flower arrangement is beautiful because a child put all their efforts into making the arrangement in the way that felt best to them.
The purpose of the activity is not to ensure the room is filled with beautiful flower arrangements. It’s not so the child can give the flowers to somebody. Rather, the purpose is that the child is creating while developing focus, fine motor skills, and a sense of order. 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. This makes it easy to ignore these fruits 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 the way your child felt while creating it. She was satisfied with the process of her work, and you can celebrate her efforts with her. Then next time you see your child doing something that you can’t quite understand, let it be. Know that she is gaining something that might not be tangible, but is just as valuable as any “thing” that she might produce.
“We have to remember as adults, that we want things done, and as 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! It certainly requires more preparation up front, but it is absolutely worth the outcome of a confident, competent, independent child!