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Lessons Learned from an Orange Ball

I created the art closet, arranged with paper, paints and brushes, all placed at the perfect height for my three year old to reach when the urge to paint moved in her endless days of childhood play. Little did I know that this child, captured in the grainy, black and white photo above, would open my "educator" eyes to the beginning of a fascination with the Montessori principles of learning.

With her art supplies spread out on the dining room table, she worked with full concentration as she carefully painted an orange circle on the page. I watched with curiosity as she observed her creation with satisfaction.

"What do you have there?

"Mom, it's an orange ball."

I hate to admit that for a brief moment I almost fell into the typical adult response of explaining to her that she had painted an orange circle, not a ball. I cannot say whether I remained silent because I could think of no easy way to explain the art techniques of shading and perspective that would be involved in painting a ball versus a circle, or whether I bowed to the power of real learning. Let the child lead the way. I contained my response to "good job."

Within seconds, my daughter was frantically painting again with the orange paint. I noticed that she seemed intent on covering the entire page with orange watercolor...yes, all the way to the edges as she, of course, let streaks of bright color spread on to the tabletop.

Curiosity got the best of me. "What are you painting now, Maria?"

Her big brown eyes looked at me with a questioning look that I would see many times as this independent thinker navigated her "growing up" years. Her tone of voice enforced the sense that I was interrupting her concentration as she went back over the paint a second time with bolder strokes. "Mom, it's an orange ball!


Her response cut me off at the adult pass. "The ball got bigger than the page."

What I know for sure about education: Let the child lead the way. Never, ever deter a learner from going after a bigger thought. Do not create a box. Do not even settle for "thinking outside the box." Instead go for the conclusion captured in the simplicity of the lessons learned from of the orange ball: Mom, I did not know there was a box. Always allow imagination to run right off the page.

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