For 17 years, I’ve observed and taught children, ages six to nine, to appreciate the wonders of the world and to find their unique place within it. Maria Montessori calls this period in child development “The Age of Imagination.” To truly see my students and deepen the connection to each one of them requires immediate access to my imagination. My practice in musical improvisation, daily writing technique, and the visual arts provide that pathway. Not only that, it’s fun.
Teachers plan. We plan for the long term, and we plan each lesson. Conversely, young children are oriented toward the present moment—immediate access to spontaneity bridges that divide. Creative practices keep our minds nimble. I strive to inspire teachers in training to return to or maintain their creative passions — any activity that sparks delight — so that they, too, will recognize how flexibility helps children discover their authenticity and find true joy in their work.
I celebrate creativity. It has become my practice in school and at home. I’ve always had varied interests: once, a college art history professor called me a Renaissance woman when he saw me wearing a letter jacket and carrying an oboe. I now play violin and sing, write, paint, and teach in a Montessori lower elementary classroom. Because each student is unique, I aim to understand my charges as intimately as I know what note to play in a sonata or the nuance of each word I write. Then, in daily planning, I devise ideas to ignite each child’s imagination.
Furthermore, elementary students assume risk in learning each day. When introducing novel concepts, teachers challenge students to push themselves past their comfort level while building upon their previous knowledge. They need to feel emotionally safe to do this. Taking on new, creative pursuits as an adult aligns our experience with that of our students. For example, when my violin teacher taught me to ornament notes in an unfamiliar way, I remember involuntarily scrunching up my face in frustration because I couldn’t fully understand how to do what she wanted. The next day, I taught a child a new concept in math and saw his expression mirror mine from the night before. Recognizing that raw and familiar emotion, I assured him that I didn’t expect him to understand right away, that it would take time, and I would support him through his practice.
The pandemic created additional teacher/student challenges. The day before Spring Break 2020, our teaching team developed a website where we would later upload videos of ourselves teaching asynchronous lessons. None of us predicted what challenges teaching remotely and in isolation would bring.
The classroom was now on Zoom, putting miles and a screen between our students and us. As a result, the good cheer each child brought when entering the physical space of the classroom was no longer at play, and the deliberate practice of observation and conversation that once connected me directly with each student in person was now unattainable (save taking screenshots of them on the screen).
To keep my spirit buoyed off-screen, I dove deep into creative practices and took time to reignite my dreams from the insight out. The simple, cheeky “Morning Messages” I wrote to welcome students each day transformed into a more salient exploration of life during the lockdown in my sketchbooks. With time and space, my creative practice brought me deeper into myself. I structured a routine before Zoom calls to explore wonders and asked timeless questions. I maintain that routine to this day.
Our Head of School relied on our school community to weather the pandemic safely. The school’s mission states, “…[we inspire] children to embrace and challenge the world with compassion, resilience, and courage.” Indeed, school leadership expected nothing less from faculty. The new limits set by pandemic necessity — social distancing, outdoor education, lack of community interaction beyond your designated teacher/student pod — brought a new set of challenges for otherwise experienced teachers. Nevertheless, we rose to the occasion. What prepared me to adjust and meet these expectations was my confidence in sustaining my creative routine: to practice what I teach.
Remote Connection: A Poem
Staring at the screen
Not at me.
Three Key Takeaways
- Consider reigniting a passion or experiment and learn something new this summer. Commit to it. Start small, celebrate each success, and find your flow.
- Although the activities listed in this article center around the arts, not all creative practices do. Guided journals, like The Steal Like an Artist Journal by Austin Kleon, provide prompts and exercises designed to promote creative thinking.
- Write yourself a prescription for the new school year. Consider how much time to allocate towards maintaining your creative practice, then schedule it to make it happen.
Diana Loeb Traylor is a Lower Elementary teacher at Lexington Montessori School in Lexington, MA, where she’s been teaching since 2004. She earned a B.A. in Art History from Oberlin College and an AMS 6–9 credential (CMTE/NY-Lexington). She has presented creative workshops for the American Montessori Society and Montessori Schools of Massachusetts. Diana has lifelong experience in the arts and is passionate about integrating the arts into education. She plays violin in the Turkish music ensemble Orkestra Marhaba and participates in CircleSinging Boston.