A Montessori art education is focused on process vs. product, so students learn how to manipulate various art media while also indirectly learning how to write. Here are some art activities for preschool that can lead to better writing habits.
Exercising Hand Muscles
Preschool children need to exercise their hand muscles in preparation for later writing work. Teach these children how to write by having them use play-doh as an art activity. As they squeeze, roll, twist, and pinch off pieces in their play-doh creations, they are working those finger muscles to develop better pencil control.
For a more intense workout, many Montessori classrooms use modeling clay, instead. The modeling clay is stiff and works the muscles harder.
When preparing a child for writing, he also needs some sensory stimulation in his fingers. Fingerpainting is a great way for a child to stimulate his fingers, as he glides them through the paint on the glossy paper. Further stimulation could be given by mixing in salt or sand to the fingerpaint, to reinforce work with the sandpaper letters and numerals.
The child often begins fingerpainting by making swirls and shapes in the paint. Later he may begin drawing letters and writing words in it. The large arm movement eventually leads to the finer finger movements.
Painting with Paintbrushes
A Montessori classroom usually has an easel set up in the art area. There, the child can use his whole arm to paint lines, shapes, and eventually forms and letters. Initial lessons are done simply with water as the child learns the process of painting. Later the actual paint is introduced. Usually thicker stub brushes are available, as they are more comfortable for little hands. Finer brushes can be introduced as the children are ready.
For a finer painting experience, the child is also introduced to painting a rock with water. This leads to painting with watercolors. The thin paintbrush used in watercolor painting is similar to a pencil.
Tearing and Cutting
Before a child is given scissors for cutting, she uses her fingers to tear strips of paper into pieces. Then she is shown how to use the scissors, the use of which has been prepared by work in the practical life area. She starts by cutting strips of paper, then eventually moves to following lines. She starts with straight lines across the paper, then moves into curved lines and zigzag lines. Later she will cut out actual shapes and spirals. Tracking the line while cutting develops the hand-eye coordination needed for writing. The squeezing motion of cutting also exercises those hand muscles.
Drawing and Coloring
At a very young age, children like to draw and color. They start out with the thicker crayons and markers, and eventually work their way to the thinner variety. The thinner the crayons and markers become, the more dexterity is required. The grip used on the crayons and the markers becomes the same as that used for a pencil.
Children often begin trying to spontaneously label their pictures with representations of letters and words, which provides an opportunity for writing practice with markers and crayons.
Chalk is usually available at a large chalkboard. As the child has more control over his arm before later controlling his fingers, those wide drawing arcs are great writing practice. Initial handwriting exercises often take place at the large chalkboard, before eventually being done on personal chalkboards, then finally paper.
In the Montessori environment, further practice occurs in science and geography when the child starts using colored pencils to color in diagrams and through metal inset work.
A Montessori child's explorations of the open-ended art environment lead to writing preparation. Because she is taught process vs. product, as she learns how to squeeze, paint, cut, and draw, she is learning the same methods used in handwriting. These particular art activities for preschool also provide opportunities to exercise those hand and finger muscles, and develop the hand-eye coordination needed for future preschool writing skills.