I was googling for hours how to teach a child to use a paintbrush to make various strokes. As I looked at all of the images included with the articles, I suddenly thought of the brown (or broad) stair.
Here was a material already in my room that visually demonstrated thick and thin. I was so excited. I immediately made a sketch in my journal. I read all the articles on how to use a paintbrush and then figured out how to add the brown stair to the lesson. This is a link to the articles I found best served my needs.
I know this might sound as if I am a little off my rocker, but I really get jazzed when I discover new ways of using the Montessori materials, specifically ways that reinforce the initial presentation. I ultimately then spend hours contemplating whether or not my "new ways" where in fact part of her initial presentation or reasoning behind designing the materials.
Before describing this lesson, it is important to state that part of this work is moving the child away from the single brush included in a watercolor paintbox. I have several types of paintbrushes available in my classroom. The child needs to think about what they want to paint and what type of brush or brushes would serve them best. This selection process is both a mental exercise in that it requires a student to consider the tools he needs to complete a work and a math exercise. It is like measuring a stem of a flower against the height of a vase before cutting it. The child has to mentally judge width. This is specifically connected to the use of the brown stair and to the arrangement of furniture in the room - visual orientation is a mental and mathematical act. After this lesson, the child chooses a paintbrush from a container holding several, each with different widths and design.
At circle time, I laid out a working rug and placed a chowki at one end. I asked one child to bring me the thickest prism of the brown stair. I asked another to bring me the thinnest. I had the two children place them on the rug, vertically, with much space between them.
I put on my apron, placed a place mat on the chowki and took out the watercolor materials. I told the class that I was going to demonstrate how to use one paintbrush to make several types of brush strokes.
One of the watercolor trays:
The set up for the whole class presentation:
Using a wide, flat, watercolor paintbrush, I dipped the hairs into the water and paint and then, with the hairs of the brush flat against the paper, made a single wide stroke. Then, I turned the brush so that I was only placing the tip, the thin edge of the brush hairs, on the paper and made a single thin stroke. I asked a child to come up and point to the thin stroke and to the thick stroke.
I also demonstrated that by using a rounded, pointed tipped brush that I could make thick and thin brush marks by pressing down on the brush hairs (thick stroke marks) and by pressing lightly on the tip only (thin stroke marks).
I then had two children bring me the other brown stair prisms and lay them out, with space between, to complete the brown stair pattern of thick to thin. I returned to my paper and attempted to duplicate the image with thick to thin strokes. My results visually echoed the brown stair. The last brush line is the thick and thin technique repeated.
My final brush stroke technique was wrist flicks. This made short slash marks on the page. They look like they could be used for leaves or grass.
When I thought the presentation was concluded, one of my second year, four year olds came up to me with his own discovery. He had been working with the spindle boxes most of the morning. I had been impressed by his newly acquired tying abilities.
I made cloth ties for the spindle boxes last year - I followed Montessori by Hand's tutorial for the ties.
"Miss Dyer, the ties are thick and thin too, see," Sam said as he showed me how the twisted fabric did appear like the brush stroke. As you can see in the photo below, they do. Also, Sam has his coat on because it was time for him to go home. Yet, telling me about his find was so important to him that he had to tell me before he left.
I love this kind of leap of knowledge, of speculation and formulated thought by a young child. Too me, we lead teachers need to do that too. Looking for other ways a material may be presented so as to fully see its purpose.
Here is a second year, four year old doing the work: