Skip to main content

Imagination and Montessori

There are some myths about Montessori that sometimes crop up and often they surround the topic of imagination. There can sometimes be this feeling that Montessori does not allow for kids to use their imagination or that somehow pretend play isn't encouraged. We so often see Montessori children,focused on trays that have specific outcomes that it can appear that creativity, imagination, and the world of pretend is taken out of the equation. 
"The secret of success is found to lie in the right use of imagination in awakening interest..." Maria Montessori 
But, that's simply not true. Children will always pretend. They will use their imagination to create. If you spend time with any child this quickly becomes clear. Children constantly use their imaginations to create, to process, and to learn. 

A look at the role of imagination, fantasy, and pretend play in our Montessori home

This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. 

In a Montessori home, we don't discourage the use of imagination or pretend play. But, it may look a bit differently than it would in other environments, because there is one thing that we don't include, and that's fantasy (most often in the form of commercialized characters). In Montessori, fantasy isn't typically introduced until the second plane of development for a couple of reasons. 

One, young children have an intense interest in the world around them. They find every day life to be magical, special, and worthy of wonder. They don't need anything more than the rich world around them to play with. They find joy and amazement, where we see mundane. They want to play with real. They want to wonder with real. They want to explore, play, and create with real. Because, the bottom line is our reality is pretty darn amazing, especially when viewed through the lens of a child. 


Two, fantasy includes things that are never true - talking pigs, animals that wear clothes, flying humans, and things of that nature. These ideas are adult created ideas. They are someone else using their imagination to create. Feeding these ideas to our children actually prohibits their imagination. Instead of creating their own ways to think, they start to mimic the ways adults have told them they should use a specific material. 

Montessori argued that fantasy actually has it's roots in reality. She said, "The true basis of the imagination is reality." Without adult-driven fantasy, they are free to create their own ideas. And, eventually, they can use this strong basis in reality to manipulate it and create fantasy of their own - at a time when they are better able to understand abstract concepts. Basically, kids must know reality in order to use it to manipulate it into their own and be truly creative. 


There are few things we do to encourage the use of imagination in our children: 

  • provide a variety of open-ended materials to explore - animals, building materials like these magnatiles, blocks, rainbow arches, baby dolls, art supplies and even empty baskets 
  • keep in mind my children's real life interests when choosing the open ended materials that we have in our home 
  • follow their lead - we play together, but we play the games, stories, scenarios that my children create 
  • respect pretend play as just as important as any tray work - same "rules" {for me} about protecting concentration, respecting their work, and not praising their work apply 
  • give lots of free time to play and explore - the more time they have the bigger and deeper they can play
  • allow for creativity where ever it comes, even if something is used differently then it is intended - using a puzzle piece to pretend? Totally alright! As long as what they are doing isn't unsafe for themselves, for the material, or for another, then I'm going to allow that exploration, imagination, and play 


When do you see your children use their imagination? How do you support pretend play? 

A look at the role of imagination, fantasy, and pretend play in our Montessori home

---

Comments

AME said…
I love your phrasing here. It's a great way to explain about what Montessorians consider imagination and imaginative play. Plus a nice segue to discouraging those cartoon characters I have such a hard time keeping out of the classroom!

Popular Posts

The Ultimate Montessori Toy List -- Birth to Five -- UPDATED 2019

When you are interested in Montessori, it can be difficult to know exactly what types of products you should get for your home. Or which types of "Montessori" materials are really worth the price. There are no rules about types of products can use the name Montessori which can add to the confusion. Not to mention, every toy manufacturer slaps the word "educational" on the package for good measure!

2019 UPDATE: This post has been updated to include a variety of brands and new product finds! Just a reminder that no one child will be interested in all of this or needs all of this. These toys are just here to spark ideas and give you a feeling for some Montessori-friendly options available! 


So, with this post, I'm going to try to help with this confusion! Here's a list of Montessori-friendly toys and materials for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. 


First, let's clarify that there is no such thing as a "Montessori toy." Montessori never created to…

Which Open-Ended Toys are "Worth it?"

As a Montessori parent, I try to provide a mix of materials in our home to engage my kids! That work that will spark joy, concentration, and repetition. It's not always an easy task, as Maria Montessori said, "Life is mysterious...only the choice of life can choose the work that the child truly needs. Therefore, the teacher respects this mysterious process and knows to wait with faith." So, there does sometimes feel like there is a bit of trial and error when it comes to choosing materials that your children need. 

For us, the right balance is easier to find when I spend time deeply observing my children. Watching their interests, sitting on my hands if I have to, letting them struggle a little with things, and letting them get bored. And what I have personally found is that here at home, a combination of open ended materials and more structured work have been the right balance. Open ended toys wouldn't necessarily be found in a Montessori classroom, but they are perf…

A Montessori Approach to Purging Your Toys

Becoming a Montessori family has been life changing in so many ways, most obviously with the amount and type of materials we use in our home. Once you see why having so many toys is a problem, or when you make the decision to move towards Montessori, it can be completely overwhelming. But, taking a Montessori approach to purging your toys is possible! And, it doesn't exactly mean that you have to throw away everything you have and start over with only expensive wooden toys. It will mean taking a hard look at what you have and whether it really fits with Montessori.


One note, however, Montessori is at its core about following your child's own path and respecting your child as a whole person. So, if your child has a toy, lovey, book, or whatever that your child super loves or is super attached to, but it doesn't fit Montessori ideals, don't take it away. Follow your child, that is more Montessori than whether or not you own some specific consumer product. 
How to Purge You…