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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

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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



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!

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