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“Humans have a tendency to imagine, to create and to invent with the intellect. For example, an act of imagination allowed humans to use animal fur and plant fibres to construct clothing. A child in the classroom imagines a new constructive way to use a material or how the globe represents the earth.”Angeline Stoll Lillard
(2017, The Science Behind the Genius: 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, p. 120)
There is a common misconception that the Montessori approach doesn’t encourage children to be imaginative and creative. This simply isn’t true. It is true that under 3 years old, we focus on the real world around the child to support the development of imagination and creativity, rather than encouraging fantasy. In this blogpost and corresponding podcast, I would like to discuss the following: imaginary play, fairytales, and creativity through art and music.
1. Imaginary Play
Around 2.5 + years , we will then see our child begin with pretend play. This is a sign of them processing what they see around them, not fantasy. They play families, bake us cookies, and pretend to be the school teacher.simone davies (2018, The montessori toddler, p.94)
In a true Montessori classroom, you won’t see a pretend play-kitchen or a costume dress up corner. Instead you could find a real, child-sized kitchen area where children can prepare food for themselves or each other; a self care area; a cleaning area the toddlers can use to tidy any messes that are made during class; and a large art area where the babies and toddlers can express themselves creatively. In my school there is also a special woodworking area where the toddlers can safely use real tools to see a real cause and effect.
For Montessori at home, the adult involves the child in day-to-day activities like cooking and dressing and washing. There is no need to give toys that only represent real life (like wooden foods or a plastic toy appliances) when they are fully capable of having real-life experiences with those day-to-day activities that they find so fascinating.
At home you might also put out some open-ended toys from 2.5-3 years old. These allow for many possibilities to let their imaginations grow, without prescribing exactly how they should be used. For example, a set of blocks can be built in any way to represent anything to the child.
2. Fairy Tales
While they are allegedly intended for children, fairy tales are often very scary and not based in reality. Children under 3 and even up to 6 years old have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Everything we tell them is very real and very true to them. They trust the information that we give them entirely.
That’s why in Montessori the books we read to children under 3 and the stories we tell them all give true information to the children and have realistic depictions of the story. Hopefully toddlers’ books offer information they can relate to their own experiences so they can consider them more deeply and learn more about that topic through the book we are reading to them.
Linguistically when children are able to understand figurative speech like metaphors and symbolism, they very much enjoy fairytales and mythological stories that require critical thinking. Among other things in regards to literature, the Montessori approach aims to give children a strong base in reality from the beginning, so that they can learn to understand complex stories and figurative elements.
3. Creativity Through Art and Music
Art and music are a large part of Montessori education. Maria Montessori believed arts to be just as important as other subjects. There should be a sizeable art area in the Montessori classroom with many different creative, and open-ended activities the child can use whenever they are inspired to do so.
Music is another important part of Montessori education. Musical instruments are available at the child’s level to support musical expression. In every Montessori class we sing and dance and enjoy music together with the children.
In the art area of the Montessori classroom, children have the freedom to explore new possibilities that make them wonder what else could they do? How else can they try?
In Montessori it is our goal that children have an environment which encourages curiosity through the freedom we give to the child and the ways that we prepare the space so that children become curious about the world around them and develop the ability to think and create for themselves.
“The secret of success [in education] is found to lie in the right use of imagination in awakening interest, and the stimulation of seeds of interest already sown.”— Maria Montessori
(1948, To educate the human potential. Madras, India: Kalakshetra)