Montessori Approach To Play
When Maria Montessori observed the children, she concluded that they preferred reality over pretend play. Once the children got used to the Montessori
environment, she introduced traditional toys to see how the children would respond. She realized that the children didn’t show as much interest in the conventional toys as they did with practical activities that served a purpose. These practical activities have become an essential aspect of the Montessori classroom.
Children are curious and observant, and they develop their interests from things they can see, hear, and feel. They watch the world around them, and their imagination expands from people, places, and experiences that grab their attention. In traditional methods, children are discouraged from playing with and using items not designed to be used by children. Parents and teachers worry about the safety aspect of allowing children to prepare their food, move around independently, and use materials that could potentially be dangerous. In Montessori, children are encouraged to practice real-life activities while being observed and supervised, ensuring they are safe and secure. At some point, you will have to expose these activities and materials to the children. Children will learn the value of these items and activities early on in life and the consequences of misusing them, for example, dropping a glass or allowing it to spill.
Young children are impressionable and full of imagination. Although most children enjoy fantasies, such as fairy tales, it can be easy for them to mistake fiction for reality. Exposing your child to too much fantasy at an early age can aﬀect how they socialize with others and make it very hard for them to understand the real world. The child may start
to imagine these stories happening in real life, which can be scary and can cause nightmares as children do not understand that it is not real. Try explaining the diﬀerence between fiction and reality, and tell your child stories about real-life people and places. Instead of only allowing them to read fiction, introduce history books that explain historical events. Tell your children stories about fundamental topics they have shown interest in, such as animals, sea life, science, and geography. Children will find interest in subjects they can be involved with in real life.
THE FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF PLAY
According to Peter Gray as reported in Psychology Today, play generally has five characteristics (Gray, 2008).
- Children choose and direct their own play. In Montessori, children are allowed to play freely and choose what activities they want to partake in. The teacher or parent does not tell the child what to do or when to do it. Instead, they present the children with opportunities and allow them to make their own decisions. In traditional schools, children are allocated activities, usually in groups, which can be entertaining and beneficial for some children, however not for those that do not have any interest in the idea or activity. Allowing the child the freedom to choose gives them the chance to develop in areas more specific to them. Children can follow their natural instincts and have the choice of participating in or quitting an activity. The Montessori teacher or parent will guide the children and provide them with options to make their own choices regarding playtime. The adults will not participate in these activities; instead, they will observe the child and continue providing opportunities relevant to their interests.
- The activity of playing is more valuable than the end result. In Montessori, when a child partakes in an activity or a challenge, there is no desired result. Achievement comes from the learning process. Children find errors in their ways when they are not getting the results that they want, leading them to repeat their actions and learn from their mistakes. If there is a goal or a means to an
end when participating in activities or play, children can become discouraged as they may not find the activity fun or joyful. As children play and discover new activities and toys, they start to set goals and challenges for themselves. Children will feel more satisfied and content when they have completed a challenge they have set for themselves.
- Play is unstructured. Montessori schools do not have specific rules like traditional schools. Instead, there is a structure in place that promotes respect and self-control. A calm environment helps the children to focus and learn. The materials used by the children encourage brain stimulation as focus and eﬀort are required. They begin to learn self-discipline as they come up with ways to structure their play. The children can ask for help if they need it; however, they will not be disturbed by an adult unless it is necessary. The adults will initially show the children the intended purpose of the activity or the materials they are using and then allow the children to proceed by themselves. Children find their interests by watching others, so the teacher provides examples of how to do an activity or use a material. The children will engage in activities that catch their attention. They will imitate how they have been shown to do something and try their best to achieve the same.
- Play is based on imagination. Children are capable of a lot more than most may think, and they should be presented with opportunities that can prove their abilities. In traditional teaching methods, make-believe and fiction are encouraged to allow children to use their imagination. Children can do this by playing pretend and reading fairy tales. In Montessori, the children have the opportunity to practice real-life events, such as preparing real food
using real utensils and reading stories that happened in real life. Instead of filling their minds with false information, the children can grow their knowledge of the actual world while playing and having fun. The world is full of beautiful experiences, people, and places—children do not need to be told fairy tales to be inspired and use their imagination. Children can become more motivated when their fantasies are achievable.
- Engaging play means a stress-free mind. Montessori classrooms consist of a quiet, peaceful, and respectful environment. Children are so engaged in their activities and play that they do not act impulsively or irrationally, as they are too interested in what they are doing. Children become stressed and anxious when they feel like they are not in control or pressured into doing something they do not want to do. Some people may assume that the calmness and quietness of a Montessori classroom will mean that the child will miss out on having fun. However, the Montessori classroom is quiet and calm because the children are so fixated and focused on what they are doing. The children are treated with respect and get to explore their interests and environments. The children are so concentrated and engulfed in their tasks and activities that they do not feel the need to act out or misbehave.