Kids just want to play all day? Here are six simple ways to help your students engage in Montessori work without taking away from the importance of play.
Welcome to the first addition of my new series, “Readers Wonder.” In this series of posts, I address questions posed to me by my readers. Thanks for joining us!
Want your questions answered? Join below to be a part of my next series, plus other great opportunities to learn more about Montessori.
Today’s question: “How do I deal with constant imaginary play with everything?”
Let me take a moment to acknowledge those of you scrunching your foreheads in confusion, “wait, imaginary play is a problem?” or those split-seconds away from clicking out of this post in protest.
The imagination holds an important place in child development, but Maria Montessori took a different approach to cultivating it. Instead of encouraging make-believe play, she focused on putting children in touch with the concrete world around them.
She believed that reality was the basis of the imagination, and the richer your experience of reality, the richer your imagination will be.
So what should you do when your students seem more interested in imaginary play than in their work?
There are a few practical strategies to implement here.
- Don’t discourage imaginary play. But as with everything Montessori, there should be limits. I’ll go into some of these limits below. Allow imaginary play within these limits.
- Do not allow imaginary play, or any kind of play, with the Montessori materials. These materials were carefully designed to put the child in touch with the concrete material world, and to help him notice things about it. Playing flying dragons with these materials makes it a little harder for the child to notice those cool concrete realities. By setting this hard and fast limit, you can help the child get into a more curious, observant mode.
- Set aside a time and place for work and a time and place for play. If you are a teacher, this is mostly done for you: the children work in the classroom during the morning work cycle, and play on the playground during recess. If you are homeschooling, set aside a place just for Montessori work. This doesn’t have to be a whole room if you don’t have that space; a corner of a room will work as well. Keep toys and games out of this place, and provide a few Montessori materials/activities. Set aside time each school day, even if just a half hour, when you and your children work in that area. Let them choose between a few choices of work, and bring in your own work to lead by example. When the work time is over, you can choose to allow your children to stay longer if they want, or to play somewhere else.
- Observe your children carefully, and notice what aspects of reality capture their attention, if only for a brief second. Take some notes, and then develop an activity that will encourage them to engage a little more with that reality. For example, if you notice Howie looking intently at a rock, prepare an activity with rocks to show him the next day. You could show him how to sort rocks according to texture, for example. He could collect some rocks in a basket, and bring them over to a table where the rough tablets are set out. Have him match each rock to a tablet by texture, and line them up under the matching tablets.
- Look for books about your child’s interests. Don’t just look in the children’s section, either. You’d be surprised at the kind of books your child might find interesting. An illustrated encyclopedia or even a coffee table book could be the key to capturing Howie’s interest.
- Notice the world with your child. “Did you see this funny shaped rock I found?” “I wonder what this flower smells like.” Etc. Sometimes words and questions are helpful, but sometimes a smile and a nod in the direction of the cute squirrel is enough.
To sum up, don’t squash the imaginary world, but do cultivate engagement with the beauty of the real world.
~ Jean Marie
👉🏻 Read Part 2 of Reader’s Wonder here: