If you observe students in a Montessori preschool, you’ll notice that their ‘work’ has all the characteristics of play. Dr. Maria Montessori recognized the productivity and importance of play activities in child development, which is why she referred to play as the work of a child.
Similarly, she found that kids gravitate towards real experiences as opposed to playing with toys. For instance, children want to imitate grown-ups and prepare real food instead of playing in a pretend kitchen. She, therefore, removed traditional toys from classrooms and incorporated Practical Life activities.
Let’s look at some of the characteristics of play in Montessori classrooms:
Play is self-directed and self-chosen
Play can be defined as something the child wants to do, as opposed to something the child is obliged to do.
In Montessori programs, students have two to three hours every day to choose an activity from hundreds of options and engage in it for as long as they wish. This ranges from playing with number beads to preparing snacks for peers.
The teachers don’t instruct children on what to do; instead, they act as guides, directing board games, arts and crafts activities and singing sessions. While the teachers assist the students and introduce them to the materials, they leave them free in choice and execution.
Play always has structure
New parents are usually struck by the focus, calmness and structure in a Montessori classroom as opposed to the chaotic environment we typically associate with early childhood. While play is freely chosen, it always has a structure that drives from rules that the kids make a conscious effort to keep in mind and follow.
For instance, rolling a mat so that it stands up straight, transferring beads in a spoon without dropping them, pouring water without spilling—all serve as rules that make the activities enjoyable.
What’s more is that these rules are visible to the child, too; they don’t need an adult or observe or correct them. Control of error is built into Montessori materials, which keeps the children in-charge of judging their progress.
Play encourages imagination and limits fantasy
Montessori Play involves engaging activities that facilitate the child’s imagination but in a more reality-based way. For instance, children don’t pretend to serve snacks to dolls, instead, they use real wooden children’s knife and real bananas to cut up the bananas and serve it to their peers.
This way, they step outside into a world that’s optimized around their capabilities and gradually teaches them to be independent.
Since the true basis of imagination is reality, Dr. Maria believed that we should limit exposure of fantasy to children under the age of 5 or 6 until they’re old enough to separate reality from fictitious characters. We should, instead, provide them with a rich, engaging environment to explore so that they remain connected with the real world.
Remember, the essential dimensions of play are:
These activities are further expanded using social, physical, language and problem-solving skills allowing the child to adapt to their environment and expand on new ideas.
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