“Imagination is the real substance of our intelligence. All theory and progress come from the mind’s capacity to reconstruct something”Montessori, 2008, p. 48
The value of play is now widely recognised as being vital for children’s holistic development and is enshrined as a child’s right in Article 31 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989). As the well-known psychiatrist, Lev Vygotsky states, “In play a child is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form; in play it is as though the child were trying to jump above the level of his normal behaviour” (Vygotsky, 1967, p16).
Montessori has often been accused of excluding imaginary play from her pedagogy, and her reality-based approach to early years education and the strong focus on the materials in many modern settings can be seen to perpetuate this interpretation. To the contrary: Montessori addressed the issue of imagination many times throughout her lifetime, and simply objected to pretend play as an exclusive method of educating children. In fact, she believed that “imagination is the real substance of our intelligence. All theory and progress come from the mind’s capacity to reconstruct something” (Montessori, 2008, p48).
Montessori saw the social embryonic stage as “the special period for the construction of the imagination” (Montessori, 2012, p174). She believed this process should be child- rather than adult-led, avoiding the development of ‘credulity’ (Montessori, 1991). Montessori promoted the notion that the child should be free to make their own connections between reality and imagination (Montessori, 1991). For example, the introduction of a doll to the classroom is often in response to a sibling being born, with the doll creating an opportunity for the child to emulate the adult’s care of the newborn baby, but also forming an outlet for the child to explore their emotions surrounding the birth of the new child.
The idea that children process their emotions through play was first explored by pioneers such as Anna Freud, Margaret Lowenfeld and Melanie Klein. As we slowly emerge from the Covid19 lockdown, it is more important than ever that we observe closely how our children play, as it will provide us with an insight into their interpretation of, and reaction to, recent events. Children will have experienced significant changes to their daily routines, including the abrupt closure of their nursery settings. They will have spent, what for a young child may have seemed, an endless period of time at home with their nuclear family, perhaps without the possibility of going outside. Some children may have been exposed to stress and anxiety as parents dealt with economic, psychological and/or social consequences of the effects of Covid19. All children will have internalised these experiences and formed their own understanding of these events.
Anecdotal evidence is suggesting that children returning to their settings are wallowing in rich play, much of which reflects their experiences of the last few months. For some time now, a small group of Montessori practitioners has been engaged in observations and discussion of children’s play as witnessed in Montessori settings. We are keen to extend this group and invite you to join us in “telling the story” of children’s play as we are returning to our settings following lockdown.
Montessori, M. (1991) The Advanced Montessori Method I Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company
Montessori, M. (2008) The Child, Society and the World Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company
Montessori, M. (2012) The 1946 London Lectures Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company
Vygotsky, L. (1967) “Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child.” Soviet Psychology 5:6–18
United Nations (1989) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Available here (date accessed 19 Feburary 2020)