The Clean Cafe – an Observation of Post-Lockdown Play…

By Hannah Khiani

In these unprecedented times of lockdown and a global pandemic, some families have, for the first time in years, been forced to spend more time than ever with each other. While the situation may have caused frustration at times, many parents have also reported that they have felt closer to their children and have found out new things about their child too (MCI, 2020). Parents have also observed their children’s play at very close quarters.  At the school gate (standing at an appropriate distance) parents have been asking us, as practitioners, about some of the play they have observed at home. 

Parents have seen their children carrying things around.  One parent explained that her child seemed to spend lots of time moving things for no apparent reason and then plonking things together on the floor.  The parents were worried that the child was missing out on the opportunities for learning about numbers and letters at school.  In response, we are able to share Montessori’s view that all play is important as play is the child’s work (Montessori, 2012).  This means reflecting on what children learn at home and school but more importantly, reflecting on how children learn.  How children learn involves children doing, thinking and playing both indoors and out. It means giving children the opportunity to explore, to create and to think critically.  The importance of play is so significant because it is play that enables children to make sense of the world around them. Play can foster the development of imagination and creativity and it is through play that children can make choices and grow their independence. 

A child’s home is a mathematical place.  It is full of patterns, routines, shapes and numbers.  For a child to understand the concept of weight, they need to move. Children need to repeatedly lift things that are heavy and light. A practitioner may identify a transporting schema (Athey,1990 ) but the most exciting aspect is that, in play, the child is moving and revelling in the patterns, textures and colours and size and weight of the objects they are carrying.  The child who groups the objects they have carried is repeating a pattern. Rather than ‘missing out’ on opportunities at school, the child at home is making their own patterns and finding out about maths first-hand. The foundation of mathematical thinking is laid in repeating sequences and recognising a structure or a rule.  In carrying all the trucks to one side of the room and putting all the animals in a pile near the door, the young child is creating order and arranging objects to follow a rule and a pattern.  Montessori said children are born with a mathematical mind (2007) and here, it is the freely chosen play that enables these new discoveries.

In the current climate, it is important to provide children with inviting play spaces however small. At home, caring adults may be called upon to play in lieu of other children.  Play is so important because it is through interaction with others that children are able to “co-ordinate their ideas and feelings and make sense of relationships with family, friends and culture” (Bruce,1991, p50).  It is this play that enables children to express thoughts and feelings. When lockdown changes everything, parents can feel confident in the importance of play as a time and space for children to express themselves.

It is through playing with others that children can also develop empathy. One parent shared that their child’s favourite lockdown game was shopping now that their child no-longer went to the shops.  Playing shops and turn-taking with others allows children to take on new roles, mark-make and it also gives a child the responsibility of creating rules. “We only sell ice-cream, hot chocolate and bananas here”. When we are unable to make firm plans and are unsure what the future will bring it is more important than ever that children can develop positive relationships with others. Play can provide the platform to develop “emotional understanding and ‘theory of mind’ abilities.” (Brodie, 2012, pg149) and it is this which will help develop self-confidence and sense of self which in turn supports resilience.  Playing can enable a child to understand and respond to the needs of others and it is these skills that are crucial for the developing child in an uncertain world.

Play is the means, by which children safely challenge, experiment and understand the world around them.  Montessori believed that “Imagination is the real substance of our intelligence. All theory, all progress, comes from the mind’s capacity to reconstruct something.” (Montessori, 2012, pg191). Talking about and representing experiences allows a child to simulate scenarios so that they may be better equipped to deal with them in the future.  When we witness children’s role-play we see children’s understanding re-enacted and reconstructed.  This is an idea that is supported by Bruce who notes that ‘free flow play’ (Bruce, 2004) is crucial to children’s development and that it creates “whole people, able to keep balancing their lives in a fast-changing world.” (Bruce, 2004, pg150). More than ever, we need to encourage our children to play as the world around us changes at break-neck speed.

Seeing the children return to school after lockdown has been momentous.  The children are energetic and full of joy.  Their play has been creative and exciting. We are grateful to all the families for placing their trust in us again and sending their children back to school where we have been privileged to watch the most incredible play.  We have seen theatre productions with sets and puppets made by the children. New shops and café’s have emerged and at the doctor’s surgery even the youngest of children have been using the stethoscope and providing medicine. Children have climbed and cycled and scooted.  They have painted, made collages and used chalk. They have made tally charts for bug hunts and have played hide and seek and duck, duck goose. The richness of children’s play is limitless.  Montessori notes that children have an absorbent mind (2007).  Here is the conversation between three children that demonstrates how much children absorb and the importance of play as children make sense of their ever-changing world and the key events that affect them.

3 children stand at the play kitchen.

‘This is our kitchen. We need to wash hands before we start’ says Child 1.

 She rubs her hands together and says ‘spsch, spsch’ (miming the movement of the new automatic soap dispenser).

‘Yes, we need to be careful of all the microbes’ says Child 2 waving her arms high in the air.

 ‘Yes and the virus’ says Child 3 picking up a metal ladle.

 ‘This is our cafe for soup’ says Child 1 stirring the water in a pan.

‘I do not go to cafes anymore because of the virus’ says Child 2

 ‘This cafe is safe because we have washed our hands and we are very clean at xx (name of school) says Child 1.

 ‘Yes. OK. Also, I have very long hair because I did not get a hair cut since the virus’. Child 2 holds up a piece of hair to demonstrate.

 ‘Me too. I did not get a hair-cut because it is virus time’ says Child 1

 ‘Now we can add leaves and make salad soup’ says Child 3

Soon we will go to big school and virus time will finish’ says Child 2 ‘but now it is soup time and salad time at the clean cafe’.


Athey, C (1990, 2007) Extending Thought in Young Children, London: Sage Publications

Brodie, K. (2012) Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development, in Veale, F. (ed) Early years for levels 4 & 5 and the Foundation Degree London: Hodder Education p.142-162

Bruce, T. (2004) Developing Learning in Early Childhood London: Sage Publications Ltd

Bruce, T. (1991) Time to Play in Early Childhood Education London: Hodder & Stoughton

Montessori, M (2007) The Absorbent Mind Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

Montessori, M. (2012) The 1946 London Lectures Amsterdam: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company

MCI, (2020) Parent Survey, London: Montessori Group

One thought on “The Clean Cafe – an Observation of Post-Lockdown Play…

  1. Hannah,
    Thank you for such a vivid panorama of different ways children play and how important and meaningful all of them are.
    I would have the soup any time at the clean cafe!!! 🙂

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