The Montessori approach to play is different from those of play-based preschools. Montessori play is rooted in reality because Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method, discovered that children prefer real things over the pretend. For example, if a child is given two choices: play pretend cook or play real cook, they’ll choose to play real cook.
In a Montessori preschool, children are given the opportunity to play in different ways than at home. They can pretend to be fairies and princesses at home, because that’s accessible play. Playing a real cook, real scientist, or even a real botanist can be difficult if a child doesn’t have the right resources. Montessori gives children those opportunities, and teaches them how to replicate it at home.
Playing is real
In a Montessori preschool, students learn how to be self-reliant by “playing real.” During the Practical Life Exercises portion of their curriculum, they might begin by watching a demonstration of adults doing everyday housework like dish washing, hand washing, and sweeping. Next, the students copy the adults. In a way, it’s the game of copycat, but partnered with real life.
For the Botany curriculum at Hill Point Montessori preschool, students don’t pretend to have gardens. They’re given real plants of their own to nurture and study. The Science curriculum turns pretend scientists into real scientists with tangible experiments. Each curriculum area supports the realism of play, because the Montessori method values the intersection of learning and the innate curiosity of children. This intersection is also the underlying philosophy of the Montessori method.
Playing is learning
As Dr. Maria Montesssori notably said, “Play is the work of the child.” When Montessori students copy the adults setting the table, they’re not only playing copycat. They’re learning how to set tables for themselves outside of the classroom. When they water their plants, prepare food for themselves, and decide what they want to learn next in class, they “play” a game of independence.
After each successful task, Montessori students feel joy and pride at accomplishing something tangible. Pretend play doesn’t offer the same benefits because it’s over and done. Real play transcends beyond the classroom, where students feel proud when they can replicate their learned behavior on their own, without a teacher in front of them.
Try real play at home
If you’re a working parent, try putting aside time on the weekend for your child to play real with you. Prepare a family meal, plant a garden, or play teacher with a real curriculum. If you know your child won’t focus and would rather play pretend, have you tried it out before? If your answer is yes, then your child is probably not in the right mood.
Real play and pretend play are two sides of the same coin, so don’t give up on either.