In a Montessori classroom, students interact peacefully. There is a productive, continuous hum in the room because the children move around with purpose, care, and respect for one another. For visitors who are to Montessori, this harmonious, individualized play can be surprising. But this type of dynamic is achieved with great intention, and it can be achieved in your home as well.
What is Parallel Play?
Parallel play is a form of interaction in which children play adjacent to each other but do not try to influence one another’s activity or behavior. A child might be interested in what another child near him is doing, but he is still content to play alone.
In a Montessori classroom, parallel play looks like this: Two children are side-by-side, each absorbed in their own work. Clear, simple guidelines that are consistently implemented in the classroom make it possible for these children to move and interact freely, choosing their work and their workspace with minimal conflict. In a Montessori classroom, each child may only use one activity at a time, and that activity may not be used by another child until it has been returned to its designated spot on the shelf. Since children still may find the work of others interesting, children are shown how to ask permission first, then stand quietly to watch another child working. In their classroom, children may not touch another’s work.
When Do We See Parallel Play?
Parallel play usually occurs between the ages of 1 and 4. This is a stage in which the child is still learning to understand and respond to her physical world, and her play is focused on understanding the relationship between her own actions and the object she is playing with. Sharing an activity that involves coordinating with the interests and actions of another child is too much for the young child, who is determined instead to test possibilities, outcomes, and reactions that occur in relation to her own interactions with the object she has chosen.
Parallel play is seen as a precursor to social play, which will come between the ages of 4 and 5, when the child’s developmental urge pushes her to work together with others.
How to Achieve Parallel Play at Home
Children in a Montessori classroom work among one another peacefully because they are in an orderly environment and they’ve begun to internalize the guidelines given to them. You can offer similar guidelines at home. Here are ways to minimize conflict among siblings:
- If there is only one of a particular item, set the expectation that only a single child can use it. When children know they can play with an item for as long as they like without interruption, they become more relaxed, purposeful, and generous toward others.
- If a child is working with something, allow that child to engage deeply with the activity by ensuring that other children do not touch or interrupt. When the child is finished and the item is put away, only then may another child choose that activity.
- Set clear expectations of where things belong.
- Less is more in your child’s play area. Prepare shelves with items suited to each of your children’s developmental stages, then switch out as needed, showing how to use new materials as they are introduced.
- Talk often about order and consistency in the home and establish routines that can help your children feel comfortable in their environments.
- Discuss and model respect for all people in the home to avoid authority of one sibling over the other.
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