When adults observe children at play, we’re often charmed by the amount of imagination involved.
For example a stick can quickly become a stirring spoon, and a pile of rocks can represent a hearty soup.
This is an example of imagination at work, however it’s not an example of fantasy play. A stirring spoon and a pot of soup are two items firmly based in reality! Children will have encountered them in real life.
The difference between imagination and fantasy is a tricky one. Montessori observed that children under the age or 5 or 6 don’t really have the capacity to differentiate between the two.
So how can we support a child’s imaginative and open play while also helping them establish a firm foundation in the real world?
Here are tips for reality-based play at home, with help from Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook:
When choosing books:
We know of course that dolls don’t magically come to life when we’re out of the room, but does a 2-year old know that? Perhaps not.
When choosing books for young children, try to find reality-based books without talking animals or fantastical elements like dragons or fairies.
Instead, choose stories that showcase activities your child does everyday, like getting ready for school or playing with friends. Simone recommends “Sunshine” by Jan Ormerod.
When choosing play materials and toys:
Open up the opportunities for your child’s imaginative play by providing open-ended toys. Blocks, magnet tiles or balls of different sizes can become a million different things in your child’s imagination.
For this reason, avoid toys that have one specific purpose. For example, a fairy or princess costume is a bit more prescriptive than a simple brightly colored scarf.
When choosing furniture:
Lastly, Montessori observed in her classroom that children were more interested in real items than pretend play. Whenever possible, try providing your child with real tools to do real activities.
For example, rather than a pretend tea set, find a simple ceramic tea set that your child can actually serve and drink tea from. Have a tea party together!
Other examples might be brooms and mops that actually work to clean, a kitchen set that your child can actually prepare food with, or a dishwashing station that your child can use to clean their own dishes!
Of course, every family chooses to engage in imaginative, pretend or fantasy play in their own way! The tips above are based on observations Maria Montessori made and then incorporated into her educational philosophy, but above all, she advocated to follow the child.
However they choose to play.
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