Is Montessori against fantasy and creativity?
Let's start by noting that fantasy and creativity are two different things. Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting where as creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Creativity comes from within the child where as fantasy is something that the child is exposed to.
Montessori is about helping the child find ways to use their creativity and to inspire them to do so. We do this by giving them the tools and the foundations to express themselves. You can see some examples of this in the childs’ art work, music or creative writing. For example, when introducing the child to painting we model different techniques of painting but do not show them how to paint something. Think of the generic kindergarten painting with the line of blue sky at the top of the page, the sun in the corner and a little square house with a triangle roof. This kind of illustration does not come from the childs imagination but what they have seen other children paint or what others have shown them.
Dr Montessori taught us that if we show the child exactly what we want them to paint and how to paint it then we will hinder the child's creativity and self confidence. If a child has ‘scribbled’ on a piece of paper it is important not to ask the child what they have drawn, merely point out the colours that you like or the emotion that it gives you. This way the child can understand that art doesn't have to be something specific, it can depict feeling and emotions in an abstract way.
Research has shown that most children before the age of five are unable to differentiate between real and fictitious characters and situations. This is the reason that you will not see fictional books and TV Shows in a Montessori environment. If you read a picture book to your child about fairies then another book about elephants how can they understand that one, an elephant is real while a fairy is not?
When Dr Montessori opened her first school she filled it with traditional make-believe toys. Through her observations she found that when the children were given the opportunity to work with real materials through cooking, cleaning, helping to take care of a real baby, they lost interest in the make-believe toys and focused only on the real work. Through these observations Montessori concluded that ‘real activities’ were more important to the child as they helped the child to make sense of the world around them and taught them skills that they need in their everyday life.
*Please note that this view is for the ages 0-6, the absorbent mind, when children are absorbing everything within their world. After this age, children start to develop the ability to understand real vs pretend
“How is it possible for the child’s imagination to be developed by that which is in truth the fruit of the adult’s imagination? We alone imagine, not they; they merely believe.” -Maria Montessori
- Rebecca Grugan