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We all know that play is good for children. But research shows that it is integral to the development of their brains and that human beings are, in fact, designed by nature, to flourish through play.

One Montessori myth is that Montessori students are not encouraged to ‘play’ and that they have an overly structured curriculum. In fact, if asked about her day at school, a Montessori four-year-old would proudly recount all the ‘works’ she accomplished: a little Type A personality in training! To compound this myth, early-childhood Montessori students do, in fact, spend a substantial amount of classroom time sweeping floors and washing tables, tasks that we, as adults, would describe as ‘work.’

A Montessori Children’s House is very different from typical preschool programs for young children. You will not find books about fantasy or fairy tales in Montessori classrooms. No dolls. No toy trucks. No make-believe stoves. No dress-up
corner. No garish bright colors.

Is Montessori too work oriented for young children?

Maybe it all comes down to a definition of play and work.

If you have ever observed a young child at play with his favorite toys, you can see that they are quite in tune with the world of fantasy and imagination. They do not need to be taught how to imagine that squirrels can talk or that a fairy princess can fly. They don’t need help with fantasy. When I recently interrupted my three-year-old grandson at play, he gave me an incredulous, frustrated look and responded, “I’m talking to Thomas!” Thomas being “Thomas the Train™.” He was, indeed, talking to a toy train.

Jackson was deeply engrossed in the very worthwhile work of play. He was honing his language skills and was role-playing dialogue, giving life to Thomas. He was practicing social interaction in a safe, non-judgmental environment of his own creation. I also watched him pick up my cell phone, hold it in place with his shoulder, so that he had both hands free to play, and begin to pretend he was talking to somebody about Thomas. He was in the zone and was at peace.

Disaster struck when his younger brother, Hudson, wandered into his ‘work’ zone and moved some train track. Jackson was clearly frustrated and upset that his carefully arranged work had suffered a mishap; however he wanted to continue his ‘work,’ so he asked Hudson to stop. “Hudson, stop!!!!!” Not surprising, Hudson didn’t stop, which caused Jackson to become angry, lashing out at his brother, first with words and then with a push, which ultimately resulted with both kids in tears and the imaginary Island of Sodor in total disarray.

I could have intervened, but I didn’t. Not because I didn’t care. In fact, it would have been in my short-term best interest to have at least tried to keep the peace and avoid the turmoil. But what would I have accomplished, and what would the children have learned from the experience?