As a blogger/social media presence, I occasionally get nasty comments directed toward me and my way of doing Montessori. One thing that we do in our Montessori family that others have attacked me for is allowing pretend play. Apparently there are many people out there who believe that if we were truly Montessori enough, we wouldn’t do ANY pretend play.
Well, I have some news for you. If your child attends a Montessori school for any amount of time, she is engaging in some amount of pretend play. If your child simply exists at all, she is engaging in some form of pretend play at some point in her life — whether you like it or not. You can’t STOP children from engaging in pretend play.
What kind of pretend play am I talking about?
I’m talking about child-led and initiated pretend play that is really just a way for the child to practice social situations and other skills in a safe space — the space of a pretend world, where there are no big scary consequences if something goes wrong. Now, I’m all about natural consequences in real life situations, but I also see the appeal of practicing ahead of time — as adults, we call it “role-playing,” such as when we are getting ready for a job interview.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism in the Montessori world especially regarding play kitchens — did you know that “real” Montessori families don’t have a play kitchen? And if they do, they have totally remodeled it to make it a working child-sized kitchen?
Listen: that’s a great idea. It really is. But did you know that you could do both? You could allow your child to work beside you in your kitchen (on a helper tower, that real kitchen is now “child-sized”), and still allow her to have her own small play kitchen. Because you know what? We can’t have birthday parties every day. We can’t bake, decorate, and eat a birthday cake every day in a beautifully remodeled kitchen fit for a tiny queen — and that’s what my girls want to do. But we can DEFINITELY bake, decorate, and eat a pretend birthday cake every day. We won’t even need to adjust our exercise regimens.
Montessori doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and.
This is a combination birthday party/tea party for a few of the girls’ favorite baby dolls. Do you know what value I see in this single scene?
- Grace & Courtesy — The girls are practicing serving each other and their dolls.
- Math Skills — They needed to provide the correct number of plates and slices of cake to make sure each guest had one.
- Turn-Taking and Cooperative Play — There’s only one pretend birthday cake. The girls have to work together to decide who’s doing what in this pretend world.
- Sequencing — It may be a pretend cake, but there is still a certain sequence of steps that must take place in order for this party to work.
- Problem-Solving Skills — Sometimes the girls don’t agree on how the imaginary scenario should play out. Then they have to decide what they’re going to do about that.
Yes, they could gain those same skills from real work in a real working kitchen — and they do. But they want to have a birthday party/tea party EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And this way, they can!
So what about fantasy? The typical Montessori understanding is that young children cannot get a good grasp on things that are not based in reality — such as wicked witches and enchanted forests, etc. — and therefore you would NEVER find things from the fantasy world in a Montessori home.
However, we participate in the world around us. Unless we hide out in a cave underground, I can’t stop my children from being interested in fantasy things they see EVERYWHERE such as princesses, mermaids, and other things that aren’t based in reality. Take a walk through Target and tell me that you never once encounter a character from a fantasy realm. Even if we were a completely screen-free family (we are not), MY KIDS HAVE FRIENDS. And their friends’ families have their own rules and their own toys and their own games, and we are introduced to their world when we interact with them.
We have princess things. We have dress-up clothes that are not based in reality. We have books with animal characters that wear clothes and speak English. And you know what? The kids will be just fine.
So, relax a little bit. Give yourself a break. Stop making Montessori so much about “the rules” and just work with what you have. Now excuse me while I go drink a cup of pretend tea that my daughter made me — because honestly, I don’t like real tea.