Montessori & the Imagination

Last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2013 International Montessori Congress which was held right here in Portland, Oregon. It was a momentous occasion; Montessorians from all around the world gathered together to learn from each other and to celebrate the Montessori community.


As a volunteer, I was fortunate enough to sit in on one of the lectures. I heard Sarah Werner Andrews, AMI Primary Trainer at MNW, speak about the development of the imagination and the role of pretend play in a Montessori environment. 

This is such a fascinating subject to me because, as Mrs. Andrews pointed out, many Montessori teachers and parents, as well as critics of the philosophy, often believe that Dr. Montessori discouraged imaginative play. It is true, of course, that a Montessori environment provides students with reality-based "works", but does that mean that Dr. Montessori did not feel that it was important to develop the child's imagination? 

"We cannot make discoveries unless we can first imagine what we are seeking. We must not think that the imagination works only through fairy tales. All the intellect works like a form of the imagination. Imagination is the real substance of our intelligence. All theory and all progress comes from the mind's capacity to construct something." -Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World , Chapter 3

Clearly, Maria Montessori did see the importance of developing the child's imagination. She just believed that, in order to do so, we must provide the child with new, reality-based experiences. For instance, one comparison that was given in the lecture was that of a child who is given a pretend kitchen, pretend cooking utensils, and pretend food versus a child who is given actual cooking utensils, actual ingredients, and who can perform the actual work of making bread. 

In this comparison, the child with the pretend kitchen is using his imagination so that he may "cook", whereas the child who is actually doing the work of making bread is free to use his imagination in other ways. In other words, by giving the child reality-based experiences such as cooking, we are able to free his imagination so that he may use it to conjure up new ideas. 

This lecture certainly provided food for thought. I look forward to delving further into the writings of Dr. Montessori so that I can better understand her views on the imagination of the child. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.