Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” When children are allowed to explore their world through meaningful activities, they can learn an unfathomable amount about their world. In a prepared environment, such as a Montessori classroom, children can both experience and play at the same time. That results in satisfaction, because the child is able to satiate their curiosity about the world while having fun.
When you see a Montessori classroom for the first time, you may be surprised that the typical schoolwork looks a little less like fanciful play and more like real-life. Children are tying on aprons and making snacks for themselves, or they are teaching another child how to turn on the tap water.
But are Montessori activities and open-ended play completely different? Or is there a chance for them to intermingle? Let’s find out.
What is Open-Ended Play?
Open-ended play is often described as endless possibilities during playtime, where there are no rules, no instructions, and no guidelines for children to follow. There is no right or wrong way to go about completing a project. Open-ended play allows for children to make their own decisions and to use their imagination without limits.
Montessori schools are sometimes considered anti-play, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Montessori classroom allows and even encourages play. What separates Montessori activities from open-ended play, however, is play pretend. You won’t find fantasy in Montessori schools. Rather than playing dress-up or reading about unicorns, children learn about the real world and how it works through playful exploration.
How Montessori Approaches Playtime
The Montessori program for young children is much different from a traditional school. Here are the five characteristics of play that you will see in Montessori schools in Philadelphia:
1. Play is a process, not an end
Play is something that is done for the sake of doing it, not to arrive at some end result. An example of this is activities considered practical for life, things that adults believe have a goal, such as wiping a mirror or sewing up a hole in a shirt. Adults do these things to accomplish something, whereas a child might spend hours washing dishes simply because they like it and want to gain mastery over it.
Another example is creating something for the sake of creating rather than gaining something in the end. When a child in a Montessori classroom constructs a tower out of wooden blocks, getting more elaborate each time, they aren’t doing it because they want the tower. They’re doing it to gain mastery over increasingly difficult designs.
2. Children are free to quit
In a quality Philadelphia Montessori school, children get three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon to choose what activities they wish to engage in. They do not have to engage with group activities if they don’t want to; the teacher doesn’t direct them to doing something; and they aren’t told how long they must stick with a project or when to quit.
Freedom is honored in Montessori classrooms. That means that the children are never forced to do anything. Rather, the teacher invites the children to learn something new, and a child can politely say no. After a lesson is done, the child can also choose to return their materials and do something else.
To Montessori, the best kind of play is what a child wants to do, not what they’re told to do.
3. Imagination and reality work together
As mentioned earlier, Montessori classrooms don’t send children on imaginative journeys where they serve fairy food to imaginary friends while pretending to be royalty. That doesn’t mean imaginative play is absent from Montessori schools, though.
Children are surrounded by the real world, of a world where they can be fully independent, where they can learn about distant lands and history and nature. They learn about other people who do miraculous things every single day, and while they cannot do that themselves in the moment, they imagine the scenario and gain valuable knowledge about what is possible.
4. Mental rules guide play
Montessori schools near me and beyond encourage Montessori materials to be used for a set purpose. In other words, play has structure that is understood by those involved. A child understands that a spoon can be used to pick up beads and transport them without creating a mess. The same goes for rolling up mats tightly so they stand upright or that a carafe holds water for effortless pouring.
With Montessori activities, children gain experience in the art of being a person and comprehending shared conceptions within society.
5. Play isn’t stressful
When you observe a Montessori classroom, you might be surprised that it doesn’t feel like a park playground, where everything is tense, high energy, and emotional. Instead, the children are intent, focused, and purposeful. The quiet might seem unnatural, but all it means is that the children are so engaged with the activity that they chose that nothing can distract them from it. And that’s a good sign. As Maria Montessori put it, “The child who concentrates is immensely happy.”
Does That Mean There’s No Open-Ended Play in Montessori Classrooms?
That isn’t the case at all. A Montessori classroom is structured around helping children gain independence and satisfaction from their mastery of a skill. Yet, throughout the process of learning and once mastery is gained, there are plenty of chances for open-ended play to happen naturally.
Here are some examples of open-ended play in a Montessori classroom:
- A child who understands the contents of a kitchen can happily make and serve snacks for themselves and others
- Using a wide range of artistic materials—paper, chalk, crayons, paint—to create artwork of their own
- Children teaching one another about a subject they just read about
- Making animals or other items out of clay
- Outdoor adventures, such as gardening and learning about the natural world
Montessori is, without a doubt, learning through play. However, it might be different from the kind of open-ended play you see elsewhere. In the Montessori classroom, there is a foundation of reality that leads to all kinds of life lessons. Just because there is a lack of fantasy doesn’t mean the children aren’t having fun.
Have more questions about Montessori schools in Philadelphia or want to know more about the programs we offer? Get in touch by filling out the contact form or calling us.