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Misconception: Montessori schools do not allow for fantasy and inhibit children from using their imagination
We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry. Dr. Maria Montessori
The concepts of creativity, fantasy and imagination are some of the most hotly debated topics in Montessori education. One needs to keep in mind though that they were not Dr. Montessori’s actually words. She used early Italian words which were then translated into these words for the English speaking public in the early 1900’s. Since that time, their meanings have changed.
Today the meaning of creativity, fantasy and imagination almost synonymous, but in Dr. Montessori’s time they had different meanings.
fantasy - the departure of truth from reality. Another more up to date term that I have heard from my Italian speaking family members is “day dreaming”.
imagination- the use of ones intellect and ability to design something new and different.
creativity- the act of Imagination
When Dr. Montessori opened her first school for 3-6-year-olds she filled it with dolls and other traditional make-believe toys, but she soon found that when children were given the opportunity to do real work such as cooking, cleaning, caring for themselves, each other, and the environment, they completely lost interest in make-believe and preferred real work.
As time continued Dr. Montessori also noticed that young children had a hard time distinguishing between real and imaginary. They were constantly asking. “Is this real?” This observation still rings true today, as Barbara Curtis author of the Montessori BLOG Mommy Life says, “How is a three or four year old American child reading picture books to understand that though he's never seen one, a camel is real while a fairy is not? Or that places like the Grand Canyon or the Sahara Desert or Niagara Falls or the Great Wall of China are real while Disneyland is not”
Additionally, part of Friedrich Froebel's kindergarten curriculum was teacher guided imaginary play. Although Montessori agreed with Froebel an many aspects of education, here was one place their beliefs diverged. Montessori felt that instead of pretending to be a farmer, children understand farming better by actually tending a garden, instead of pretending to be cooking dinner, children learn more by actually cooking. So at times some of Dr. Montessori's comments on fantasy were actually a direct commentary on Froebel's guided imaginary play.
It was through these observations that Dr. Montessori spoke out against fantasy- the adult lead departure of truth from reality and why she felt that “real activities” as opposed to make believe ones were more important to the young child trying to make sense of the world around them. It was her belief that the world is such an amazing and wonder-filled place, that we should focus on giving as much of it as we can to the young child to help them discover everything possible about our natural world.
In addition, she believed that dance, art and music activities, usually considered "creative activities" were integral parts of the Montessori classroom.
"Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination. Everything invented by human beings, physical or mental, is the fruit of someone's imagination. In the study of history and geography we are helpless without imagination, and when we propose to introduce the universe to the child, what but the imagination can be of use to us? I consider it a crime to present such subjects as may be noble and creative aids to the imaginative faculty in such a manner as to deny its use, and on the other hand to require children to memorize that which they have not been able to visualize..... The secret of good teaching is to regard the children's intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the children understand, and still less to force them to memorize, but so to touch their imagination as to enthuse them to their inmost core. We do not want complacent pupils but eager ones; we seek to sow life in children rather than theories, to help them in their growth, mental and emotional as well as physical." Dr. Maria Montessori