The Importance of Play in the Classroom

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“Play is the work of the child”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Educational Environment

It is a common misconception that a child at play is a child engaging in frivolous activities. However, the Montessori philosophy teaches us that there is no such thing as unimportant playtime. To a child, there is no distinction between play and work, which is why Montessori classrooms refer to the activities of the children as work. Each activity is seen as a crucial skill that helps development on a deeper level. Children will pursue work they are drawn to. 

This fosters not only a child’s sense of independence, but helps them explore different skill sets.

“When the child chooses, no matter what they choose, they are answering to an inner need.” (The Guidepost Team 2022). 

Providing work that challenges the child in their environment encourages them to learn how to participate in everyday tasks. Charging a child with sweeping the floor, for example, sets a precedent that, not only is this task within the child’s ability, but that they are now on a closer level to the adults in their life.

As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges” (Ginsburg 2007).

In early childhood education in particular, Maria Montessori discovered that the work chosen by children under the age of six “were based in reality”. Doing so is a way to understand the world around them and test their boundaries in it. Furthermore, she found that when they were supported and encouraged by their guardians and teachers, they grew into adults that were generally more confident and independent.

Social Development

There’s a certain sense of pride that comes with practical life work, pride that can grow into a full sense of being. That sense of being is essential to the development of a child’s social skills. With the confidence in their abilities in the world, children are more likely to extend their play and work time to include others. In doing so, they begin to understand how to interact with them. They build a sense of community and comfortability as they learn to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, and develop self advocacy skills.

In the classroom, children are encouraged to work on their own, however, group play is critical to this development. There are many ways to do this, the most obvious being scheduled outside time. Children are given the freedom to get their energy out, to engage with each other, and to start applying their imaginations outside of the classroom.

Another method of group play can be done with group time in the classroom. Here the children are brought together to sing songs and do adult guided activities. This is a great way to establish a sense of community within the class!  

Development of Creativity

Another misconception is that the Montessori Philosophy smothers creativity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it allows the child the freedom to test their own limits in reality before making those creative leaps into the unknown. Dr. Montessori found that children who were actively engaged in work that grounded them later developed a passion for creative thinking. 

“The emphasis on reality is a precursor to creativity, not an antidote” (The Guidepost Team 2022).

If this work is self driven, children are allowed the freedom to discover new interests and passions. They are encouraged to test the boundaries of those interests, to challenge them, and use their imaginations in the process. Montessori work “allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength” (Ginsburg 2007). 

Independent work as play allows children to learn to engage and interact with the world around them. Children are able to master their abilities in it, and helps develop new competencies that lead to confidence and resilience to tackle any challenges laid before them.