Pretend or imaginative play has not traditionally been a part of the Montessori 3-6 year old curriculum. And yet, if we follow Montessori’s golden rule of “follow the child” we will see that nearly all children move toward imaginative play at some point in early childhood.
As time for pretend play has slowly disappeared in modern times, researchers have started to understand the value of this common childhood activity. Pretend play supports children’s language development, imaginations, cooperation and problem solving skills. It helps grow their social and emotional intelligence and gives them a place to rehearse for life. This is why we feel that having time for pretend play, especially in the home environment, is essential!
The good news
The good news is that you really don’t have to do anything to support your child’s imaginative play other than make time for it. If your child is over-scheduled it is unlikely they will be able to really develop and get what they need from their pretend play. If we can guard their open ended free time, their own version of pretend play will likely blossom on its own.
Solo pretend play and joint pretend play are both valuable. If you are invited into the play, see if you can meet the invitation as an opportunity to remember how to pretend! It is often a stretch for adults but it is a good one! If you are pretending about something “real” that they have never done before, include as many real details as possible. This can help your child learn about what it is like to do that thing.
For example, children can learn a great deal about what going on an airplane is like by pretending about going with someone who has been before! Along with learning new vocabulary and ideas, they will also be more comfortable and confident the first time they do go on an airplane.
Children of this age also delight in doing “real work”, like cooking meals and helping to fix things around the house. Adults are often amazed that, given the right support and tools, children of this age are capable of so much! In fact, our young ones thrive when given opportunities to do real work.
The problem is that too often our houses are set up for adult convenience and the tools we use are made for adult hands. This can be very frustrating and deflating for a child. If we can find ways to support them doing real work with us, and on their own it will increase their confidence and decrease their frustration.
Benefits of practical life activities
Young children are working hard to become capable at basic “practical life” skills. These are skills like sweeping the floor, pouring a glass of water and dressing oneself. It often takes all of early childhood to become masterful at these skills. Giving children the chance to work with real tools, meant for people their size is essential for their ability to master these skills. Not only does this encourage independence, it also helps lower the child’s frustration levels and increases their confidence.
Ways to support real work at home
- Tools: Be on the lookout for child size “real” tools for them to work with. Try the items out to make sure they work. Many items made for children do not work well. Montessori Services has a wonderful selection.
- Time: If you invite a young one to cook, clean or create with you, know that it will take much longer than if you do it on your own. Try to remember that what you are making together is not just a cake. You are also helping your child create concentration, confidence and practical life skills. You are also creating sweet memories and a deeper connection. This all takes longer than just baking a cake would!
- Step by Step: If they are interested in doing some of the work themselves, give them a slow step by step lesson of the activity before you let them loose. Model it for them. Show them what to do if something spills or doesn’t go as expected. Stay with them the first few times they attempt it. Then leave out the items needed for that job in a basket on the toy shelf or in another area. Make sure it is always kept in the same spot.
- Let Go of Perfection: When your child cleans the windows, waters the plants or folds the laundry at this age it will not be perfect. The goal is not perfection. The goal is growing their sense of care and respect for the environment along with their confidence and independence. They will often self-correct, and continue to get more able on their own.
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan