Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Responses to comments

Supposedly, all the comments (including the originally missing one) are posted, but when I actually visit the blog, they are not there! I don't know what's going on with Blogspot at the moment. I may copy and paste the comments in myself later on. Here, however, is my response! I hope it makes sense! It took me at least a couple of hours, many distractions, etc.

What great feedback! It will help me in honing in better to explain things for those less familiar with this aspect of Montessori. It’s so easy to just come from a place of understanding that I don’t consciously think about and just kind of assume everyone’s at the same place I am!

I’m going to tackle evenspor’s comment first:

First, I’d like to make a distinction between imaginary play and fantasy play. Pretending a baby doll is a real baby is imaginary; pretending about fairies is fantasy. It’s impossible. They don’t exist and they certainly don’t have castles. I don’t know if Maria Montessori actually wrote about this distinction, but things I’ve gathered from things written by others make a big distinction between the two. Just to explain my use of fantasy in my previous posts.

My son (around 3 at the time) engaged in pretend play after we saw the car across the street on fire. He spent a week playing with a little fire truck and some cars and how the fire truck came to put out the fire on the cars. It was his way of processing the event and it was very good for him. That said: I would be appalled if a Montessori primary classroom I had him enrolled in had him spending his time pretending or encouraging him to pretend. I would not be spending the money for a Montessori education for him to be spending his time playing like that!

But, I will reiterate what I recall Maria Montessori actually writing on the topic: pretend/fantasy/imaginative (take your pick ;) ) play is normal, children do it, but for a child under 6, she felt, and I agree with her, that a school’s job is not to provide a means for imaginary play but to help the child better connect with the real world around them. That is not to say that imaginary play doesn’t have therapeutic purposes in certain situations, but we aren’t talking therapy here: we are talking an educational approach to teaching children ages 3-6.

I wonder if part of the problem is that Montessori is being seen as a “preschool”, which in many cases today is very much like an educational daycare (if you’re lucky!). Montessori is not a daycare; it is a school. Its aim is to educate. And so, again, I have to say that pretend play has no place to be encouraged, and must be absolutely discouraged when it happens with the materials, in a Montessori school. In a Montessori home, I would expect pretend play because a home is about raising the child 24 hours a day, not just 15-30 hours a week. (Just again a reminder that we are talking 3-6yo’s here; it’s an entirely different ball of wax for those above 6. And the original question was about using Montessori materials for fantasy play.)

Now as for fantasy play not accomplishing something real, I don’t think I actually said that. I think I said that it takes the child away from what is real and what is right now. Some imaginary play may connect the child with what is real, like my son at age 3, and some imaginary play is to substitute for something real the children would like to do that they can’t, like play kitchens and baby dolls, and other pretend play that is all about fun. But this has nothing to do with the instructional focus of what is Montessori education. I do not need to educate my son in how to play with fire trucks. :) (Of course, then there is fantasy/pretend play that goes too far where the child can not seem to disconnect from the play, either out of habit or escapism, but that might be a whole other topic).

The more I write this time, the more I feel I am focused on: Montessori is an educational approach, with an aim to be teaching the children something. The Montessori classroom for the 3-6’s is a school, not a preschool (which actually means “before school”). Montessori does not say pretend play is not allowed, simply not (usually) in the Montessori classroom where the focus is on developing a wide range of skills, developing concentration—reaching everything that it means to be “normalized”. How do you educationally address a young child’s fantasy play, especially when it was found over and over that if you connect them with a variety of here-and-now activities, they become focused and content and work very happily? And not only that, but do away with the pretend play on their own during that school time?

What am I talking about? Paula Polk Lillard describes in “Montessori in the Classroom” how she allowed a small box of toys in the classroom. At the end of each session in the beginning days, the children had time where they could choose one toy and play in a fashion that did not disturb others. It took very little time before the children kept themselves so busy with the activities available in the classroom that they did not even care about the toys. Maria Montessori had found the same thing years earlier. She had put toys in the classroom at first. They ended up untouched. I think that is very telling.

As for the “whole child” lauding, I find it hard to not take the term literally and don’t think any approach actually does it. ;) I don’t know if it’s a term Maria Montessori ever used to describe her philosophy or if others used it because of their understanding of what it means.

As for the second comment, about imagination-poor households: I don’t believe that’s the norm (although I do agree it’s an increasing phenomenon), especially for the likely well-to-do families sending their children to a Montessori school. Plus, the better schools ask parents to not have their young children watch TV, etc. But, I could just be naïve, I admit. I have heard of some Montessori primary classrooms allowing at the end of the day a brief period of imaginary play. I don’t know how they make it work or how it affects the child’s work or development during the other part of the day, especially since we are talking 3-6-year olds. But it might be a workable solution. In proper Montessori fashion, the directress would experiment and observe what happens over time with and without the playtime. I do not see how actually encouraging or allowing imaginary play with the materials (which was the original question) during the actual education time could be helpful to the classroom. Maybe the idea of the toy box shared above is one that could be kept, with the faith that what happened in the past in Montessori classrooms can happen again, as long as the activity levels are consistent with the Montessori approach (kids shouldn’t be running around screaming, etc.).

As for outdoor time, it really ought to be a part of a Montessori education, although I know it doesn’t always happen. That’s the particular problem of that Montessori school; I don’t think it would provide a reason for allowing pretend play.

As for imagination, the imagination of a 3-6yo is vastly different from the imagination of older children and adults. Calling the Pink Tower a fairy castle isn’t really what I would consider using the imagination to create something. This is a harder topic to cover and one I can’t really touch on at the moment; especially since this response is getting VERY long!

There is something about the objections that leave me with a feeling that there is a push for Montessori to be the perfect approach that will encompass every potential psychological, emotional, physical, social, etc. need, including those brought on by the disordered society in which we now find ourselves living. Part of that disorder is that we live in a society where so many schools and businesses and organizations try to be all things to all people. We can’t do it. The Montessori Method is an educational approach, not a method of therapy. It should not be a school, a therapy centre, a child-rescue centre, etc. and everything that it can possibly be to help children. It is a school. If a child’s home life is so disordered that a Montessori classroom has to change its ways in order to benefit him, it simply may not be the right place for that child. And yet, I can’t help thinking that a 3-6yo child deprived of imaginative time at home would still reach that point of normalization in a traditional Montessori classroom where he could be part of reality rather than in front of a tv screen or video games all day.

I can’t comment on Montessori’s assertion that “the imagination should be separated from the development of the child” because I don’t know where she ever said that. Her basic premise was that children already imagine and do a fine job at it (let’s leave the exceptions out of it!) and our job is to help the 3-6yo child connect with the world around them.

Those wishing to really understand where Maria Montessori came from on this topic really ought to rely on what she and even her son wrote and not how I am trying to explain it. :)

(Was this long enough? LOL!)


Evenspor said...

I saw someone else's blog with moderated comments was having the same problem.

I hope you don't think I'm picking on you, but I think this is a fascinating topic for discussion. I have read Montessori's books, but I can't discuss it with her. :)

This is what I am saying: You assert that fantasy play is not educational, but you have nothing to back up that assertion. It is based on assumptions and preconceived notions. That is is intuitively obvious to any observer is not an argument. That is what is referred to as "conventional wisdom." If Montessori had relied on conventional wisdom, we wouldn't have a Montessori method. Likewise, while your analogies are excellent explanations of your point, they are not proof.

My other point is that while Montessori was revolutionary, she didn't have all of the answers, and to assume something is true just because she said it would be silly. Especially since she herself said that the key to the method was that it should be an ongoing experiement.

As I pointed out in my precious comment, I would not expect a Montessori classroom to deviate from Montessori's method. That doesn't mean no one can debate whether there are flaws in her ideas or areas that sometimes need exceptions.

At the same time, I have noticed on the blogs of Montessori teachers some subtle differences in the way the method is applied. One example is how some teachers provide pictures of the pink and brown extentions to give the children ideas of things to build. In other classrooms, the children come up with these ideas on their own and have no need of the cards. I have noticed that the latter happens in classrooms where there is more freedom allowed in how the materials are used (like in Susan Dyer's classroom). Afterall, how could a child come up with an extension if he has always been allowed to only use a meterial in the way he had been shown?

Speaking of Susan Dyer, I think part of the answer to all of this is in this post:


Where to draw the line, I think, is not between different types of play, calling one type acceptable and another type not. It is something more subtle than that.

D. said...

Bah, now it's telling me "Your HTML [I wasn't using any] cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters."

I'm going to have to try to post it in two and see if that helps. First part:

Blogger is so bad that your comment actually asked to be posted 4 times! And although the comments actually are posting, the Comments thing on the posts is showing up as 0.

No, I don't feel picked on at all! It's such a weighty subject and the complexity makes it hard to properly express things without writing an entire book. ;)

In any case, I didn't say pretend play wasn't educational. I assert that Montessori is an educational approach, meaning there is education being provided by the directress/school, there is something being shown, being taught to the child. Children already (ignoring certain exceptions) know how to engage in pretend play--what is there to educate the child on with that? There is no need to educate them on pretend play. There is a need to help them in other ways. I think her son wrote quite a bit about it all, actually, sharing both his mother's and his own views. She had nothing whatsoever against pretend play (admittedly, in moderation), and anytime a child was seen engaging in play that seemed to be a desire to do the real thing, she hoped it would be possible to provide the child with the real thing. But as an educational approach, as a method of teaching, I just really don't see how pretend play can fit in with the nature of the Montessori Method. (It even gets in the way if the child is using the specially designed materials for play.)

Maybe some other approach does include pretend play or fantasy, although honestly, other than maybe Waldorf, I can't think of an actual educational approach for 3-6yo's where pretend play is part of the actual instructional element. Part of their free time, maybe, but part of the actual schooling... Do you know of any? Perhaps just regular preschools, where they have puppet plays and dress-up and stuff like that. Although dress-up would be during free time.

Since the basis of the Montessori Method is to connect the child with the real environment around him, then it logically hardly fits in to say that encouraging pretend play fits with that.

I don't believe in proof. :) I truly don't. There is nothing out there that can prove anything, imho. Okay, maybe I can prove that 2+2 is 4, but in terms of child development and psychology and education... There is no proof. Only explanations and evidence.

I don't actually assume that what she has shared is true. I question everything and was initially shocked to find out that the Montessori Method wasn't all games and pretend play. What I read about fantasy from her and some respected Montessori educators had me thinking and seeing and I was able to see the truth of it. What I share is not only her words, but what I have come to see in my own experience as true. And while I have seen various articles discussing the importance of pretend play (although, I do question whether it's really importance or benefits--there is a difference; I am quite certain that many people of the past did not have the time as children to play pretend much and I doubt very much that it hindered them), I have seen nothing indicating that it ought to be part of the school day.

D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D. said...

Part 2

I think the blog post for which you provided the link helps provide a hint at what I mean about the nature of the Montessori Method. The children were observed falling into goofiness, so they were directed to something more "productive", for lack of a better word. What would be the right word or expression? Certainly, learning could have come out of their water play, with the splashing, but that's not really the aim of the method, is it? :)

Yes, unfortunately, there are some teachers who are very rigid about how the materials are being used. There is a difference between "purposeful" exploration and pretend exploration. If the cylinder blocks are being arranged in such a way to see how they might balance or to make a design, that fits within what ought to be acceptable; if the child starts talking to herself about the frog jumping up each cylinder block to find the princess, then she's no longer in the same state of mind, no longer really attentive to the cylinder blocks and what is being and what can be done with them.

totalmotion said...

you have a great blog!!~! I really enjoy your insight and your 'findings', I'm going to have to follow so I don't miss another
moment,thanks for sharing with us.

D. said...