Monday, July 19, 2010


Sometimes it is hard to maintain a Montessori un-school. Like right now, for instance. It's the middle of summer, and why am I even trying? Because our "school" is just a bunch of things out for the kids to use, changed once in a while as deemed necessary. It keeps the kids occupied and mostly out of trouble. And it works well for us. Usually they use at least some of what's on the shelves every day, and mostly on an individual basis, though they do often play together.

But lately their imaginations have taken over. They have started "playing" in the sense of building forts and making a zoo with their animals and all those fun things that I remember doing when I was a kid. It's great, right? And even Gene is getting in on it, which is unusual... But because he is, the interest seems to last a LOT longer. One day the three of them played in the basement together for 6 HOURS straight!

Why am I complaining? Because it's completely destroying our house (I'm exaggerating just a little, but still...). While I got a lot done on that 6-hour day, the basement is trashed. They brought down so much, and mixed up so much, that it will probably take 6 hours to put everything away again. The girls' room is a mess, because there are baskets with animals and random toys everywhere. And of course, the intention is to keep them there for a long time. And then they wanted to play in the basement again this morning.

What do I do? As a normal parent, I should just let them play, right? They are all extremely happy, and they have been playing together very nicely. Not many fights, and I love to hear how they compromise and work things out together.

From a Montessori point of view, though, this play isn't very productive in the preschool years. What is learned (sharing, cooperation) can easily be learned in the regular classroom in the course of working with things on the shelves. Waiting one's turn to use something, working together to use a material (depending on the rules of the classroom), conversing during meals and's all there. Many Montessori classrooms now have "imaginative play" areas, with dress up clothes and props, usually revolving around a theme such as "grocery store" or "restaurant". The theme changes once in a while, but it's set by the teacher and allows children to imagine what it would be like to be in those places.

Our house does not have an area like that. We do have materials out once in a while that encourage that sort of play, and the kids have had great fun with it.

But the play they are involved in now is a bit different. And from a Montessori parent's point of view, there are problems with it! Here's why...
1. Many things are conscripted into use, from all areas of the house, and no one wants to put
them all away at the end of the day.
2. One person is usually the leader, and the others follow...same leader every time, sometimes
loudly shouting commands. Good for that person's self-esteem, maybe, but what about the
3. They are not "learning" anything educationally during the course of their play (besides the
above mentioned social learning)

Of those three problems, I think the one that is bothering me most is the first. Our house is fairly small, and when things aren't put away it is very obvious (i.e. we are stepping on them). We don't have a lot of things, because of the space constraint, and what we do have is used on a fairly regular basis. Meaning, we've had to spend a lot of time looking for things that we've found hiding under a blanket in the basement or in some other random spot.

Now that they've felt the exhilaration of their imaginations, however, it is hard to bring them back to the real world. Now, doing a puzzle doesn't seem that exciting when they could be in the "clubhouse" (Gene's room). They were all getting ready to go down the basement this morning, and I was really torn whether to let them or not. I ended up redirecting them, but now I hear happy noises coming from the clubhouse.

I expect that if I get any comments on this post, they will encourage me to allow the kids to imagine to their hearts' content. But I would actually love to hear from anyone who has some constructive do I allow it without letting our house fall into shambles, and has anyone else gone through this with their kids (home-schooled or otherwise)?

Thanks for hearing me out!


Smith said...

We too have a tiny house (and no basement to speak of) so I completely understand your dilemma. I will tell you what we have done, take what you can, toss the rest ;)

1. We have Rubbermaid bins for toys (one bin for dress-up, one bin for puzzles & blocks, one bin for little people and parts, etc.). Only one bin is allowed out at a time. You must put all toys back in with the lid before being allowed another bin. Oh, and we control the bins--they are kept in our closet and we take them out as needed. We also have a shelf in our coat closet by the entryway that holds games, legos, and other boxed items. You can only have one item out at a time.

2. If a child chooses building/role play type toys such as legos, tinker toys, farm set, then they must roll out a a mat (ours are appx. 3'x 4') and keep the the items on the mat. Once again, it must be put away before playing with something OR someone else. Sometimes my son wants to leave it out to show the Mr. when he gets home but I have held a hard line on that. If it's 5min before my husband is going to get home, fine. If not, it must be put away or no other toys or even imaginative play will be happening.

3. And our thoughts on imaginative play is--it's fine but if indeed you want to use your imagination, then use IT not every item in the house. If you need every item in the house to create your imaginary zoo, then you are not very good at using your imagination.

Perhaps this seems a bit off-putting to some, but like I said, our house is tiny (900sq ft) with 4 people (soon to be 5), 1 dog, and 1 cat. We don't have the room to give in to every whim. Learning that there must be order to make everyone comfortable, not just yourself, is a VERY important lesson to learn.

Hope you got something useful out of that :)

Hannah said...

Thanks, I like your comment. It is encouraging to hear that other people have taken a hard line on keeping things in their place. I take a hard line on so many things, I wasn't sure about this. But it certainly does disrupt our house. Thanks again!

Jessica - Keys of the Universe said...

I know this post is older, but I thought I'd respond anyway, because it is a common question :)

Montessori is "freedom with responsibility" - and children can and SHOULD be involved in imaginative play such as re-creating otherwise "real"-like situations (zoos, etc).

Montessori classrooms should NOT have these areas set up because this is precisely the sort of "work" that should be happening at home (or in a before/after school care room at the Montessori school).

However, the limit/responsibility here is that things need to be put away when done. Period. Yes, some projects can be left out (it took hours to build a fort and they'll come back to it - that's fine to leave out), but NOTHING should be left to be stepped out, or left wanting (I need my pans for cooking, so they can no longer be helmets when the play is done! ;) ).

I like the previous commenters statement about the mats - and if a child needs a bigger mat, he/she can put two or more side by side to make the space bigger. Some work, though, is not appropriate for mats, so this judgment should be placed in the hands of the adult until the child has has enough experience to begin judging for oneself.