Friday, January 16, 2015

Playful Learning in the Montessori Environment: Work and Play Go Together

He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 25.

Today I am going to suggest something that may seem counter to Montessori philosophy. I am going to suggest that we need more play. But wait … didn't Dr. Montessori call play “work”? That’s right. She referred to play as the work of early childhood. The term work implies that the activity is worthy and important, while the term play is often thought of as frivolous and unproductive. As Mr. Fred Rogers reminds us, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” (Miller, 2013) By referring to play as work, Dr. Montessori was stressing the importance of play in the lives of children.

Work and Play in the Montessori Environment


The separation of work and play is growing ever more present in conventional education. While in school, children are expected to work, relegating play to an extracurricular activity. Yet many educational experts recognize and understand the vital role play has in learning. However, in this day of high stakes testing, we have become so focused on curricular content that we have lost sight of play’s crucial role in child development.


Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University tells us that “despite evidence linking play to development, parents, educators, and policy makers worry that play time takes children away from precious academic activities.” She goes on to tell us that in 1981, play accounted for 40% of a typical school-age child’s time. By 1997, that time had fallen to only 25%. (Hirsh-Pasek) David Elkind writes that in the last two decades, children have lost over 8 hours of free play per week. (Hirsh-Pasek) In 2009, Scientific American stated that a “Play-deprived childhood disrupts normal social, emotional, and cognitive development in humans and animals.” (Wenner, 2009)


We know from studying Maria Montessori’s philosophy and methods that how you learn is often more important than what you learn.


In the next few blogs, we will explore the concept of playful learning in the context of Maria Montessori’s research as well as how play affects social, emotional, and academic success.

Works Cited
Hirsh-Pasek, Kathryn. “The power of playful learning: How guided play sparks social and academic outcomes.” Early childhood investigations.
Hirsh-Pasek, Kathryn. “Play research.” http://kathyhirshpasek.com/play/
Miller, Andrew. “Don't forget to play.” Edutopia. August 23, 2013. http://www.edutopia.org/blog/dont-forget-to-play-andrew-miller
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
Wenner, Melinda. “The serious need for play.” Scientific American. February/March 2009. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-serious-need-for-play/

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, January 16, 2015.

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