One of the common myths about Montessori is that it does not encourage imagination and pretend play. This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Montessori emphasizes real experiences and discourages fantasy (not to be mistaken for pretend play) for children under 6 years old. The emphasis on real experiences actually leads to a lot of pretend play. An experience with my children today seemed like a good way to illustrate the role that real experiences  play in fostering imagination and also answer the question

This morning the boys walked into the room from the balcony where they had been playing. Solu, looking very much like a foreman and holding a hammer, announced that they were breaking down a wall. They had spent all week watching men knock down walls with hammers so I figured they were recreating the experience. A part of me silently prayed that they were not knocking down an actual wall as I followed them to see.

I smiled when I saw the wall they had built in the lid of the box for their blocks. They proceeded to knock it down with their hammers, real and imaginary. They used the same motions and processes the men had used. They then packed the blocks in their “wheelbarrows and emptied them.

As I write this, they are still there tinkering, discussing, negotiating, creating and recreating using their imagination.

This is what imagination looks like in a Montessori environment.

  • It is child led – they chose what experiences to recreate and how to recreate them
  • It based on real experiences
  • It involves real creativity and resourcefulness – They created their own wall and found materials that could work as hammers and wheelbarrows
  • As additional benefits, they usual involve gross motor, cognitive and social skills.

Some of the ways that you can foster Imagination using Montessori principles are by:

  • Help children develop eyes that see
  • Give real experiences: Let you children observe people at work, take them out to the zoo, a construction area, a farm etc.
  • Choose books with real characters and storylines that reflect the child’s reality
  • Enrich their vocabulary: explain what they saw, give them the names/titles of the workers, tools etc
  • Choose open-ended toys that can be used in many ways – See our favorite ones
  • Give a lot of free unstructured time for play

To read more about Montessori imagination and pretend play, check out the following resources.



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