Originally Posted by squimp
But I didn't see play in my DD's classroom. Play often has a pretend or imaginative quality, doesn't it? Are we just sweeping a room, or are we sweeping the high tower of a castle? In my experience for a year at DD's AMI certified school, there was no imaginative play encouraged or sadly even tolerated. I did not see a sliver of imaginative opportunity in the primary classroom. For me that is a big difference. In my light reading on the subject, play and use of materials in creative ways is very important in cognitive development. And school is an opportunity to learn not in a vaccuum but with other exploring and playing and creating kids.
This got long but I felt strongly about it. I should preface my experience by saying that I'm a fiction (fantasy) writer and that our home houses fairies. So I am by no means opposed to imaginary or otherworldly stuff.
I can't really speak to "intolerance" because at my son's Montessori there's no question of tolerance. If A CHILD wants to pretend that the sweeping is in a castle, that's fine. I'm not really sure how that could be controlled. But I'm sure there are schools that do actively discourage it...ours doesn't though.
But the ADULTS don't decorate the room as if it were a castle in a Montessori. There's a huge difference there. I kind of think it's funny when adults lay out how the fantasy world works ("oh look, if you're a prince, then I'm an evil witch") and then congratulate themselves that their kids are being imaginative.
There is a huge difference between play, imagination, and fantasy play, and what I term "genre fantasy". Imagination can be focused very much on real things - just think inventors. Fantasy play, meaning roleplaying and so on, is definitely important in childhood; there's some evidence that this is how children develop executive control.
But there is no evidence of which I'm aware that fantasy
play in the sense of magical beings that don't really exist is critical to development.
In other words, your kid can pretend he is a dragon, a dinosaur, or a frog, and the results will be the same.
How it works at my son's Montessori is that real life, so to speak, is primary and considered interesting. So they don't do a unit on fairies but they do do a unit on butterflies. The kids learn all about the life cycle of the butterfly, the parts of the butterfly, and so on.
From my observation, this actually leads my son to richer and more developed fantasies, because he has so much to work with - not just more vocabulary and information, but because they have gone outside and looked for butterflies, looked at the flowers that attract them, and watched a caterpillar in a jar form a chrysalis. He has a deep knowledge to bring to the table.
Then yes, he has a strong tendency to play butterflies. (Now. When he was 3, he didn't.) But when he makes that leap, it's all him - it's not adults leading the way. Because of how our schoolday works, he hangs out with the other kids in aftercare from 3:30 - 5, so if there's group play that looks more traditional, that's when it happens. But he also works in small groups during the Montessori time. So I can't really speak to the lack of group work thing - for us it was really important that he not be forced into group rhythms, so that's sort of not on my radar.
And from my professional experience I have to say that most strong imaginary stuff is pretty firmly grounded in a deep understanding of reality. You cannot describe a fantasy world if you can't make a connection for the reader through the senses, physics, biology, and so on. Look at Avatar
- to bring that kind of experience to the screen, the people doing the special effects totally had to understand mass and bio luminescence and be able to create the algorithms and so on and so forth. I know I'm a bit on a rant here but I think people so badly misunderstand ecreativity and imagination because our culture seems to believe that anything "not real" is imagination. It's not. It may be imaginary, but a child simply playing castle because it's a castle unit is not necessarily bringing a lot of self to the table.