Imagination Play

Imagination Play. It might not be an obvious part of the Montessori curriculum, but it is there and still a very important part of the child’s development. When I first encountered Montessori I was surprised that imagination play was not recognised in the Montessori curriculum. Especially when you consider that Montessori curriculum is totally child centered, however, the play is there! In fact, Maria Montessori recognised the importance of imaginary play in the development of children, what she cautioned against was engaging children in imagination play that was adult driven and not child centred.

Montessori states that “The true basis of the imagination is reality” (The Advanced Montessori Method, pg. 196)

Imagination Play

The Montessori philosophy is based on the belief that young children have an absorbent mind, absorbing their environment by just being in it. When I first started with Montessori in our home Chook was 3, Ooffa and Strawberry were 18 months. At 18 months it is believed that children imitate what they have observed in the environment and real objects are preferred. At 3 years of age children are still using real objects in their play, however, the object can become something else if required in the play. Right there is the beginning stages of imagination play and the basis for preparing your home environment with materials that are suitable for children to use independently.

“Imagination is a human capacity that allows us to transform what is, into what might be.” (Montessori Northwest. Development of the Imagination, p. 3)

Organise your home for Imagination Play

Children need to be exposed to the great big world around them before they can incorporate these experiences into their imaginary play. This is also so they can gain a true and accurate understanding of our world, to find order in our world and to make sense of our world. Our task is to provide our children with materials and activities that will further develop their powers of imagination. Practical life materials and activities are filled with opportunities to exercise children’s imaginations and make those important connections to reality.

Some ideas to start with:

Imagination Play


Watching meals being prepared
Preparing and cooking with real food

Imagination Play


Using child sized brooms to sweep the floor with
Using pegs to hang washing out to dry
Loading a washing machine
Wiping the table
Washing up

Imagination Play

Helping around the house

Caring for our dog
Using real tools to create a wood work project
Using real tools to create a garden

If you are just starting out with Montessori in your home, I can not recommend starting with Practical Life enough!

Imagination Play and Learning

Imagination Play

Montessori activities bring learning and play together but having three children under 42 months of age taught me that children can’t always be using real things in a real place. There needs to be some down time through free play. My children need it as a time to process their learning and relax. And I need it to conserve some energy to get through to bedtime!

This is how we made free play work for us:

Imagination Play

  • Provide open-ended toys
  • Distinguish between playtime and learning time. I allow my children to use the materials and mix them up during free play.
  • Real things. Observe their free play and quietly add in real props where appropriate.
  • Mess happens. It does! Before stepping in, step back. Watch the play. Their making big connections here!
  • Practice skills through play. Tea party – pouring tea, use real water. Doll play – bathe the doll. Dinosaur play – scrub the dinosaurs. Playhouse play – sweep the floor. Play kitchen – serve morning tea.

This post from Childhood 101 shows how her kids have included loose parts in their imaginary play. And there’s more to read on imaginative play at Learning 4 Kids.

Imagination Play

By observing their play I am able to see if each child is connected to the right material to express and develop their working imagination. Ooffa, my sensory seeker, has been my greatest teacher in this area. He would not use the materials in the ‘correct’ way! His inner nature lead him to use the materials in ways that showed he was not connected to the items. By including lots of free play, I have been able to step back and watch him either discover something new with our materials or provide a different activity to meet the need he is expressing.

Here are a few photos of my children enjoying some downtime.

Imagination Play - Teddy Wash Day

Imagination Play - Wishy Washy Day

What Montessori materials would you consider adding to free play?

3 comments on “Imagination Play

  1. Great post Amie! I’m a huge fan of pretend play in early childhood and as a teacher, I’ve seen the very really benefits it can have on so many facets of a child’s development. Keep doing what you are doing with your children – it’s so valuable!

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