Fantasy and Imagination

In The Absorbent Mind, about the second plane of development Maria Montessori says, “…it is a period of growth unaccompanied by other change. The child is calm and happy. Mentally, he is in a state of health, strength, and assured stability.” There is also a newfound focus on the society, goodness, rules, and social constructs. Maria says, “An inner change has taken place, but nature is quite logical in arousing now in the child not only a hunger for knowledge and understanding, but a claim to mental independence, a desire to distinguish good from evil by his own powers, and to resent limitation by arbitrary authority. In the field of morality, the child now stands in need of his own inner light”

Children in this plane of development also make a shift away from the absorbent mind and solely constructing themselves, and instead become interested in the world around them. They have a keen interest in culture, in history, in science, and especially in their place within this big beautiful world. In To Educate the Human Potential, Montessori explains, “The task of teaching becomes easy since we do not need to choose what we shall teach, but should place all before him for the satisfaction of his mental appetite.  He must have absolute freedom of choice, and then he requires nothing but repeated experiences which will become increasingly marked by interest and serious attention, during his acquisition of some desired knowledge.”

“The secret of success is found to lie in the right use of imagination in awakening interest”
Maria Montessori

In this second plane, there is an intense interest in fairness and right-wrong, both personally and for larger global issues. This is also the age for”classic” childhood fantasy, games, stories, movies, and other such cultural experiences. Imagination flourishes, as does their ability to understand fantasy and manipulate reality.

There are some myths about Montessori that sometimes crop up and often they surround the topic of imagination. There can sometimes be this feeling that Montessori does not allow for kids to use their imagination or that somehow, pretend play isn’t encouraged. We so often see Montessori children focused on trays that have specific outcomes that it can appear that creativity, imagination, and the world of pretend is taken out of the equation.  But, that’s simply not true. Children will always pretend. They will use their imagination to create. If you spend time with any child this quickly becomes clear. Children constantly use their imaginations to create, to process, and to learn. 

In our classroom, we don’t discourage the use of imagination or pretend play. But, it may look a bit differently than it would in other environments because there is one thing that we don’t include, and that’s fantasy (most often in the form of commercialized characters). In Montessori, fantasy isn’t typically introduced until the second plane of development for a couple of reasons. 

One, young children have an intense interest in the world around them. They find everyday life to be magical, special, and worthy of wonder. They don’t need anything more than the rich world around them to play with. They find joy and amazement where we see mundane. They want to play with real. They want to wonder with real. They want to explore and create with real. Because, the bottom line is, our reality is pretty darn amazing, especially when viewed through the lens of a child. 

Two, fantasy includes things that are never true – talking pigs, animals that wear clothes, flying humans, and things of that nature. These ideas are adult created ideas, someone else using their imagination. Feeding these ideas to our children actually prohibits their imagination.

Instead of creating their own ways to think, they start to mimic the ways adults have told them they should use a specific material. 

Montessori argued that fantasy actually has its roots in reality. She said, “The true basis of the imagination is reality.” Without adult-driven fantasy, they are free to create their own ideas, and eventually, they can use this strong basis in reality to manipulate it and create fantasy of their own – at a time when they are better able to understand abstract concepts, which begins when the child enters the second plane of development. Basically, kids must know reality first in order to manipulate into their own and be truly creative.

Heather Ayers

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