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Friday, July 31, 2015

How Montessori helps child imagination

Many parents are confused about Montessori's role in helping child's imagination. Because Montessori does not encourage art activities like singing and drawing, or telling stories of fairies or animal talking to each other, it is assumed that Montessori does not develop imagination. Here is an attempt to present the full picture of the Montessori's role in developing child's imagination.

Two types of Imagination

Imagination of child grows in two steps: Step 1 of Reproductive Imagination and Step 2 of Creative Imagination. 

Reproductive imagination develops when a child has to remember a sensory impression and use it: whether it is sound, smell, taste or visual ( shape or colour). For instance, when a child is reciting a song's melody ( not the words), the child is using reproductive imagination. This imagination uses  memory and involves faithful representation of what already exists. 

Creative Imagination develops when a child learns basic variables of a medium, say Sa Re Ga Ma in music, and then learns to 'creatively' reconfigure them to construct a new 'tune'. Creative imagination therefore goes one step ahead: it does not stop at faithful representation of reality, but recombines the 'real variables' in a new image. Creative imagination therefore requires 'mastery' of basic inputs of a medium ( the medium could be painting, dancing or physics ) before those inputs can be reconfigured creatively. Therefore a scientist takes longer time to use his creative imagination to produce an innovation, then say a musician or painter. 

A child therefore first uses reproductive imagination when he learns to 'copy and reproduce' the music or painting. Only when the child masters the 'real variables' through using step 1 repeatedly, a child can take a leap and start using the creative imagination to 'reconfigure' those variables and produce 'new music'. 

How does Montessori help a child in imagination 

Montessori helps a child in reproductive imagination during the pre-school stage , age 3 to 6, or also called as first plane of education. Montessori actively develops this imagination by designing M1 and M2 activities for many sensorial material. For instance, M1 activity in cylinders involves the child keeping all the cylinders in one tray, and then bringing each cylinder to fit a 'cylinder socket' by recalling the image of a cylinder that may fit the socket. M2 activity uses 'imagery' even more because in this activity, child distributes the cylinders in the various parts of the Montessori environment, not just in one tray, and therefore requires to use far more 'reproductive ' imagination to complete the activity.

In Montessori, shapes and textures are also used in developing reproductive imagination by doing them with 'blindfolds'. Doing stereognastic activity with blindfolds using 3-dimensional solids like cube, cylinder and prisms also develops this imagination. More importantly, the child in Montessori is enabled to understand the real properties of a object such as length, breadth, thickness, colour and sound more distinctly with various sensorial material such as Geometrical cabinet, colour cylinders and three dimensional solids. These distinct properties can then be used to 'reconfigure' in second plane of education, which starts after 6 years of age. In other words, the foundation of creative imagination is laid in this pre-school very firmly in Montessori.

How to help your child of 3 to 6 age to develop his/her imagination 

Based on the available literature, here are 4 ways that a parent can help a child develop his/her imagination:

1. Avoid unhelpful fantasies

Unhelpful fantasies are those that encourage 'wrong correlations'. For instance, when a child watches a cartoon where a character hits someone with fist and that person 'flies' and falls without getting hurt, the child also 'believes' that hitting by fist does not hurt. These wrong correlations of 'cause' and 'effect' confuse the child. Therefore fantasies presented in typical cartoons confuse the child by introducing 'wrong correlations' which he has to 'unlearn'.. Fairy tale stories also introduce child to wrong correlations and are therefore not helpful.

2. Facilitate helpful fantasies like pretend play

On the other hand, some type of fantasies may actually help a child. For instance, 'pretend play' type of fantasies are fantasies where children role-play imaginary conversations of adults, such as parents asking the child to 'eat' his food. Children also role-play the role of a fruit vendor and imagine buying fruits from him. These fantasies help the child understand the 'real world'. Accordingly psychologists believe that these fantasies are helpful.

Other fantasies - such as when we tell the story of animals talking to the child - are supposed to be neither helpful nor unhelpful. Psychologists believe when children are told that 'animals talk', they actually believe that 'animals can really talk'. In technical language this is called 'Credulity'. Child uses this information as 'real variable', instead of 'imaginary variable'. Montessori therefore does not encourage these kind of stories.

3. Help the child learn a medium like music, painting if the child shows inclination

As we mentioned earlier, creative imagination can be done only when the medium is 'fully understood'. As mediums like music and painting can be learnt at an early age, a willing child can be helped in learning this medium just by watching others sing, play a sitar or drum. If the child shows an inclination ( inclination is more important) in learning music, encourage it because it will help him later after he reaches the age of 6. In Montessori, child is introduced to music through a musical material in an appropriate manner. However, I have not heard of any other medium ( such as drawing) which has been introduced to a child at such a early age ( before 6). If anyone knows this, i would be glad to be informed.

4. Use the child's imagination to incite his curiosity

Child's imagination is developing at the age of 4, not at 3. If a child of 4 is introduced to the card, say 'potter' making pots, it can excite the child in asking lot of questions. If the child's curiosity is sufficiently triggered, the child may 'want' to see a real potter and the process of making pots. When such a willing child is shown the process of pot-making, the child has more questions because of his use of imagination. Learning is deeper and stickier. This method of firing the child's imagination to make him ask questions is a very effective way of learning for a child. You can use this method to help him understand lot of things in real life. Instead of 'stuffing the child' with more and more information, which he is not interested to hear, use child's imagination to incite his curiosity so that he learns 'better' and 'deeper'.


Montessori, before the age of 6, helps the child develop her 'reproductive imagination' through various methods in a very active manner. It also helps the child to introduce fertile mediums like 'music' that can directly help the child use creative imagination later. Further, by preventing the child learn 'wrong correlations' through unhelpful fantasies, Montessori reduces the confusion in the child's mind and therefore helps him use his imagination more productively. More importantly, Montessori incites curiosity in a child , so that child can start asking his own questions and direct his own learning.

Reference to the above material has been sourced from many Montessori books. I owe a lot to this paper of Sarah Andrews on Montessori and imagination

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