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Purposeful Play with Montessori Materials

by The Tay Ho Times on 20/09/2020

Montessori education falls in the perfect balance between free play (in which children play independently) and purposeful play (where an educator meaningfully plans and organizes children’s learning through play). Purposeful play is a developmentally appropriate approach for children to learn in the ways they naturally learn and it is definitely more interactive than didactic teaching methods, where children are expected to sit and listen. 

Free play allows children to express themselves without adult instructions and is fun, flexible, and voluntary. It allows children to explore the environment without restrictions whereas purposeful play engages children with intention. Montessori classrooms are geared to introduce concepts and knowledge through materials in a hands-on and detailed approach, and is more useful than regular toys. 

Montessori materials are very unique and teachers present them as if they were presenting a magic performance. Children are taught to strive for perfection in every movement when using these materials. This engages children in hands-on learning and ensures manual involvement, promoting active learning and better understanding by enhancing cognitive development. 

How are Montessori materials different from others? Consider two different puzzles, one with an animal theme and one with a maps theme. Both teach spatial relations, while the maps puzzle also teaches geography. For example, animals’ appearance in the animal puzzle are arbitrary (elephants next to seals), it also does not fully depict the shapes of the animals as it constantly changes due to the movement of the animals. In comparison, a maps puzzle is consistent with the shape, size and location of countries and allows cognitive learning when children touch and trace to locate the right fit of the pieces. Most importantly, they are building on geography knowledge which is useful when they relate to the world around them. 

Current research suggests that “learning materials should be as basic as possible (e.g. same coloured cubes vs. teddy bear counters) without irrelevant perceptual features or references to real-world objects seem to promote the greatest learning” (Laski et. al, pg 5). It has been found that when the material is interesting to play with (e.g. role-playing with the teddy bear counters) or elicits ideas irrelevant to mathematic concepts, it distracts and prevents the child from creating the relation between the material, and the mathematic concept it is meant to represent. Therefore, when the material is basic, it helps children to focus and learn the relation it has with the mathematics concept it represents. Thus, Montessori materials are meant to be simple and less appealing to the regular eyes as they aim to focus children’s attention on the attributes to teach concepts, which in turn increases learning. 

Montessori materials are typically self-correcting and this means that children are encouraged to think and problem solve when they make an error. This also inculcates a sense of perseverance in children to keep trying till they master a skill/concept. Most importantly, purposeful play with Montessori materials triggers the intrinsic motivation from children where they gain intrinsic rewards in learning. 

Janelle Wong 
Brighton Montessori Vietnam 

Phone: +84 2432161718 
Add: 2 Nguyễn Thị Thập, Trung Hoà, 
Cầu Giấy, Hà Nội, Vietnam 

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