Last week and this week, we have been working on the Little Red Hen story. I am trying this year to compliment our curriculum by integrating fairy tale - based projects and activities. Why? Because I have come to realise that fairy tales can carry all the important angles of our program. Fairy tales are timeless and they can open the door to many discussion, topics and issues. They work because the children love them and have heard about them already, one way or another.
As I explained before, Montessori doesn't agree with the use of fantasy in books. WHY? Simply because Montessori didn't believe that a young child is able to grasp abstract concepts and that children don't know what is real and what isn't. In the Montessori method of education, the young child (0-5) needs to know and understand the real world before they can appreciate and participate in a made up world of fantasy. Therefore, one of the main reasons why fantasy is not a part of the Montessori curriculum is because it "apparently" disorients young children. This is why Montessori doesn't encourage fantasy play and why in most Montessori preschools, you will not find a play corner or dress ups. This is also why Montessori refers to the activities of the child as “work” rather than play. These reality-based activities (like cutting, polishing, sweeping, cleaning, watering etc..) are important because the children see them as the work of adults (rather than the fantasy play that has no grounding in reality). Materials used in a Montessori classroom are real: there is no pretend kitchen but real plates, pots and utensils. And the children learn how to use them to make a snack for instance.
The most rigid Montessorian will explain to you that dramatic/imaginative play DOES take place in a Montessori classroom as for instance, when a child is preparing food, he/she often takes the role of the mother/the father. When he cuts paper in zigzag, he ends up with a crown he wears proudly as the new King in the classroom. And I do agree with this aspect of the method. Children do enjoy "working" with real apparatus. No plastic please, no fake forks and knives. Let them re-enact what they see at home.
Maria Montessori pushed the theory further by refusing to read fairy tales to the children as she believed that though beautiful stories, they had no place in a classroom at "work". Here is something I really struggle to reconcile with. So, if I was to follow the Montessorian method rigidly, having children believing in Santa and the Easter bunny would be harmful? Reading them stories about with animals that talk and act like us would be a bad thing to do? Having a bit of magic in their childhood can damage them? Rubbish!!! This is where I differ from the traditional Montessorisan teaching method. If the children do find it hard to draw a line between what's real and what 's not, it is only at their sweetest and youngest age and soon, reality sets in and set them straight (and nowadays, with the help of technology and media) it happens much sooner than before.. Not to my liking! Children do not grow up to believe that Dora the explorer is real. Have you ever heard a child saying that he believed monkeys talked and wore boots? While my son watched Thomas the Tank Engine, or Handy Mandy, he never expected to climb on a train or use a hammer and heard both of them say "hello" to him!!. These characters are fun and entertaining. Let's not put too much pressure too quick on little mind. And the process of realising what's real and what's not is part of a learning process and intellectual growth. This is why, even though we follow the Montessori method of Education, I do read fairy tales and many of our books have talking animals as main characters. And by incorporating storytelling and fantasy in our curriculum, we do as Waldorf recommended and we nourish the young child’s healthy imagination and creative thinking powers. This way, the children get the best of both worlds/dimensions: imagination through hand-on experiences (Montessori) and role play/dramatic play (Waldorf).