Fantasy and Creativity in Montessori

Since I began my journey into Montessori education my mother and I have had many discussions about what I believe is essential in child development. The conversation goes something like this: “I read an article the other day about why it is important to provide children with real life experiences from the time they are born to about age six. And that reading them fairy tales and books about talking pigs and trains hinders rather than promotes creativity.” Research shows that most children before the age of five can not differentiate between real and fictitious characters or situations (Bewley, “Keeping it Real part 1”). My mum usually gasps and says, “So what are you saying? You’re not going to tell your children about Cinderella? I read you Cinderella and you turned out just fine, sometimes kids just need to be kids.”

Now I would tend to agree with my mum and think I turned out just fine, but what my mum is saying without knowing it, is contradictory. Kids are “just being kids” when they are read stories about what life is like on a farm or taken apple picking. Children at this age learn through real life experiences. Montessori discovered what research now confirms, that a child develops knowledge based on impressions fixed in his mind by experiences in reality (Bewley, “Keeping it Real part 1”).

So the truth is, I did in fact read an article the other day about reality and fantasy. A mother wanted to raise her daughter following the Montessori principles, but still wanted to read her fairy tales at a young age. She thought that if she explained that something was not real her daughter would understand. So she read a story about a dragon and said “they aren’t real, right?” and her daughter said with a smile “no, they don’t exist.” This continued on for some time and the mother read stories about fairies and all sorts of make believe characters. Then one day she read a story about giraffes and her daughter looked up half way through the story and said with a grin on her face “mum, we know giraffes don’t exist, right?”

People often use the word fantasy interchangeably with imagination, or even creativity. However the two are very different, fantasy can be defined as “ideas that have no basis in reality.” Imagination on the other hand, “1. The ability of the mind to form new and original ideas that have their basis in reality. 2.The ability to be creative and resourceful.” Children in a Montessori school are given opportunity to explore fantasy through imagination but this happens at the elementary level. Dr. Montessori felt that there would be no progress without imagination and that this was a very necessary process. However, the more she worked with children she realized that imagination needed to be founded in reality. If a child is introduced to concepts and images that have no basis in reality, they can be misled into illusion. This in turn could inhibit the child’s natural development.

One of the most common questions I get about Montessori education is how we provide creative outlets for children. When most people think of being creative they often think of painting or drawing and crafts. What these activities all have in common for children of this age is that they are usually adult directed with one end product in mind. The other thing they have in common is that it is all the same media use.

In a Montessori environment children can express themselves in a variety of ways. A six year old child may be working on descriptive writing, while a 3 year old creates a beautiful flower arrangement. Someone might be sewing a button on her choice of fabric, or composing a song on the bells. The teachers in a Montessori environment provide an example of how to use the material. We provide technique, the creative element is left entirely up to the child. So you can decide which environment provides more room for exploration: where 20 children create the same hand-print turkey for a thanksgiving craft or where they are provided with the tools they need to think, create, dream and explore endless possibilities for their future.

If you would like to find out more about some of the most successful creative minds that attended Montessori, look know further than Google. Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google Founders) credit Montessori education to the success they have had. Page said “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”(Sims, Montessori Mafia). Still interested in finding out more? Then “google” the Montessori Mafia to see who else makes the list.


Works Cited Bewley, Pilar. December 13, 2012 October 10, 2012.

Sims, Peter. “Montessori Mafia.” The Wall Street Journal. April 5, 2011: 1/8. October 9, 2012.