One of the more off-putting Montessori terms to those unfamiliar with Montessori is the word “work”. When a child is engaged in an activity, we say not to interrupt the child’s work, instead of using the words “activity” or “play”. There is some confusion on why Montessori activities are called work.
When we think about work, we may think of punching a time clock and putting in several continuous hours of unpleasant labor. The fact is most people don’t enjoy their work.
The word “work” has an unpleasant connotation for most people. Those fortunate enough to love their jobs often use the phrase, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
To most adults, work is a negative word.
Since we (adults) often think of work as a tiresome chore, using the word in reference to children can give images of a stolen childhood, devoid of fun and imagination. Using the word “work” when referring to young children can give the impression that academics are being pushed too early.
This is not the case at all, though. In fact, work vs play is *almost* a simple matter of semantics.
With the recent push for play-based learning over traditional preschool learning activities, you may be wondering where “work” fits into this.
Is there a reason why Montessori activities are called work? Why not just say “play”?
Why Montessori activities are called work
Maria Montessori observed that children delighted in activities of daily life more so than in fantasy play or with toys. Along with the clear delight, she noticed an intense focus from the children during these activities, along with beaming satisfaction upon completion.
This was the birth of the term “work” in relation to children performing enjoyable tasks, in a well-prepared environment.
In childhood, the Montessori term “work” is where the traditional definitions for work and play meet.
Work in Montessori:
- Activities are chosen by the child
- Not forced
- Does not feel like a chore (It’s fun!)
- Serves a developmental purpose
- Can be repeated as the child feels necessary
- Process based
- In harmony with the rest of the environment (immediate and otherwise)
- Materials are self correcting, allowing the child to learn without assistance
- Material have isolated properties
In Montessori, a child’s efforts are not minimized or written off as futile. The word “work” is a respectful way of referring to the natural inclination to explore and learn, or as most people refer to it; play.
While many Montessori parents have work areas prepared for their children, open-ended, independent play such as with wooden toys or other loose parts is often encouraged. Sensory activities and other messy play is also encouraged in Montessori homes.
Sounds fun to me!
Think again about those who say that if you enjoy your job, it doesn’t feel like work. This is what a child engrossed in their work is experiencing; pleasure, growth, satisfaction, and pride, without the toil and torment we envision when the word “work” comes to mind.
Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child“. In Montessori, we respect this as a fact and that is why Montessori activities are called “work”.
Our children take it seriously and so do we.
Do you use the word “work” when referring to an activity your child is engaged in? When your child is busy with something, do you think of what they are doing as being “work”?
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