Montessori Key Concept: Fantasy Versus Reality

Creativity and fantasy are two different concepts often interchanged in our society. Montessori made a clear distinction between the two. Creativity, for Montessori, was the understanding of the real world and making whole new configurations based upon reality. For example, a child could be introduced to land forms: island, lake, bay, cape, isthmus, strait, chain of lakes, and archipeligo. The child could further study the North American continent and identify the land forms. After studying and understanding this very real information regarding land and water configurations the child could draw an imaginary country which had incorporated the various land and water configurations. This imaginary country would be very creative, springing from the child’s imagination. The country, however, would be created from a very strong reality base. The child would have internalized a great deal of information regarding land and water forms in order to crreate a geographically diverse country

Fantasy does not spring from a reality base. Superhero would be an example. There is little or no knowledge-base that makes the powers of the superheros understandable. 

Between birth and six years Montessori saw the child as needing to have a grounding in reality. The child comes new to the world and does not know about the real world. The first task of any stranger to a new land is to find out about the factual, the critical aspects of the new territory. So the child, new to earth, needs to be given real experience. “Fantasy” which includes much of what occurs on television diverts the child from the crucial task of knowing his/her world. Worse, fantasy (superheros, television characters, etc.) may confuse the child in his/her construction of reality. Indeed, the child is constructing reality in his/her own mind. What reality is being provided to your child through fantasy?

The Montessori environment for the child six and under emphasizes reality and accurate information about the world.

The distinction between fantasy and reality is most important for the child between birth and six years old. Providing real experiences with nature is most critical at this time for the child is establishing a mental picture or image of what the world is. When considering outings with the family we are impacted by advertising to spend our money on a particular movie or amusement park experience. The most useful experience to the child is to stroll in a park or forest and observe the colors, sizes, and shapes in nature. There are smells and textures to feel. Examine leaves for the patterns of veination. Feel stones for texture and color.

Zoos, farms, aquariums, and museums of natural history allow the child access to “fantastic” looking animals (giraffe, elephant, lion). Such experiences extend the child’s real world. The child comes to know the breath and diversity of life on earth. One hardly needs cartoon or comic strip characters to be enthralled by the richness.

As you consider outings and allocate entertainment dollars, consider your child’s need to construct mental images of the real world. Those images come from experiences in the world. The world experiences that the parent offers to the child is the foundation for the child’s world view. As you would not provide candy bars as a main food course to your child for his/her physical body, avoid serving mentally non-nutritious experiences for his mental life. A birthday party at McDonald’s is a very different experience than a birthday with several close friends at the Lindsey Animal Museum, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or the Steinhart Aquarium.

Make conscious decisions about the mental food you wish to provide for your child; try to avoid the synthetic, commercial experiences being sold to you!