Spring, with its fresh new blossoms and bright young leaves, invites us to shake off those winter doldrums and enjoy something new. New experiences, a different way of doing something familiar, and fresh opportunities to be creative all support the development of imagination and creativity in children.

There’s a common misconception that Montessori education discourages imaginative play. But although Maria Montessori emphasized using actual objects for real purposes, rather than toys designed to simulate actual things, she was a strong supporter of the role of imagination in the development of children.

Montessori saw how creativity can be sparked when children are absorbed in their activities. She observed, “When imagination starts from contact with reality, thought begins to construct works by means of which the external world becomes transformed; almost as if the thought of man had assumed a marvelous power: the power to create.

How do we spark imagination in a child? Says Montessori, we will see imagination grow when we provide an environment that supports their natural drive for learning and allow them the freedom to choose. Offering open-ended activities (free play) is one way to spark a child’s imagination. Providing a collection of “loose parts”, without any instruction or expectation that they be used in a certain way, invites the child to be creative.

Outdoors, a collection of stones, sticks, sand or dirt, and some water provide opportunities for using the imagination and creating forts, paths, “furniture”, land forms, and habitats. Indoors, a collection of loose parts might include buttons, spools, string, wooden blocks, dowels, construction paper, tin cans, and strips of fabric. Anything that can be used to create something else can help spark creativity and imagination in children of all ages.

We chatted with Claudia Neves at St. Margaret’s Montessori in Greater London, to find out how their students are using their imagination. Here’s what she had to say:

“Loose Parts is a big part of our indoor and outdoor classroom, with really large objects like logs to very small objects such as glass pebbles. The children demonstrate an enormous capability for creativity and imagination through their open-ended play with these materials.

They turn big barrels into washing machines that can spin their friends, to rocket ships heading for the moon. The logs are used to build a raft for the pirates to sail the seven seas, and the next day as logs on the fire that is so big everyone has to be a firefighter to put it out.

Time is an important element for this open-ended play to be successful. The children start with an idea but it is through trial and error of what they can do with the materials that helps the play to evolve. They explore the properties and possibilities of where their imagination can take them.

Another way we help promote their creativity and imagination is not to differentiate between indoor and the outdoor learning, but see them as a continuation of the children’s learning environment.”

The following photos are a few examples taken over a month where a child demonstrated this, starting with the loose parts in the garden and then following through with the schema in the indoor classroom.


Photos and comments courtesy of Claudia Neves, St. Margaret’s Montessori