Work is Good
Thoughts & Reflections
Work is good.
In the Montessori classroom, we call what children do all day, their “work.” We do this for several reasons. We’d like to discuss that deeper here.
The young child learns from everything she does. When the infant cries, she learns you are reliable. When the toddler keeps dropping her spoon from her chair, she is intuiting gravity. A slight wobble on the playground develops balance. A child’s play is their work, and vice versa. We use the term “work” to remind us as adults of the importance and weight of everything the young child does. Their response to the world is, “Thank you. I needed to know that.”
We could just as easily call everything the child does, “play.” However, in the Montessori classroom, we are conscious of using the term, “work.” Why? “Play” has become something insignificant, something children do to waste time, something adults never have time for anymore. Increasingly, developmental psychologists and researchers are discovering the importance of play and of recess, and are documenting the benefits of multiple opportunities for open-ended play.
But does this play need to be imaginative, chaotic, pretend play? Does this play need to involve running around outside wildly? Does this play need to be loud? Some play can be described with these qualities, but play, and work, is so much more. What is being fulfilled with these documented benefits of play?
Play is cited as helping to develop Executive Function — processes in the brain that allow an individual to focus, to organize, to remember and carry out a series of tasks, to prioritize that series. Play develops fine and gross motor skills, and coordination. Play helps children take turns, develop emotional awareness, patience, and empathy. Play helps children develop task-persistence, work towards a goal, instill intrinsic motivation and rewards. The Montessori classroom fosters all of this.
Montessori classrooms have open-ended work cycles. For our youngest children, this is one two-hour period per day. For our oldest students, this is multiple periods of extended time when children decide on their own tasks, goals, time management, collaborative or individual work. Regardless of the age, the opportunity to choose your own work for the most significant part of the day is inextricable from the Montessori pedagogy.
The selection of work in a Montessori school fulfills all the same needs play is cited as meeting: motor function, problem solving, challenges. Teachers interact with children with the least imposition on their free-choice, providing new presentations, reminders of how to use a material, engaging a new level of challenge. Then, they get out of the way, to encourage the child to play, to work with the material independently. This is one of the ways a child has full ownership of knowledge.
There are so many parallels between what children do in a Montessori classroom all day, to what ideal play achieves in a child’s development. So why do we insist on calling it work??
Work is where adults go all day. Work is a magical place to the young child, though there are days when it might not seem as magical to us. Children want to be just like us, to do all the things we do. We see this in the Practical Life area in the classroom, with Sweeping, Washing Dishes, and Plant Care. You go to work, and they do their own work, too.
Work gives us purpose. We are proud of what we do. Through our work, we feel a sense of contributing to the greater good. Children in the classroom feel this too. They wash the dishes of all the children after snack. They sweep the classroom, even when they weren’t the one who made the mess. They scrub every table. They matter. They make a difference in their classroom community. Not just because of what they do, but it becomes who they are — someone who loves and cares for their classroom and their classmates in a selfless, true manner.
So much is being developed through the tasks the child carries out in a Montessori classroom, through all they do all day. They are developing skills, growing knowledge, creating qualities in their personality which will last their whole lives. This is so much more than play; this is work.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder