Puppets are readily available toys in traditional preschools, but do they belong in a Montessori classroom or a Montessori playroom at home? I am giving you the Big Thumbs Up. And here's why.
Maria Montessori taught reading with a clear, no-nonsense phonics approach. This made sense for the Italian language, which is a purely phonetic language. Pretend play was not a large part of the language curriculum, only down to earth language practice.
This made even more sense to Maria, who was concerned about the children she was working with living in a fantasy life to escape their lives in poverty.
Maria's first class of children were mostly unattended during the day and lived in a slum!
I want you to imagine a large group of undernourished, unsupervised, unclean children entering her classroom for the first time in turn of the century Rome, Italy. The needs of those children were immense.
The government stepped in, created a housing community, and allowed Maria to serve the children. These were truly "the projects" of Rome, and Maria desperately wanted to change their lives for the better. Her great achievement was bringing those children real, meaningful experiences.
The Science of Puppet Play
Back to puppetry. I never attended a class with Maria, but I kind of doubt that she went around her classroom tickling the kids with puppets and encouraging them to freely make use of a puppet theater.
I completely understand her position on downplaying pretend play and encouraging real-life activities given that she was concentrating so very hard on reality. However...there is a huge body of academic research that says puppets have enormous benefits for kids.
"Puppetry offers a chance to create a visualization of the thinking process. Seeing one’s thoughts facilitates empowerment and initiates the ability to discover intelligence and feelings, thus, widening the horizons of understanding others." - from Farryl Hadari at Puppets and Therapy
Many Montessori teachers of today recognize that pretend play has an important place in the intellectual and emotional growth of all children. Ultimately what you are doing when you use puppetry is developing auditory awareness. I can't think of an example greater than the use of puppets and storytelling to form a solid foundation for reading and writing.