Never has a term so confused a traditional teacher or a parent just learning about Montessori. The common phrase "choose your work" used in the Montessori classroom has caused a massive myth surrounding the playful nature of the classroom.
Some seem to think that all Montessori children do is wander around choosing not to learn anything (because what else would children choose?). Others seem certain that the Montessori classroom is an academic factory, pushing three year olds to learn skills with a disdain for any kind of playful spirit.
Work is to Play is to Learn
Current educational theory holds that children learn through play, a common phrase that by semantics alone seems to put it at odds with Montessori philosophy.
Clearly, the answer to this confusion lies in Maria Montessori's own words. We cannot help but notice that despite vastly different cultures and lifestyles, Nature's children all grow in their own ways, in their own time. .
Montessori loved the word she used to describe the learning process - work. She believed that the word "work" correctly conveyed the amount of effort the children put into expanding their minds and strengthening their bodies and nourishing their spirits. The word "play" by comparison seemed dismissive of this greatness. She writes:
"It is certain that the child's attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organise itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and, on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example."
With these words, the word "work" takes on a new meaning. The child is in a state of becoming. The adult that will emerge is a mystery, but we know that it will take a lot of energy to get there. We acknowledge this great effort on the part of the child.
Change and Consistency
Things may have changed in the past one hundred years, but not this. We may choose to call it work, or we may choose to call it play. Maria makes no distinction between the two. We have respect for the child's nature, and that is all.