Lego and Montessori are two popular brands that are quite different despite both focusing on children’s learning and development. Montessori is an educational philosophy and method while Lego produces the iconic interlocking plastic bricks that allow for open-ended construction play. At first glance, Lego’s creative building sets seem like they would align well with Montessori’s emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural development. However, there are some key differences that make Lego toys generally incompatible with Montessori classrooms and homes.
What is Montessori?
Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. Montessori classrooms are carefully prepared environments that allow children to learn through independent exploration and discovery. Key principles of Montessori include:
– Respect for the child’s natural psychological development and sensitive periods for learning
– Multi-age classrooms with mixed age groups
– Choice of work and opportunity for self-direction
– Hands-on learning with specialized Montessori materials
– Child-sized furniture and tools that foster independence
– Specially trained teachers who guide rather than direct learning
– Focus on cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development
The goal is to help children reach their full potential at their own pace. Montessori environments are peaceful, ordered, and simple. Activities are designed to engage a child’s interest through what Montessori called “prepared environments.” Children are free to choose activities within that structured environment. Classroom materials are arranged neatly on low shelves that are accessible to students. Most resources are designed to teach specific skills or concepts such as counting, letter sounds, geometry, practical life skills, and cultural studies.
What are the key features of Lego?
Lego bricks have been popular children’s toys since their introduction in Denmark in the late 1940s. Some key features of Lego include:
– Interlocking plastic bricks in different sizes, shapes, and colors
– Bricks can be assembled and connected in many different ways
– Open-ended building sets encourage creativity and imagination
– Themed sets featuring popular movies, tv shows, video games
– Instructions provided to build specific structures or models
– Miniature human figures called mini-figs to populate Lego creations
– Different series for a wide age range from toddlers to adults
– Both individual brick boxes and larger playsets available
– Digital offerings like building games and apps
– Iconic brand with strong name recognition and nostalgia
The flexibility of Lego promotes open-ended play rather than structured learning. Children are free to follow instructions or build something completely original from their own creativity. Lego sets range from extremely basic with a few larger pieces for preschoolers to advanced architectural landmark replicas or tech robots with thousands of smaller pieces for experienced builders. This allows the toys to grow with children over many years.
Differences between Lego and Montessori
While both Lego and Montessori provide development benefits for children, there are some key differences between the two:
Guided vs self-directed learning
Montessori emphasizes self-directed activity chosen by the child while Lego can include external direction in the form of instructions. However, Lego instructions are optional and children may still follow their own instincts.
Open-ended vs structured materials
Montessori materials are carefully designed with specific learning purposes while Legos are open-ended. However, a full Montessori classroom still offers plenty of choice from the range of Montessori materials available.
Real-world skills vs imaginative play
Montessori activities focus on real-world practical skills while Lego fuels imagination and creativity. However, Montessori classrooms still incorporate elements of pretend play and storytelling.
Fine motor vs gross motor skills
Using small Lego bricks develops fine motor dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Montessori incorporates fine motor activities too but has more emphasis on large movement and gross motor skills.
Safety and durability
Montessori materials are child-sized, durable and safer for uncontrolled play. Loose Legos pose risks for choking hazards and foot injuries. However, supervised Lego play on a floor mat is reasonably safe.
Montessori environments are aesthetically pleasing, nature-based, and clutter-free to foster concentration. Legos are colorful but plastic-based and can lead to clutter.
Montessori limits or avoids digital technology while Lego incorporates screen time in video games and apps. Physical Lego bricks remain screen-free.
Are Legos allowed in Montessori classrooms?
For the reasons outlined above, most Montessori schools do not allow Legos in primary classrooms. The open-ended Lego playstyle goes against key Montessori principles like guided activities with deliberate purposes. Legos can also disrupt the calm, ordered environment.
However, some Montessori teachers do incorporate Legos and other construction toys into classroom activities in limited ways, such as:
– Offering Lego free building time outside only
– Using Duplo bricks instead for younger children
– Having Lego building contests, then taking creations apart
– Having children build something with instructions then explain it
– Building Lego structures to display basic math and geometry concepts
– Providing Lego only during specific activity time, not for free play
So while free access to Legos throughout the day may not align with Montessori, they aren’t completely banned either. Teachers can strike a balance using Legos to supplement learning while maintaining core elements of Montessori classrooms.
Benefits of Lego vs Montessori
Both Lego and Montessori offer benefits for children’s learning and development.
Benefits of Lego
Some key benefits of Lego include:
– Promotes creativity, imagination and storytelling
– Lets kids build independently following their own ideas
– Develops fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
– Teaches basic STEM concepts like counting, measuring, geometry
– Introduces children to following instructions and plans
– Can be enjoyed solo or collaboratively with others
– Available in range of difficulty levels for different ages
– Timeless toy that many parents played with themselves as children
Benefits of Montessori
Some key benefits of Montessori include:
– Child-directed learning based on developmental stages
– Hand-on multi-sensory materials make concepts concrete
– Mixed age classrooms encourage peer mentoring
– Cultivates concentration, coordination, and problem-solving
– Prepared environment trains independence and life skills
– Trained teachers offer guidance tailored to the individual
– Respectful philosophy values child’s interests and choices
– Holistic approach encompassing cognitive, social, and emotional development
There is room for both construction play and guided Montessori materials to offer well-rounded early childhood development.
In summary, while Lego and Montessori are both popular educational brands, they have some inherent differences. Legos promote more free-form creativity while Montessori offers deliberate materials for focused skill development. Legos tend to involve more open-ended imaginative play while Montessori prioritizes real-world practical life activities. The loose pieces and potential clutter of Legos conflict with the order and aesthetics central to Montessori classrooms. For these reasons, most Montessori schools limit or avoid Legos during core work time. But teachers can find a middle ground using Legos in moderation for supplemental activities. Both brands have strengths and collectively provide physical, cognitive, creative, and social-emotional benefits critical to early learning. Montessori and Lego don’t have to be mutually exclusive – teachers can blend limited construction play into the highly structured Montessori environment to help children develop their full potential.