Play and Social-Emotional Wellbeing: Creating Space for Unstructured Play in Montessori Environments
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Research indicates that most Canadian children and youth fill their time outside of school participating in extracurricular activities or on a screen (Statistics Canada, 2008, 2018). This suggests that many young people are having less time for unstructured activities and free play. Furthermore, there is evidence that Canadian millennials have an increasing risk for mental illness, specifically 63% can be classified as “High Risk”, which is a 41% increase from the previous year (Ispos, 2017). The significant rise in the rates of mental illness occurs in parallel with a decrease in time spent on unstructured play. One must wonder whether there is a connection between the increase in mental health issues and the decrease in unstructured play time. Many early childhood education settings incorporate play as a major component of their programs, as recommended by BC Early Learning Framework. In contrast, many traditional Montessori education programs, although hands-on and didactic in nature, steer children away from unstructured pretend play while in the Montessori environment (Torrence, 2001). In this paper, I aim to investigate the impact of unstructured and pretend play on children’s social-emotional development and overall wellbeing. Further, this study examines whether play can take place in Montessori environments without compromising the benefits of the approach and philosophy. Recommendations on how Montessori schools can incorporate play are provided, outlined using 3-tiered Response to Intervention (RtI) framework.