Montessori school? No, Animal Crossing.

Because of this class, in the past week, I have been thinking a lot about video games and how or what I played growing up. Some of the games I played the most were: TheSims 4, Nintendogs and Animal Crossing. To be honest, I always thought of video games as a waste of my time, nevertheless, I truly enjoyed them. For me, it was about playing for the sake of it, and there isn’t anything wrong with that but I always thought I never got anything out of it. Or at least until now…

Recently, I started working as a babysitter for a bunch of families and the word ‘Montessori method’ haunts me: it comes up constantly. So I forced myself to watch a couple of videos (here’s one of them) to better understand what this method really is about, here’s a summary of what I see as the main general concepts:

  • It is a students/children-focussed teaching method rather than being technique-focussed
  • It is designed to teach real-life skills
  • It relies on personalised experiences: children are encouraged to experiment and make mistakes while acting independently.
  • It is based on freedom of choice
  • Children independently create their own tasks to learn new skills. They adjust and eventually increase the difficulty according to their needs.

Now, if you watch the video linked above from 4:55 you’ll see a two-year-old girl behaving like a little adult without losing the fun games can provide. I remember that this is what I used to feel like when I was proudly walking my Nintendogs golden retriever or when I took care of my Sims. Could the Montessori method describe how I experienced video games growing up? Now, if the Montessori method is so popular there must be a reason and if it can be applied to video games does it mean the Animal Crossing was actually beneficial for my development?

While I think there are huge differences between Montessori (which focuses on real-world experiences) and video games (virtual-world based), there are also many similarities between these two realities and the way motivation, desire for self amelioration and independence are implemented. For example, when playing the games above-mentioned, I always had to choose the activity that was right for me in that given moment, I decided how to progress to the next level, and when I finally did, I would then carry on trying to better myself, my avatar or dogs. I would also find myself in a virtual world I did not know and that was my responsibility to discover. During the process, I would make mistakes and continue repeating the same actions until I was satisfied with myself. Determination and concentration were also necessary as I took pride in my dogs’ abilities to recognise my commands and in the appearance of my house in TheSims. Empathy and socioemotional skills felt important whenever I had to convince my neighbours in Animal Crossing to not move to other cities (I still remember when Dora, my best friend in the city, left 🙁 ). In addition, because I was in control of what was happening and as, unlike in ‘real-life games’, the consequences of my decisions seemed tangible (at least within the virtual-world), I felt fully responsible for my choices.

I then decided to do some research to see if this connection between the legendary educational method and video games had been intentionally implemented by game designers. To my surprise, during a TedTalk, Will Wright (the creator of TheSims and Spore) cites the Montessori method as a source of inspiration for his virtual universes, which are created with the desire to let users explore the game and learn from it by themselves rather than providing specific guidance. I then found books (at the end of the blog) discussing the topic, unfortunately I only have access to the review/summary of one them, so I can’t discuss the authors’ conclusions.

Overall, with the exception of TheSims teaching me how to budget (before I found out about cheats), I really do think I haven’t learnt any practical real-life skills through video games like the Montessori method aims to do. But I surely did develop less concrete ones, such as empathy, responsibility and determination.


Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age by Kurt Squire (2011). – Review here

Technology and digital media in the early years : tools for teaching and learning by Chip Donohue (2014).