How does Montessori understand 'play'?

Play is an often-misunderstood activity, dismissed as lacking a serious or practical purpose.  Tell that to an athlete on the field or a musician on stage. Montessori, observing children’s spontaneous activity as they followed their developmental interests, saw something very serious and practical, plus high levels of enjoyment and satisfaction – also important aspects of play. She observed this ‘child’s play’ and honored it with the term ‘work’. But let’s not turn this honor into an arbitrary command. Whatever we call it, our focus is on the quality of a child’s engagement, interpreting it in terms of their optimal development.

Child hand washing in a Montessori classroom