Toddler age is a period known under catchy nicknames like “terrible twos” or the age of “threenagers”.
Although it’s true that children between the age of 1 and 3 years start throwing tantrums as they undergo enormous developmental changes, it is also a very fascinating period.
Toddlers start forming their own personalities and learn everything at a very fast pace. They love challenges (always choosing the most difficult way) and despite their temper, they are very quick to forget and show genuine love.
The Montessori method notices these changes and tries to respond to them in a way that will help the little explorers to reach their full potential. This includes respecting their own pace and personality and observing their individual interests, passions, and talents.
As parents, we use this knowledge to prepare appropriate activities and to choose the right toys and materials.
The typical features of a Montessori toy
- Simplicity – the Montessori method puts an emphasis on simplicity and aesthetics (you won’t find batteries in Montessori toys for toddlers)
- Natural materials – most Montessori toys are made of wood or other natural materials
- Purposeful – each toy should aim at the development of one particular skill or educational area
- Self-correcting – a toddler should know how to play with the toy “correctly” without the intervention of an adult
- Rooted in reality – toddlers are very interested in real things and everyday activities
- Less is more – the Montessori method avoids clutter and noise; fewer toys can lead to better focus and more creativity
Read more in our big guide to Montessori toys.
In this guide, we’ll take a look and the best Montessori toys for toddlers, carefully selected and divided into 5 categories:
#1 Fine motor skills
Fine motor skills are improved through all the hand movements that strengthen small muscles, fingers and wrists. They are important for the development of practical life skills such as writing, dressing, or cleaning teeth.
There are many great Montessori materials that focus on this particular developmental area.
Montessori stacking rings
Montessori geometric shape puzzle
Geometric shapes are all around us. This puzzle is a good start to introduce the 3 basic shapes. Unlike many other shape puzzles, this set is beautifully simple and does not overwhelm the child. The large knobs are easy to grasp and the whole set is lightweight.
Primary lacing beads
Lacing is an essential practical life skill and this beautiful wooden set is a perfect toy to practice it. The beads have different shapes and colors to awake the toddler’s imagination and help with color and shape recognition skills.
Children love building towers and smashing them down. Most wooden blocks on the market have many colors and pictures on them. The pink tower is unique in its simplicity as it only puts emphasis on the difference in the size and weight of the cubes.
With the pink tower, a child can learn about different sizes not only visually, but also by hands – and as we know, the Montessori method is all about hands-on learning.
Montessori knobbed cylinders
The Montessori knobbed cylinders are one of the classic Montessori materials you’ll find in every Montessori school. They help develop sorting by size, height, and width and prepare for basic mathematics activities at a later age.
The original material consists of 10 cylinders per block (you can check it out here) but the smaller version works just fine for home use.
Geometric shape stacker
Another great Montessori puzzle for toddlers, this time a little bit more advanced. It is made of natural, non-toxic materials and helps develop logical thinking, sorting skills and problem solving.
Montessori lock box
The Montessori lock box is a perfect fine motor development tool. Small children are fascinated by different locks and they can improve their patience and concentration when discovering different latches. It is a great preparatory activity for the real-life activity of locking and unlocking.
Montessori busy board for toddlers
A Montessori busy board provides a great opportunity to train dressing skills at varying difficulty levels. Its compact design combined with a high level of engagement makes it an ideal companion for traveling.
If you’re willing to invest more into this type of activity, you’ll love the original Montessori dressing frames.
This child-friendly screwdriver board is a perfect tool to learn some practical life skills while practicing precise hand movements and hand-eye coordination. Although it’s recommended for children 3 years and up, younger kids love playing with it too (of course, under supervision).
#2 Gross motor skills
Maria Montessori considered movement to be an intermediary between the body and the mind.
Parents can encourage movement not only by daily outdoor activities but also by establishing a prepared environment in their homes and offering as many opportunities to move freely as possible.
Pikler triangle is a gross motor development tool designed by Dr. Emmi Pikler and a very popular item in Montessori households. It improves spatial awareness, balance, and coordination and supports self-confidence.
Read our post about the best Pikler triangle models or explore some awesome Pikler triangle alternatives.
Balance stepping stones
These colorful balance stepping stones provide a lot of opportunities to train your toddler’s gross motor skills. They are super durable and steady even on the most slippery floors.
If you’re interested in a set for outdoor use, check out these rubber stepping stones.
Wooden balance board
Balance board is a great toy for all the restless little daredevils who love to move and test their skills in new ways. It has multiple uses and provides a lot of playing potential – the only limit is your child’s imagination.
Why is the balance bike Montessori-friendly? Because it allows children to learn biking at their own pace, without using the training wheels that make them dependent and need to be un-learned later.
#3 Practical life
The Montessori method often highlights the importance of letting children participate in everyday household activities and creating an environment where they are able to do so according to their abilities.
Toddlers love to behave like adults if only we give them the opportunities – whether it’s eating with real-life cutlery, helping out in the kitchen or sleeping in a big bed (not a crib).
It helps to encourage their independence and learn responsibility as well as various practical skills.
Child-sized stainless steel utensil set
Learning how to eat using standard utensils is a challenge every child has to face sooner or later. These realistic, child-sized versions of cutlery will help them with this task. Kids are excited to have a real spoon and fork just like their parents!
Stainless steel drinking cup for kids
This stainless steel cup fits perfectly into your toddler’s hands. It is non-breakable, has a double-walled construction and no sharp edges. A perfect tool to learn drinking from a cup independently and safely.
Wooden vegetable and fruit cutter
This high-quality wooden cutter is a safe way to introduce your toddler to cutting. Not only it is a fantastic fine motor activity, but it also encourages their independence. Even small toddlers are able to cut a banana and thus prepare their snack by themselves!
Glass drink dispenser
A water dispenser enables children to get water whenever they are thirsty – without asking parents. It can be also used as a water station (depending on the setup of your washing area) to wash hands, access water to clean something or water the plants.
Realistic kids cleaning set
Toddlers love participating at everyday household activities and chores. A child-sized cleaning set helps them to do that in a way that is appropriate to their age, while boosting their confidence and independece.
Radio Flyer All-Terrain Steel & Wood Wagon
Radio Flyer wagon is an American classic. It is a practical helper with a wide use in a variery of outdoor activities. Kids love using it for transporting various goods and objects (such as apples, pumpkins, leaves or garden equipment).
Adjustable height learning tower
Learning tower is one of the most popular pieces of furniture in Montessori households. It allows children to reach the countertop and help with baking or cooking in a safe way. Toddlers simply love it.
To learn more, read our detailed guide to the learning tower.
Wooden table and chairs set
A child-sized table and chair is an important part of a Montessori household. It allows the toddler to have a dedicated space that can be used for various purposes – eating, reading, or arts and crafts.
Montessori floor bed
An iconic house-like Montessori bed has several benefits. Not only is it safer than a traditional crib, but it also gives the child a sense of independence and control over the sleeping routine, which may have a positive impact in many areas.
#4 Open-ended play
Sometimes, the Montessori method is falsely accused of diminishing the importance of creativity, pretend play or open-ended play.
The truth is, creative and open-ended play is very important in the Montessori approach. The method just prefers using it to develop imagination rather than fantasy, simply because toddlers can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
A set of blocks is a perfect Montessori-friendly toy because it encourages imagination and creativity. But a stuffed unicorn with clothes and shoes – not so much.
As Dr. Maria Montessori said: “The true basis of the imagination is reality.”
Wooden building blocks set
Wooden blocks are one of the most popular toys among toddlers and preschoolers. They are super simple, which means the child has to be creative and use his own imagination. They provide endless possibilities and an unlimited play value.
These beautifully colored play silks promote open-ended play and encourage imagination. Toddlers love to use them for dancing, dressing up or any other activity that comes to their little minds. They’re made of sustainable, environmentally-friendly silk.
Wooden nesting puzzle blocks
The wooden rainbow nesting blocks are one of the symbols of Montessori toys. A big advantage of this particular model is that the pieces are flat which makes standing them on top of each other easy. This creates more creative options for your little builder.
Musical instruments (10-piece set)
Toddlers love music. Musical instruments are a great way to encourage creativity, introduce new sounds and help develop a musical ear in your child. This cute musical instrument set by Melissa & Doug is made of natural materials and fits small hands perfectly.
Honeysticks Pure Beeswax Crayons
Crayons are the perfect drawing tool for a toddler. They are safe and easy to use, yet they require a certain technique (e.g. they require more pressure on the paper than the markers) so they help develop small muscles while opening the whole new world of arts and crafts to your little one.
Reusable animal stickers
Stickers are a very popular activity for many toddlers. They are easy to use, support creativity and develop soft motor skills and language too. There are several great collections in this series – including wild animals, baby animals, bugs, dinosaurs, and many more.
Wooden Stamp Set – Animals
This beautiful set of 30 animal stamps is a perfect Montessori-friendly toy as it encourages the creative expression of your child and helps with the development of fine motor skills too. Our daughter Ella loves it!
Natural kinetic sand
Kinetic sand has become very popular in Montessori families. It is a perfect sensory activity that stimulates your child’s imagination and creativity. It is soft, made of hypoallergenic and non-toxic materials and very easy to clean up.
#5 Language development
Your child’s language skills will advance significantly at the age between 1 and 3 years. Toddlers are no longer just silent listeners but they try to actively communicate with you and their vocabulary is growing every day.
Although your child will learn the language sooner or later, there are some things you can do to help your little one on this journey, such as:
- talking to your child as much as possible
- articulating carefully
- repeating new words and explaining them
- singing songs or reciting poems
- reading books
A popular activity in Montessori households is using printable cards with objects and animals that can be used in various ways to enrich the child’s vocabulary. There’s plenty of great free resources in this category and we have our own collection too – just visit our page with free Montessori printables.
Montessori animal match cards
A perfect language development activity for toddlers is matching the pictures of the animals with realistic animal figures. It helps to practice the word recognition and visual discrimination of the most common domestic animals.
Other available sets include forest animals, insects, sea animals, poultry and zoo animals.
First 100 Words (board book)
The First 100 is a beautiful book series by an illustrator and creator of bestselling children’s books Roger Priddy. The First 100 words board book features some essential words in a simple, easy-to-digest form with real-life photographs and bright colors.
All Around Bustletown series
All Around Bustletown series is our little Ella’s all-time favorite. The detailed drawings of the everyday life of a little town and its inhabitants throughout the year offer a lot of fun not only for the children. A perfect book series to build rich vocabulary based on real-life situations.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a modern classic by Eric Carle that should not be missing on any child’s bookshelf. It has beautiful illustrations and it’s perfect for teaching counting, the days of the weeks as well as various kinds of fruits and foods – and most importantly – the life cycle of a butterfly.
Press Here is another bestseller that is unique in its own way. It features minimalistic illustrations of dots with simple instructions that make the child feel like the creator of the story.
Read our post about the best Montessori books for toddlers to find other great books for your little reader!
2 thoughts on “A Big List of the Best Montessori Toys for Toddlers (1 – 3 Years Old)”
I have a genuine question, as I’m very new in learning about Montessori. I want to assure you I’m not being a smart aleck so I hope it doesn’t come across this way. You listed The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a book suggestion, but in the book the caterpillar eats cupcakes and lollipops and such, so wouldn’t that be considered fantasy, as caterpillars don’t really eat those things?
Hi Trista, it is a good question 🙂 And you are right, there are some books that are commonly labeled as Montessori-friendly although they contain some elements we might consider “fantasy” or “not accurate”.
For me personally, it is a question of degree – a caterpillar eating sweets in a book that is otherwise factually correct is something different than a book about unicorns. So I am willing to overlook this little “fantasy injection” because the book has many other qualities that are in accordance with the Montessori approach – therefore I would still call it “Montessori-friendly”.
Also, while Maria Montessori advocated for realistic stories, she also admitted there is some beauty in fairy tales and that children’s minds are naturally attracted to fantasy (“The 1946 London Lectures”). She never said we shouldn’t read fairy tales to children. Rather than that, she focused on the positive arguments in favor of more realistic stories.
So it’s really up to you and how strict you decide to be with the “no fantasy” rule 🙂 You can check out our post dedicated to Montessori books for children, where I included the video previews so that parents can see the contents of the books and decide for themselves 🙂 https://www.montessoriup.com/montessori-books-for-toddlers/