Montessori toys are super-popular right now.
And it’s great they are. The Montessori method, although old, has a lot to say to the modern parents who want only the best for their children.
The problem is, there’s a lot of contradictory information about what is and what is not a Montessori-friendly toy.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the basic Montessori principles regarding toys and provide a curated list of the best Montessori toys you can get for your little one. We divided them into 6 categories:
Our goal is simple – to help other parents apply Montessori theory of education in their own homes, using quality toys that are in accordance with the Montessori philosophy.
What are Montessori toys?
A Montessori toy is one that is in accordance with the Montessori principles.
It is typically a single-purpose, reality-based toy focused on the development of one particular soft-motor, gross-motor, or language skill. Another common feature is the simplicity and use of natural materials.
So, what are the key characteristics of a Montessori-friendly toy?
1. Simple is beautiful
Toys that follow the Montessori principles don’t distract the children with multiple impulses. You won’t find any batteries in them either.
The goal is to improve the children’s ability to focus on a specific task by keeping the toy as simple as possible.
2. Natural materials
The use of wood (and other natural materials like metal, cotton, wool or stone) is one of the most typical features of a Montessori toy.
It’s a well-known thing that wooden surfaces can have a positive impact on our health and stress levels.
Each toy should have an educational purpose and help with the development of one particular fine-motor, gross-motor, or language skill.
It doesn’t mean that “open-ended toys” are not Montessori-friendly. They’re just recommended for older toddlers.
4. Rooted in reality
One of the things Dr. Montessori observed was that children are very interested in real things and activities.
Montessori toys should resemble real objects or serve as child-sized versions of everyday items to encourage independence and participation in household activities.
5. Less is more
The “less is more” philosophy certainly fits well with the Montessori approach to toys. A cluttered environment can be confusing and distracting for the child.
Your little one doesn’t need all the toys to be happy. Never forget that play is in the child, not in the toy.
The first category belongs to the Montessori-friendly toys that help to develop your child's sensory skills.
Many of them can be used in the very early stage of childhood to stimulate vision, hearing and touch. Just remember that no toy can replace your face and voice when it comes to your baby’s sensory development 🙂
Handmade Montessori mobiles
High contrast sensory cloth book
This cloth book is a great sensory development toy for small children as it has bright, high-contrast pictures suitable for the newborns who have a limited vision. It was tested and recommended by child development experts.
Wooden baby roller rattle
A rattle is one of the first toys your infant will play with. So why not make it a nice, simple and aesthetically pleasing item through which the baby will start discovering the natural sounds of wood clicking? The Plan Toys baby roller is made of environmentally-friendly, safe rubber tree wood ideal for small children.
Natural (wood & cotton) teether and rattle
This cute little duo – a cotton crochet bunny (7 inches long) and a classic 3-ring wooden rattle (6 inches long) – is a beautiful set great for your infant or as a baby shower gift for someone else. It is made of natural materials and tested to meet child safety standards.
Texture squares for sensory development
This set of 20 colorful texture squares is a great toy that will help your child develop sensory skills through discovering new types of surfaces – soft, bumpy, furry, fuzzy, nubby and many more. It encourages hands-on play, matching skills, and tactile discrimination.
Musical instruments (10-piece set)
Melissa and Doug’s set of musical instruments is a perfect Montessori toy. Not only does it include real, child-sized musical instruments that will help develop children’s musical ear and expose them to various tones, it is also beautifully crafted from natural materials.
A set of 3 colorful playsilks
This set of 3 beautifully colored playsilks encourages open-ended play and imagination. The silks can be anything – a princess’ dress, a superhero’s cape, a flag or an animal tail. They’re made of sustainable, environmentally-friendly material and easily hand-washed.
Fine motor skills
There's a wide range of hand-eye coordination skills every child develops in the first couple of years.
The following toys are great tools to help with various types of fine motor actions like grasping, reaching, matching, sorting, or even hammering.
Object permanence box with tray and ball
The tray-and-ball box is one of the classic Montessori toys you’ll find in every TOP 10 list. It is beautifully simple – a child has to drop the ball into the hole, practicing the fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and object permanence.
Wooden learning puzzle (4 shapes)
Simple is beautiful. If your child loves sorting as much as our little one, then this simple learning puzzle with 4 shapes in 4 basic colors is a great choice. The pieces are easy to grab and made with all the safety standards in mind. You wouldn’t believe how much play value this simple puzzle has for a toddler!
Montessori wooden rainbow stacker
Another classic toy, great for ages 18 months and up (although younger kids will love to play with it too). It encourages color and size recognition as well as fine motor and perceptual skills development. The toy has an ideal size to fit into small hands and the ring holes are sized perfectly to match the pole.
For a more baby-friendly version, check out these simple stacking rings on Etsy.
Montessori knobbed cylinders
Knobbed cylinders are great for training children’s ability to recognize various dimensions (heights, widths) and coordinate their fingers in order to grab things. The toy is recommended for ages 3 years and up (there are some small parts so younger children should only play with it under parental supervision).
Wooden nesting puzzle blocks
Very well-made and durable toy to develop your child’s fine motor skills. One thing we really love about this model when compared to other brands – the pieces are flat so you can easily stand them up.
Wooden building blocks set (100 pcs)
Is there a more open-ended toy than a set of simple, solid wood blocks? This toy offers endless hours of open-end play and hands-on learning, encouraging the child’s creativity and fine motor skills. It is made of solid wood, yet light enough to be safe for smaller children. Simple is beautiful!
Wooden marble run
This unique wooden marble run is a beautiful toy that encourages hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills! It’s ideal for children ages 1 year up. Also, the toy is delivered already assembled – you just need to unpack it and the fun can begin!
Montessori busy board for toddlers
The sensory board by Kinley consists of 9 different activities that encourage hands-on learning, self-dressing skills, fine motor skills development and hand-eye coordination. It is very compact, so we use it to keep Ella busy while traveling.
Gross motor skills
Working on gross motor skills helps children to gain strength, agility and confidence in their body.
Here’s a couple of toys and practical items that will help you to provide a safe and encouraging environment for your little one to learn new gross motor skills and enjoy the freedom of movement.
Little Climber Pikler Triangle by Lily & River
Pikler triangle is one of the rising stars among the Montessori toys. It helps to develop a child’s gross motor skills and it’s a lot of fun too. Our little climber loves it!
A baby playmat is an essential item that helps to make sure your baby has a safe environment to explore the world around and move freely.
It is easy to clean, durable and waterproof – all the essential features to withstand the activities of your little rascal.
Climb and crawl activity play set
These 6 colorful building blocks can create a perfect setting for hours of crawling, climbing and building while developing gross motor skills, balance and coordination. The pieces hold together perfectly and provide a safe environment for endless indoor fun. What’s more, the set is certified and tested and very easy to clean.
Wooden balance board
A balace board is a great toy that wil help develop your toddler’s gross motor skills. What’s truly great about it is the fact that besides the obvious purpose – balancing – it has an unlimited number of other applications. A slide? Tunnel? Table? There are no rules. Just fun.
Balance stepping stones
This beautiful set of 12 balance stepping stones consists of 4 different block sizes. It can be used for both indoor and outdoor play since the slip-resistant bottoms make them safe to be used on carpet, tiles or even grass. Great for the popular “the floor is lava” game or any other activity your child can imagine.
Montessori method is not only about toys. The children love to participate at everyday household activities too.
Although many of the following items are technically not toys, they are very important in the Montessori method. They help to develop fine motor skills, introduce social skills and foster responsibility and independence.
Child-sized stainless steel utensil set
Most utensil sets for children consist of colorful plastic pieces that aren’t very similar to real-life cutlery. This stainless steel set is different. It encourages independent eating as the kids are excited to have a real spoon and fork just like dad and mom. Not to mention it is a more practical and hygienic option.
Stainless steel drinking cup for kids
A stainless steel cup is a perfect non-breakable alternative to a standard tea mug that fits perfectly into your toddler’s hands and provides a safe way to drink both warm beverages and water. It has a double-walled construction and no sharp edges.
Child-sized mini glass pitcher
This small glass pitcher is not only a mini version of a real, full-sized water pitcher. It is made to be used by kids – it has sturdy glass that prevents breaking after the first little bump, but is lightweight enough to be carried by small hands. It is a great tool that will be a great addition to your Montessori-oriented household.
Realistic kids cleaning set
Why is a kid-sized cleaning set a perfect Montessori-friendly toy? Because it allows the kids to participate in everyday household activities in a way that is appropriate to their abilities. It also teaches them to be independent and responsible in a playful, creative way.
Radio Flyer All-Terrain Steel & Wood Wagon
A Radio Flyer wagon is a practical helper in many garden activities for children – whether they want to transport the gardening equipment, dry leaves, or freshly harvested apples or just have a fun carriage ride, being pulled by the magic horse. (Yes, we mean daddy.)
Furniture plays an important role in shaping the Montessori-friendly environment at home.
Adjustable height learning tower
There is no better Montessori-friendly item to end this list than a learning tower. It is one of the most popular items in households with a toddler and the reason is simple – the child can participate in all the kitchen activities and interact with parents while being safe thanks to the practical rails and handholds.
Wooden table and chairs set for toddlers
This child-sized set consisting of a table (20 inches high) and 2 chairs (11-inch seat height) has a beautiful natural finish that will fit into any playroom or kitchen. It is perfect for any activity – arts and crafts, reading, puzzles, or eating.
5-storage wooden toy shelf
This birch toy shelf by ECR4Kids is simple, made of natural materials and has just the right height for toddlers. All these qualities make it a perfect Montessori piece of furniture that doesn’t overwhelm the child with its size.
Montessori floor bed
The key element to making the bed Montessori-friendly is to allow the children to climb in and out on their own. This beautifully designed floor bed is a great way to do exactly that – thus promoting the independence of your child.
Language is one of the key skills a child has to master in the first couple of years.
The best way to foster language development is to talk to your child as much as possible. Here’s a couple of great books and toys that will help you with that.
First 100 Words (board book)
The First 100 Words board book is part of a beautiful series of books for babies and toddlers. It covers the 100 simple first words to help the child to learn about the world around through the realistic photographs of actual objects and animals. The book is perfectly sized to fit into small hands.
All Around Bustletown series
Our daughter Ella fell in love with the All Around Bustletown series by Rotraut Susanne Berner. The drawings are beautifully detailed so you can spend hours discovering new characters, situations and things.
Making Faces is a cute little board book that introduces 5 essential facial expressions – happy, sad, angry, surprised, and silly – via real photographs of children. We also really like the mirror at the end.
See our list of 10+ unique Montessori-friendly books for toddlers to find more reading recommendations.
Wooden fold & go barn
Going to a farm and playing in the barnyard, among the animals, is the ultimate Montessori way. Unfortunately, not everybody has this option. The wooden barn is a great “replacement” that enables your child to get to know the names of various farm animals before actually visiting the real farm!
Realistic safari animals
This beautiful set of various safari animals is another great way to introduce new words to your child. Besides that, it provides endless possibilities for open-ended, imaginative play.
How to choose the best toy for your child?
There’s almost an infinite number of options when it comes to Montessori toys. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
So here are some of our tips on how to pick the best toys for your little one:
1. Observe your child
There are periods (also called schemas) when a child seems to be obsessed with one particular activity that he needs to develop. The obsession stops once the child masters the activity.
These may include activities like:
Is your child currently obsessed with inserting things inside the box? Throwing things? Moving everything from one place to another? These are the hints that may help you pick the right toy.
2. Go for quality, not quantity
As we’ve mentioned at the beginning of this guide, too many toys can actually have a negative impact on your child.
It’s not just us who think so. A study called The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play published in the Infant Behaviour and Development Journal came up with a (un)surprising conclusion:
..when provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively.
So, instead of overwhelming your child with too many options, pick a few simple, elegant, purpose-driven toys. Play is in the child, not in the toy.
3. Don’t overcomplicate it
Some papers about Montessori education set out an exact list of toys and learning materials that should and shouldn’t be used. It’s great for official Montessori classrooms, but hardly achievable in a regular household.
In this guide, we don’t go into academic details about the exact number or shapes of wooden blocks. After all, we are parents, not educational theorists 🙂
A toy doesn’t have to be in the “Montessori manuals” to be in accordance with Montessori principles.
What about the Montessori playroom?
A vital role in the Montessori method is played by the environment – the child’s playroom. It should encourage:
- Independence – The toys should be placed in a way that allows the child to take them freely anytime.
- Focus – The child should play with only one toy at a time.
- Order – Each toy should have its own place in the room and the kid should put it back when finished with playing. (If the child is too young, it can be done by a parent in order to model the proper behavior.)
Here’s a great example of a Montessori-friendly play area:
If you want to learn more about setting up a perfect play area for your child, read our detailed guide to setting up a Montessori playroom.
Last but not least, don’t get too stressed. There’s no perfect toy. And no guide will ever tell what toy your child will love.
Don’t forget that no toy can take your place as a parent. The time you spend playing with your child is more valuable than a hundred toys 🙂