Montessori toys have become quite popular in recent years. The Montessori method, although old, has a lot to say to modern parents who want only the best for their children.
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.
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. Other common features are simplicity, use of natural materials and emphasis on beauty.
So, what are the key characteristics of a Montessori-friendly toy?
1. Simple & beautiful
Toys that follow the Montessori principles don’t distract children with multiple impulses. You won’t find any batteries in them either.
Quite the contrary, they are usually pretty straightforward. The goal is to improve children’s ability to focus on a specific task by keeping the toy as simple as possible.
The Montessori method also promotes the importance of aesthetics and beauty. Children spend a lot of time playing. Having beautiful toys may help them start paying attention to the aesthetic value of things and develop an appreciation of beauty.
2. Made from natural materials
The use of wood (and other natural materials like cotton, wool or stone) is one of the most typical features of Montessori toys.
Wood is a unique material that connects us to nature and has a positive impact on our health and stress levels. What’s more, wood is perfectly safe (that’s why it’s often used for baby teethers) and environmentally-friendly.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have any plastic toys in your household, but natural materials are preferable.
According to the Montessori philosophy, each toy should have an educational purpose and help with the development of one particular skill. That’s why the vast majority of Montessori toys are the so-called close-ended toys.
This, however, doesn’t mean that open-ended toys are not Montessori-friendly. For example, many Montessori parents love wooden blocks because they offer a lot of playtime for children and fullfill other important Montessori criteria. They’re just not that common in Montessori classrooms.
A special category of purposeful Montessori toys are items that act as smaller versions of real everyday objects – a great example is a child-sized cleaning set that allows a toddler to actually sweep the floor and participate in household activities.
4. Rooted in reality
Maria Montessori believed that “the true basis of the imagination is reality.”
That’s why Montessori toys are always rooted in reality rather than fantasy. The reason is simple – younger children can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. So why confuse them with made-up stuff when there’s so much beauty and wonder to discover in our real world?
This concept should be also taken into consideration when choosing the children’s books. (See our list of the best Montessori-friendly books for toddlers).
Maria Montessori believed in the importance of hands-on learning. It means we should let children discover the world by themselves, using their hands and other senses, rather than being told about it.
That’s why many typical Montessori toys are self-correcting. It simply means that the toy is designed in a way that gives a clear clue about whether it is used correctly or not – so that they can learn by themselves.
A typical example? Knobbed cylinders – each piece can fit only into one hole correctly.
Best Montessori toys for babies
There are numerous “Montessori baby gyms” but we believe the best solution is to combine a simple wooden frame with Montessori mobiles. The shapes and colors are carefully selected to help develop your baby’s sensory skills.
Interlocking discs are a classic toy. There are two versions – the glued one for younger children that develops grasping and the unglued one for older babies that develops hand-eye coordination.
The tray-and-ball box is one of the classic Montessori toys you’ll find in every top 10 list. A child has to drop the ball into the hole, practicing hand-eye coordination and object permanence.
Best Montessori toys for toddlers
Another classic toy that encourages color and size recognition as well as fine motor and perceptual skills development. Great for ages 18 months and up (although younger kids love it too).
Why is a kid-sized cleaning set a perfect Montessori-friendly toy? Because it allows the kids to participate in real everyday household activities in a way that is appropriate to their abilities.
Best Montessori toys for preschoolers
Knobbed cylinders are great for a little more advanced training of children’s ability to recognize various dimensions (heights, widths) and coordinate their fingers in order to grab things.
Sand tray is an excellent educational toy that fulfills the Montessori principle of hands-on learning perfectly, as it is specifically designed for children who are learning to write or count.
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
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. The truth is, 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
Don’t get too limited by various guidelines and toy lists. Not every Montessori-friendly toy is an official Montessori material and there are many toys that are in accordance with the Montessori philosophy although you won’t find them in Montessori classrooms.
After all, we are parents, not trained Montessori teachers 🙂
For example, although natural materials are preferable in Montessori education, we’ve kept some plastic toys we got from other kids in the family if we thought they fulfilled other Montessori criteria important to us.
What about the Montessori playroom?
Environment plays a vital role in the Montessori education. The playroom is no exception.
The Montessori playroom should be a “yes space” – a place that encourages free exploration and an uninterrupted play. Here are some key elements:
- Independence – The toys should be placed in a way that allows the child to take them freely anytime.
- Focus – The playroom should not provide too many distratcions. It is also recommended that 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.
- Beauty – The whole area should promote aesthetics and artistic taste.
Last but not least, don’t get too stressed beacuse there’s no perfect toy. No guide will ever tell what toy your child will love. Just follow your child.
And 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 🙂