Montessori toys have become quite popular in recent years. It’s because 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 typically a sensory or hands-on learning toy focused on the development of one particular skill.
Other common features include simplicity, use of natural materials, and resemblance to real-world objects rather than fantasy elements.
Now, there are many official Montessori materials that Maria Montessori used and proposed in her works. (We mention many of them in this post). But it doesn’t mean there can’t be any other toys in a Montessori household.
When we talk about Montessori toys, we mean toys that are in accordance with the Montessori principles, not only the toys designed by Maria Montessori.
So, what are the key characteristics of a Montessori toy?
1. Simple & beautiful
Toys that follow the Montessori principles don’t distract children with multiple impulses. They are usually made from simple natural materials. You won’t find any batteries in them.
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. Focused on sensory development
Small children learn primarily through movement and senses.
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.
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).
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
This iconic Montessori sensory material is primarily used for teaching the visual discrimination of size. It consists of 10 pink cubes varying in 3 dimensions. It also encourages hands-on learning and training of the mathematical mind.
Why is a kid-sized cleaning set a perfect Montessori-friendly toy? Because it allows the kids to participate in real everyday household activities according to their abilities and in a safe and fun way.
Best Montessori toys for preschoolers
Knobbed cylinders are great for training the ability to recognize various dimensions (heights, widths) and coordinate their fingers in order to grab things.
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.
The numerical rods represent the first Math material in Montessori education. By playing with them, children learn to connect the number with the quantity and the relationship between the numbers. They can be also used to explain the basics of addition and subtraction.
With this complex sensory material of beads, cubes, and number cards, the child will learn to understand large numbers and units (tens, hundreds, thousands) and train addition, subtraction, as well as multiplication and division.
Thanks to this sensory material, children learn how to write without pencils – by tracing the sandpaper letters (or numbers) first. As they repeat this exercise for a long time they will naturally train their hand and fingers and form muscle memory while incorporating 3 senses at once: visual, tactile, and kinesthetic one.
Dr. Montessori believed that children learn writing before reading. This movable alphabet is a great tool that helps preschoolers to compose their first words and get more familiar with different shapes of letters.
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 2 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.
What about the Montessori playroom?
Environment plays a vital role in Montessori education. The playroom is no exception.
The Montessori playroom should be a “prepared environment” – a place that encourages free exploration and 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 distractions. 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 because 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 🙂