Montessori toys

The Montessori education method has been growing since its start from Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. It focuses on helping children develop natural interests through building independence. Fortunately, there are quite a few excellent toys available to support this process!

The Montessori method teaches children through hands-on developmental experiences. Montessori toys support growth and are categorized by their ability to stimulate learning and encourage experimentation. Montessori toys are usually made out of wood or some other natural, non-plastic material. Classic Montessori toys include building blocks, busy boards, pretend play/dress-up toys, wooden puzzles, and stacker toys.

Here are some great Montessori toys that you should consider getting for your young children.

Montessori Toys - Baby playing with wooden toys on a white shelf

Montessori toy characteristics

It is often fairly easy to pick out a Montessori toy (or Montessori-inspired toys!) from the rest. These toys have certain characteristics that are often not found in the toys most children think of in today’s world. Here are the defining traits that make up good Montessori toys.

1. Natural Materials

Montessori toys are made of natural materials and are rarely made of plastic. Materials such as cotton, wood, metals, and cloth are what make up the structure of these toys. This makes them safe for teething and non-toxic. They are also pretty durable, so they can be enjoyed for years as the child grows.

2. Non-robotic/non-motorized

Montessori toys require experimentation in order to ‘work’ for the child. This is why you would not find any robots labeled as Montessori toys. Montessori toys do not move on their own but require thinking and effort on the child’s part. This lets the child’s curiosity lead the way, encouraging kids to explore creative play.

Moving parts in toys also helps refine and develop fine motor skills. This is why Montessori toys seldom (if ever) come with robotic parts or remotes. The toy does not move on its own but instead must be manipulated by the child in order to do what they desire.

This helps children develop simple ‘if/then’ thoughts that spur more action and experimentation, which helps with child development! With items like a push toy, they can explore simple machines while working on essential skills like hand-eye coordination and grasping skills.

Instead of robots that dance for the child, there might be figurines that require the child to move the limbs themselves, which allows the child to think and experience for themselves. There is a high contrast between these toys and motorized toys, to say the least!

3. Realistic

This is not always true, but Montessori toys tend to stay away from mythical and magical creatures or ideas. Usually, if looking for a figure, you would find animals such as tigers or elephants instead of dragons, and firefighters or doctors instead of magicians.

4. Sized down

It is also popular for Montessori toys to be practical items that are sized down to allow children to mimic adults and learn that way. One example is a toolbelt for a child that comes with small plastic tools. These items would be much smaller and lighter so a child can learn how to hold and keep track of these items.

5. One skill at a time

Montessori toys focus on teaching and developing one skill or idea at a time so children can develop certain necessary skills. For example, stacking blocks are considered Montessori toys. They teach problem-solving, understanding of weight, and the fundamentals of gravity due to the balancing of the blocks. This makes sure the children are not overwhelmed by their curiosity while they are playing.

Classic Montessori toys

There are plenty of toys that support the Montessori way of learning. Here are some of the most popular toys in Montessori classrooms and in Montessori-friendly homes.

Montessori Toys - Busy Board
“Busy Boards” include features to foster fine motor skills, including locks, latches, zippers, buttons, et cetera.

1. Busy board

A busy board or lock board is a very popular Montessori-type toy for preschoolers. Montessori toys are meant to teach children motor skills as well as address problem-solving techniques. This means that most, if not all, Montessori toys have moving parts, and children are expected to learn through the experimentation that comes with being given options.

2. Pretend play toys

Another popular category of Montessori-friendly toys involves role-playing popular careers, household activities, and the daily routines of grown-ups. Popular choices include play kitchens, doctor kits, kid-sized brooms, and grocery store items.

Toys such as this dentist set are meant to help children find their own interests. This is also one of the reasons most Montessori toys try to be realistic or mimic real life. Montessori toys strive to help set realistic goals and allow children to reach for those interests and achievements. In the case of this dentist set, a child might realize they enjoy playing with this set more than a garage toolset. This might help them understand their desires and interests better, by showing that they like helping with the body instead of machines or materials.

3. Building blocks

Classic building blocks are a must-have Montessori toy. Some blocks are plain wood while others are painted bright solid colors. These blocks are typically made of solid wood which is sanded to be smooth and safe for kids.

4. Cars, trucks, & trains

Vehicles like cars, trucks, and trains are just as popular in the Montessori world as they are in more mainstream toys. Montessori cars and trucks are almost always made of wood and are never motorized. Wooden train sets such as Brio are also quite common (and popular!).

5. Wooden puzzles

Wooden puzzles are common Montessori toys. This can include standard puzzles, scenes with a few puzzle pieces, or puzzle-like clocks or calendars.

6. Stacker toys

Stacker toys are very popular for babies and younger preschoolers. This includes shape stacking towers and classic rainbow-shaped wooden stackers.

7. Abacus

An abacus is another must-have for children of all ages. They are invaluable for learning to count and can also be useful in keeping kids on task during daily routines and activities.

Montessori-Esque toys

When looking for Montessori toys, you might find some that don’t seem to fit in with the rest. This is an interesting predicament because while some toys might not meet all of the requirements to be a Montessori toy, they can still help your child grow and learn and develop greatly. This includes toys like:

  • Lego (& Duplo)
  • Magna-Tiles

Montessori toys aim to assist children in their learning journey. You may find yourself asking, “Is the toy I have Montessori?” This is a great question to ask. The answer is found above! Does your toy meet all the requirements listed? If it does, it is a Montessori toy that promotes learning and growth!

However, a great toy can fall into 4 out of 5 of those categories. While this might make it not a Montessori toy, it does not make it useless or unhelpful! Take Lego for example.

Lego can help foster creativity and problem-solving. They are great for exercising a child’s mind and helping them learn how to match and sort and fit together. However, Legos are made out of plastic, which is a material Montessori toys are not typically made of. This does not make them a lesser toy! Another similar example is Magna-Tiles. These plastic tiles are very common in Montessori classrooms.

When to use Montessori toys

Montessori toys can be very helpful for children’s development. However, when do these toys become a hindrance in your child’s day-to-day life? It is important to balance work and play when teaching a child. It is also important to keep the child learning, even while they are playing. Montessori toys tend to blur the line between work and play.

A great way to make sure your child is learning and developing real-life skills is by letting them mimic you when you are working or doing chores. Allow them to play, but also allow them to follow you around and learn. Maybe give your child a kitchen set or a small cleaning set. This can help them grow closer to you while also learning more about the world.

This is another type of learning! There are plenty of toys that simulate simple tasks of the lie, so make sure you balance and allow your children to learn in ways that will most benefit them.

Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane is a Mom and digital content creator from the Okanagan Valley.

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