Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician who developed a child-centered educational philosophy based on self-directed learning. Montessori homes and classrooms are esthetically pleasing and planned with the goal of allowing children to engage in their own learning at their own pace. In the Montessori classroom, for example, children are not usually grouped by age or attainment level. Instead, mixed-age groups promote collaboration and peer-to-peer learning, and children can learn at their own pace without age-related comparison.
The Montessori philosophy encourages independence and fosters a love for learning. It’s a philosophy that values curiosity and creativity. If you have looked into the Montessori approach to child-rearing, you will be aware that the basic concepts of the Montessori method can be introduced into your home from infancy.
In her book The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being, Simone Davis uses Montessori principles to assist parents in setting up their homes according to Montessori principles. The author also provides a guide to toys and activities that are both educational and age-appropriate.
What are Montessori toys?
People may define Montessori toys differently. Some understand the term to strictly mean materials developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, while others use it more loosely to include toys that align with Montessori principles.
In both cases, Montessori toys are all made with a purpose. Toys are introduced at the appropriate developmental stage and are retained in the play space until your child has mastered the skill. At that point, the toy is replaced with one suitable for the next level of skill.
Montessori toys are made with natural materials, and they are usually simple toys that allow kids to focus on the specific purpose of the toy without unnecessary distractions. The toys and the environment should be ready to meet the needs of the child. The role of adults in the play experience is that of a guide who aims to encourage observation, exploration, and questioning.
Difference between learning toys and Montessori toys
Many toys on the market are labeled as “educational” or “learning” toys, and some may even be erroneously labeled as Montessori toys. The primary difference between these “learning” toys and Montessori toys is that the latter respect the developmental timeline of the child.
An example of this is numbers and letters, which are only introduced when children are developmentally able to understand that these symbols have meaning. Similarly, toys that overstimulate with flashing lights or noises that don’t serve the purpose of the toy are also not Montessori toys.
Montessori toys have the following basic traits:
- Montessori toys are very simple. They don’t include any batteries or electronics. Each toy has a specific purpose, and anything that detracts from that is excluded.
- Where possible, Montessori toys are made from natural materials such as wood, stone, metal, or natural fibers and fabrics that are safe, durable, and sustainable and provide a unique sensory experience.
- One particular purpose or developmental area is targeted with each toy. Toys may focus on fine motor skills or gross motor skills, life skills, language, mathematics, arts, or sensory play.
- The Montessori philosophy recommends providing toys that are rooted in reality, especially in early childhood. This means that toys should be based on real-world inspiration, not fantasy.
- Toys should require the child’s active participation for use.
- The Montessori play space offers limited choices at any given time, allowing children to concentrate on what is at hand.
- Using Montessori principles, toys that a child has outgrown developmentally are removed from the play space, and toys that aren’t yet developmentally appropriate for the child are not made available.
What are the benefits of Montessori toys?
Montessori toys are stimulating, healthy, and safe. They promote exploration and creative thinking without being overwhelming and provide kids with the opportunity to practice until they master the activity.
Introducing Montessori toys to your child includes ensuring that their play space is organized in a way that promotes curiosity, independence, and concentration. This is best achieved by offering limited choices.
As you introduce a toy, limit your words; instead, use slow and exaggerated movements to demonstrate the toy’s purpose. Offer your child a turn with the toy and allow them time to try it out for themselves. By observing as they play, you model sharing behavior and turn-taking. Remember to embrace repetition as this is the route to mastery.
Finally, although these toys are usually designed with a specific purpose in mind, children will often find a completely new way to play with each toy as they spend more time with it.
Best Montessori toys for your kids
The following list includes Montessori toys suitable for infants and toddlers.
Montessori toys for babies
Montessori infant toys focus on babies’ developing sensory systems and their gross and fine motor skills development.
1. Sensory clutch ball (3+ months)
Also known as an Amish puzzle ball, this fabric ball with high-contrast graphics provides both visual and tactile stimulation and gross motor activity. The ball can be suspended from a sturdy activity gym to promote kicking from 3 months of age. By 5 months, your baby should be able to clutch the ball using the ideally sized segments.
2. Montessori mobiles (0-6 months)
Montessori mobiles—including the Munari, Gobbi, deca and tetrahedron, and dancer mobile designs—develop your baby’s vision, introduce color graduations and primary colors, and stimulate visual acuity.
3. Rolling rattle (4-7 months)
The Montessori rolling rattle is a sturdy wooden toy that provides auditory and tactile input and encourages body control and coordination.
4. Object permanence box (7-10 months)
The purpose of the toy is to introduce and reinforce the concept of object permanence: that an object continues to exist even if we can’t see it.
5. Textured ball (7-10 months)
Individual or partitioned textured balls include various textures, patterns, and colors to engage and sustain your baby’s curiosity.
6. Spinning drum (7-10 months)
The spinning drum assists in developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and it provides visual and auditory input.
7. Shape fitting puzzle (7+ months)
The shape-fitting puzzle progresses in difficulty, and your baby becomes more dexterous as the toy requires coordination of both sides of the body.
Montessori toys for toddlers
By the time your baby is approaching the 1-year mark, Montessori toys become more attuned to the child’s next levels of development. They promote the skills children acquire as their competence and cognitive maturity grow.
1. Stable stacker (11-14 months)
Infants of this age practice their grasp and refine their fine motor skills using this stacking pyramid.
2. Single/multiple shape puzzles (11-14 months)
Such simple puzzles allow your child to practice their fine motor skill, hand-eye coordination, and shape discrimination. Once this skill is mastered, matching puzzles also provide the opportunity for size discrimination practice, which involves being able to recognize that shapes that look the same may be of different sizes.
3. Pull toys (14-18 months)
Pull toys provide new walkers with an additional challenge as they build their strength and improve their balance and coordination.
4. Shape sorter (14-18 months)
Shape sorter toys introduce geometric concepts and build an understanding of finding and matching similar shapes. Fitting the shapes into the slots increases fine motor dexterity.
5. Bead threading toys (18+ months)
With colored rings, your child has the opportunity to practice precision and 2-handed coordination. Some bead sets include shapes and levels of threading that progress in difficulty.
6. Push toys (23-28 months)
Push toys pose an additional challenge for confident walkers. They increase coordination, build strength, and improve muscle control and proprioception (the knowledge of where your body is in space).
7. Baking set (23+ months)
Baking is a wonderful household activity that can be used to promote independence while introducing literacy, mathematics, and science concepts. The Fox Run Kids Cooking and Baking set is ideal for young children. The implements are made of beech wood and are correctly sized for little hands. With properly sized tools, children can participate in age-appropriate cooking and baking activities without frustration.
8. Peg board (29-36 months)
A peg board is an open-ended toy. It provides opportunities to explore numbers, patterns, and spatial relationships. Spatial relationships form part of the sense of proprioception or how objects and people move and stand in relation to one another.
9. Stacking tower (29-36 months)
Although the stacking tower pieces are suitable for younger children’s open play, by 29 months, a child will have mastered the levels of dexterity and coordination required to stack these unusual shapes.
From the age of 3, your child will have the cognitive maturity required for their introduction to numbers and letters. These toys will be a part of your child’s next stages of development. At this age, they will learn more about cooperative play as they head to preschool.
Whether you decide to embrace fully the Montessori philosophy or would simply like to include Montessori toys at each stage of your child’s development, the toys on our list will provide developmentally appropriate stimulation and learning opportunities. By allowing your little one to take the lead in their learning, you are encouraging them to remain curious, life-long learners.