Why We Love Montessori Toys
My four-year-old daughter has attended a Montessori preschool for the past year, and our family is all in on all things Montessori. We love the Montessori philosophy rooted in child-focused and child-led learning. It fosters skills like independence, self-motivation, respect and holistic development (cognitive, emotional, social and physical). And we especially like Montessori toys because they are designed to encourage children to expriment and use their imagination.
Though Montessori-style learning has been around for more than a century, it seems to really be having a moment outside of just the schools themselves. Montessori toys and other items (like beds that are low to the ground to foster independence getting in and out of bed) have become increasingly easier to find and more popular, with good reason.
We now know that simple toys are often the best kinds of toys for children, particularly young ones. As with many STEM toys, These kinds of toys help kids grasp a skill or help them understand a particular concept. A wooden puzzle with just three shapes in different colors is much less distracting than a busy puzzle with more pieces, more colors and more shapes.
Key Features of Montessori Toys
All things Montessori are designed to be simple. They don’t have the bright colors and loud sounds many other toys do. Most importantly, Montessori toys meet children where they are in developmental terms. Montessori toys aren’t necessarily their own category of toy; meaning you can look for certain types of toy that align with the Montessori learning style. In addition to simplicity, a few features of Montessori-style toys are:
1. Demonstrate Cause and Effect
In a Montessori classroom children drink out of glass cups, not plastic ones. That means if a child drops a glass while drinking or cleaning up after a snack or meal (an everyday responsibility in a Montessori community), the glass will break. The child learns the “consequence” or reality of drinking from glass. In the next step, they get help from a guide (teacher) to safely clean up the mess.
Montessori toys also demonstrate this “cause and effect.” In one toy, a ball put into a hole will come down a ramp and appear at the bottom to play with again. If a bell rings on a toy, it’s because there’s an actual, visible bell that’s touched in some way. It’s not just an arbitrary sound the toy makes.
2. Made of Natural Materials
This is something you’ll notice quickly about Montessori toys, and something that really makes them stand out among so many other toys. They’re most often constructed of materials like wood and metal, and not plastic. This helps children learn more about the world, since natural materials change in temperature and texture, and plastic toys don’t.
Children play with Montessori toys in a hands-on way, meaning they aren’t just passive toys to be observed. Ideally, the toys help to foster a skill or understanding of the world.
4. Limited Choices
Too many choices can be overwhelming for adults, so imagine how it feels to children who are trying to make sense of the world. Montessori-based play intentionally exposes children to fewer toys, in order to make their play less stressful.
Young learners build hand-eye coordination with this set of wood rings they can place on a stackable base. Montessori toys are made from wood, clay, glass, metal, textile or rock.
Wooden balls in a variety of colors can help teach kids to count. For example, young learners can count how many blue balls are in the bowl.
How to Get Your Kids in Montessori Mode
You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but my kids’ playroom is already stuffed full of toys. Many of them are made of plastic and/or are loud and brightly colored. I’m not sure we can pull this Montessori toy thing off.”
Many families are in the same boat! If you want to introduce more educational toys, Montessori-style toys and Montessori play into your home, you can make it happen. You don’t need to throw everything out and start from square one. Here are a few “baby step” tips:
Minimize Your Kids’ Toys
Just by removing excess toys from your kids’ playroom, you’re taking a step toward the Montessori learning and play approach. You can pack some toys away in bins in the basement, attic or closet, and rotate them out every few weeks. I find it’s helpful to set a reminder on my calendar for when it’s time to swap the toys out. It’s amazing to watch your child’s play change, open up and become more focused when many of their toys are gone.
Take Stock of Your Current Inventory
You likely already have some toys that are aligned with the Montessori philosophy. Look for simple wooden puzzles or blocks, toys made of natural materials, and toys that help teach a skill. Toys that teach about the world or nature are also good. I bet you have more of those kinds of toys in the house than you might realize!
Prioritize The More Simple Toys
When Christmas or your child’s birthday come up, ask friends and relatives to look for Montessori-style toys. That way your collection will start to grow.
Include Real World Imagery in Books and Play
It’s part of the Montessori philosophy to read books about real animals that include actual photography. Maria Montessori, the founder of this learning style, saw that young children need to be rooted in things that represent the real world. This helps them when they make the leap to fantasy. Real things help children feel grounded and comfortable, and they also find tend to find them really engaging.