If you’ve been looking for children’s toys in the last couple of years, you’ve almost certainly come across the term Montessori toys.
The Montessori method of education has been around for over 100 years but it has gained a lot of popularity recently and became one of the parenting trends of the 21st century.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the basic characteristics of Montessori toys and what differentiates them from other toys.
What are Montessori toys?
There are many definitions of Montessori toys. Some people understand it strictly as materials developed by the founder of the method - Maria Montessori. Others use the term more loosely to describe any educational toys made of natural materials.
We’ll stick to these two common definitions:
1) Toys designed directly by Maria Montessori, also known as Montessori materials.
These are typically close-ended toys with a single purpose to develop one particular developmental area.
A typical example would be the pink tower - an iconic Montessori material consisting of 10 wooden cubes with different dimensions that is focused on the development of fine motor skills.
2) Toys that are in accordance with the Montessori philosophy.
The origin of these toys may have nothing to do with the Montessori method, but they are in accordance with many aspects of the method.
A typical example would be the Pikler triangle - it was not designed by Maria Montessori but it supports the child’s independence and fosters freedom of movement which makes it a great item for Montessori kindergartens or households.
What are the basic traits of a Montessori toy?
Let’s take a closer look at what are the typical traits of a Montessori-friendly toy, especially when compared to other “traditional” toys that can be commonly found on the market.
One of the first things you notice when comparing Montessori toys to other toys is that they are very simple - no batteries and no interactive parts that would create artificial sounds or lights.
The main reason for this is to make the toys simple so that they don’t overwhelm the children’s minds and allow them to fully understand the purpose of the toy.
If somebody says Montessori toys, we often imagine shelves full of wooden toys. While not every wooden toy is a Montessori toy, it’s true that almost all Montessori-friendly toys are wooden toys.
Wood has many benefits. It is a unique material that connects us to nature and provides a unique sensory experience for children of all ages.
Moreover, it is safe and durable, which means it can be used by children from an early age.
Last but not least, wood is environmentally-friendly and sustainable. So by buying wooden toys instead of the plastic ones, you’re also doing something for the environment.
Other examples of natural materials used in Montessori classrooms are metal, stone, cotton or wool. Of course, it doesn’t mean you won’t find any plastic toys in Montessori households, but they are not preferred if there is a natural-material alternative.
Another characteristic of a Montessori toy is that it has a specific educational purpose and aims at the development of one particular area.
The toys can be divided into several categories based on their focus:
Fine motor skills
Gross motor skills
Arts and crafts
The Montessori method recommends using toys and books that are rooted in reality. It means it should be inspired by the world around us rather than fantasies and made-up things.
It teaches that the child’s imagination develops naturally in the first 6 years of life and doesn’t need external fantasy sources - quite the contrary, the fairytale characters can actually confuse the little children’s understanding of what's truthful and real.
A typical example are animal toys - while figures of farm animals or safari animals are perfectly fine, the toys depicting dragons or talking bears are not in accordance with the Montessori philosophy.
What does a Montessori playroom look like?
The environment plays a crucial role in the Montessori method of education. So it’s not only about the toys children play with but also about where they play with them
Now that we know what kind of toys are used in Montessori nurseries and households, let’s take a look at how to arrange them and how to prepare a Montessori-friendly playroom.
Independence is one of the basic concepts of Montessori education.
That’s why toys in Montessori playrooms are not stored the way toys are usually stored - in plastic containers or on shelves that can only be reached by parents.
Instead, Montessori method recommends using low toy shelves that allow the kids to take the toys anytime they want. This is much easier for the parents but most importantly, it teaches the child to act independently.
Freedom within limits
That being said, applying the Montessori method doesn’t mean the children should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want.
It is quite important to teach the children from an early age that every toy has its place and they should put everything back on the shelves after they finish playing with them.
Less is more
A Montessori playroom should not have too many playing options. Some parents think that the more toys the children have, the more they will play with them. But in reality, the opposite is true. Too many toys can actually distract the child.
Fewer toys, on the other hand, encourage creativity and imaginative play. So instead of overwhelming the child with too many toys, select just a few quality pieces.
A great way to achieve this is to practice the so-called toy rotation. It means displaying only a couple of toys at a time and having the rest stored outside the reach of a child. After a certain period of time (usually a week or two), you can rotate the toys and display new ones.
Environment of beauty
Last but not least, the Montessori playroom should be beautiful. It means decorating the room with aesthetics in mind - whether it’s about the simplicity of the furniture or the materials used.