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Choosing Montessori Inspired Toys

Understanding Montessori Materials

A Montessori classroom contains a very specialized collection of materials Dr. Maria Montessori designed through scientific research to foster sensory exploration, refine motor skills and promote cognitive development.

These learning materials are not referred to as toys, although some may resemble toys in the traditional sense, like puzzles and blocks.

What are Montessori Toys

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a Montessori toy. This term is a little misleading and has become perhaps more of a buzzword.

When evaluating the merits of educational toys, it is more appropriate to consider if they are Montessori inspired. A Montessori inspired toy is one that aligns with the principles of the Montessori method. 

The Montessori Method

Understanding the philosophy of the Montessori Method and how the materials support children’s learning and development, can help you choose the best educational toys for your child.

One key Montessori concept is that every Montessori material has a specific focus. There is one main lesson, or one main idea to learn and master.

Montessori puzzles are a great example. If the subject matter is a horse, then the horse will be the most prominent image. There are no barns, farmers, tractors or fields or any other scenery or objects in the background.

The most famous set of blocks in a Montessori classroom is called the Pink Tower. It is 10 cubes ranging from the smallest 1cm cube to the largest 10cm cube. All cubes are painted pink (the colour her students gravitated towards after trying several different options). The focus of working with the cubes is to develop visual discrimination and fine motor skills. If every cube was a different colour it would distract from this purpose.

Look for toys that are made of natural materials like wood, that encourage open-ended exploration and allow children to discover concepts at their own pace.

Role of Educational Toys

Educational toys play a pivotal role in a child’s development by engaging them in meaningful, purposeful play. This was an important design philosophy in the materials Maria Montessori designed.

These types of toys stimulate curiosity, problem solving skills and social interactions. They enhance cognitive skills and foster creativity.

Modern Toys

The essence of an educational toy transcends mere labelling, making the choice that much more challenging today. With a little detective work you can make an informed choice.

Modern toys, even ones labelled as educational, may actually hinder the development of crucial skills like creativity and patience.

Toys with electronic components, for example, may become more about entertainment and instant gratification than cognitive development and fostering imagination.

It is better to think simplicity, open ended, hands on and promoting imagination and creativity.

Choosing Montessori Inspired Toys

When shopping for Montessori inspired toys look for hands on toys, possibly wooden, that exemplify simplicity and durability. Wooden is not essential, but anything made of  wood tends to encompass these factors.

Based on the principles in this guide, there are many other options that a keen eye can identify when exploring toy store shelves. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Wooden blocks – These classic toys promote spatial awareness, creativity, and problem solving skills as children build, stack, and balance.
  2. LEGO – even LEGO can fall into the same category as wooden blocks. Completely open ended (don’t choose the kits that make one thing) and provide endless options for creativity, spacial awareness, engineering and problem solving.

  3. Puzzles – even from simple 2-part puzzles for toddlers to 2000 piece projects, puzzles enhance spacial awareness, hand eye coordination and certainly promote patience. Although in the end a puzzle makes “one thing”, it is the journey to this end that is rich in experience.

  4. Sensory bins – sensory bins can be filled with anything your heart desires and provide loads of tactile stimulation. Try it yourself! It’s very satisfying to run your hands through sensory bins and is a great stress reliever!
  5. Art supplies – don’t be shy – anyone can use art supplies and dabble in making marks. That’s the essence of art isn’t it? If work from Jackson Pollack, Yayoi Kusama or Willem de Kooning can rock the art world, so can you!
  6. Nature exploration – encouraging outdoor exploration is more important than ever for today’s youth. Grab a bug kit, binoculars, fishing rod, hiking boots. or an umbrella. Go outside! 
  7. Music and theatre – music appreciation, learning an instrument or going to a live performance is a sensory explosion on so many levels. Start them young and build the appreciation and repertoire.