Montessori Toys — What Are the Benefits?
Are Montessori toys better? Find out how Montessori toys inspire and teach your child.
The Montessori method is one that has been around for many decades. Only in recent years has it become more popular in the U.S. As more Montessori schools pop up and more businesses advertise Montessori products, it’s common for people to at least know the name Montessori.
Many people don’t really understand what it is, though. They don’t know who Maria Montessori is, and they have no idea what Montessori education is really about.
Do you hear Montessori and automatically think of wooden toys? While you’re not completely wrong, Montessori is much more than that. Before we dive into what makes a toy Montessori, let’s start at the beginning — what is Montessori?
Montessori meaning: what is Montessori?
The Montessori philosophy was developed by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. The main concept of the Montessori method is to nurture independence in children. This happens when children are allowed to learn at their own pace through discovering their natural interests and exploring their passions.
The Montessori philosophy is comprised of 5 basic principles, which are:
Respect for the child. This is done by respecting the choices children make, not interrupting their concentration, and allowing them to do things and learn for themselves.
When they’re busily focused on a toy, don’t interrupt their concentration by playing or speaking to them. Even if it takes twice as long, allow your child to climb into a chair instead of lifting them up.
The absorbent mind. Montessori believed that children are extremely absorbent and impressionable. She believed that children are constantly learning through exposure to the world around them. They soak in the things around them and then make sense of those things through logical thinking.
This is why it’s so important to evaluate what we allow around our children and what we allow them to play with.
Sensitive periods. Montessori education teaches that there are certain times in a child’s life when they are more sensitive to learning certain skills. Montessori believed that these times (sensitive periods) only last as long as is necessary to learn specific skills. Montessori's philosophy encourages caregivers to be aware of these sensitive periods so they can give children the resources required to learn these specific skills.
For example, when your little one starts dropping food on the floor just to watch you pick it up, they’re learning cause and effect. Supply them with a toy that encourages mastering that skill — and one that hopefully avoids dinnertime mess!
The prepared environment. The Montessori method encourages setting up environments in a way that allows children to do things for themselves. Maria Montessori believed in environments that promote independence and freedom in children.
This could mean a stool by the sink so your child can wash their hands by themselves. Or a coat hook at their level so they can hang their own coat up.
Self-education. The Montessori philosophy encourages self-education in children. Learning should be child-led as caregivers simply provide the proper environment, guidance, and resources.
Your child shows an interest in something; you provide the resources to teach them. Montessori requires you to be hands-off yet sensitive and intuitive to the needs and desires of your child.
Now that we understand the basics of the Montessori method, how do we know what Montessori toys are? What makes a toy Montessori-approved?
What makes a toy Montessori?
There are a few different things to watch out for when choosing toys aligned with Montessori principles. First, the toys should be constructed out of natural materials such as wood, metal, wool, cotton, or silk. This is because of the belief that children are always learning from their environment. Through the use of at least one of their senses, children are absorbing and processing what’s around them.
Allowing them to connect to the life that surrounds us in nature by exploring the different weights and textures of natural materials is a key component of the Montessori method.
Second, toys following Montessori principles should be simple. You know those big wooden activity cubes with wire bead tracks, gears, puzzles, and mazes on each side of them? They look educational, right? It looks like something that would teach your child a lot when playing with it. But there are too many individual activities on one toy. So what actually happens is that your child gets overwhelmed and doesn’t actually focus on anything.
The Montessori philosophy encourages toys without flashy colors and lights, or anything else that would distract from the main purpose of the toy. Each Montessori toy should encourage working on one skill set at a time, like this wooden Montessori threading leaf set.
Next, Montessori toys are based on reality. Babies and toddlers are incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality, so it’s important that we offer books and toys that help them understand what the real world is like. Books with talking animals may seem fun, but you may find that your child’s eyes light up a bit more when looking at books with other children’s faces in them. Your toddler will have more to tell you about a book that shows images of his favorite foods rather than one about a horse driving a tractor.
Until your child has the ability to recognize reality from unreality, help them by providing exposure to toys with accurate representations of the real world. Instead of trains with big faces on them, try something like this wooden crane truck.
Finally, Montessori principles discourage overwhelm by offering limited choices. A child does best when there are only a few options to choose from. Avoid big toy chests and shelves stuffed with lots of toys. Carefully choose toys that fit all the above guidelines to ensure an educational, satisfying experience for your little one.
Montessori toys benefits.
What are the benefits of Montessori toys? Honestly, there are so many!
Montessori toys encourage your child to take control by working through the process of the toy from start to finish.
For instance, this sorting peg doll and barrel set offers several options for educational play. Your child can sort all of the barrels and pegs, divide them all by color, or count all the pegs and barrels. Each of these scenarios stimulates learning colors and numbers, fine motor skills, imagination, math, and vocabulary skills.
Your child is learning as they play, although they’re not even aware of it.
So go ahead, give Montessori a go. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. In fact, you may end up being incredibly surprised and proud of your child as they accomplish things you never knew they could do!
Start your wooden Montessori toy collection by shopping here.