What makes a toy a Montessori toy?

Montessori toys serve as a tool to develop the child's imagination. Montessori pedagogy believes that the environment should be neutral

The Montessori method was developed at the beginning of the 20th century in Italy, with the aim of helping children to achieve an integral development. It is characterised by giving the little ones an active role in their own learning, defending the need to favour the natural development of their aptitudes through the exploration of their environment and, consequently, their discovery.

Its essence lies in promoting self-learning in children, allowing them to investigate and explore their environment without limits. Therefore, according to this methodology, there is no difference between playing and working and, through play, the little ones arouse their curiosity to touch, experiment, and feel, resorting to sensations and senses.

Another fundamental aspect of the method is its self-correcting nature. In this sense, no game can be completed incorrectly without the child having corrected its mistakes. We know that this method is becoming increasingly important in education during the early stages of childhood. Therefore, we will present below some of the Montessori toys that we like the most and that follow to the letter the philosophy of this well-known methodology.

What are Montessori toys?

Montessori toys are those that depend on the child at playtime to gain a function. They are made of materials, such as wood and natural fabrics (of animal, mineral, or vegetable origin), are pleasant to the touch, and usually have primary colours. At first glance, they may seem less stimulating or attractive than the electronic cars and plastic dolls with pre-defined lines that we see around. But therein lies their great advance.

Montessori toys serve as a tool to develop the child’s imagination. Montessori pedagogy believes that the environment should be neutral, not hyper-stimulating and that toys should be few, good, and organised at the height of the child. Fit-together pieces, puzzles, recyclable materials, sheets of paper and paints are usually the chosen ones for those who like to follow the Montessori philosophy.

What are the benefits of Montessori toys?

Like Montessori education, Montessori toys seek to assist in the creation of a more secure and independent person. By allowing free play with less structured parts that demand imagination from the child, they are encouraged to exercise their creativity. They also create new scenarios, games, and different functions for the same piece. The assembly of new toys with those materials also helps concentration, focus, and curiosity at playtime.

Montessori toys can be used from the baby’s first months. Because they are not filled with technology, lights, and sounds, they do not hyper-stimulate children. Instead, they offer the right amount of stimulation for imaginative capacity, motor coordination, and logical thinking. With the right Montessori toy, your child can discover countless ways to play, create and reach developmental milestones more smoothly.

Montessori toys tips for each age

We have already learned that Montessori toys are educational pieces that help in the motor and cognitive development of our children. It is worth remembering that Montessori toys are divided for each phase of children’s development, to be better used. Even though they are simple pieces, it is important to adapt them to each stage of children’s growth. Let’s see some tips on toys for each phase.

Montessori toys – babies up to 12 months

Until 12 months, babies are interested in Montessori toys that work on the senses. They stimulate children with colours, shapes, and sounds. Here are some examples.

  • Mobiles – One of the first toys bought for all babies, baby mobiles are very good options for this age group. Montessori mobiles do not usually have musical and light stimuli, but they stimulate children by their shape and colours and help visual perception. They can be made from cloth, wood, and other recyclable materials.
  • Rattles – Rattles are also a good option for babies. Montessori rattles are usually made of materials such as wood, with little rattles and balls inside that make noise.
  • Musical instruments – After the rattles, you can invest in musical instruments made of natural materials, such as xylophones, drums, and tambourines. They stimulate the baby’s creativity and extend the approximation with music and rhythm, which the rattles introduced.
  • Geometric toys – In this phase, Montessori-fitting toys with simple geometric figures are highly recommended. They work on manual and visual skills, motor coordination, and creativity, besides introducing children to the universe of shapes and colours.
  • Rodari – Rodari are Montessori toys similar to rattle, almost an evolution. They are made of wood, with sticks and balls inside, and stimulate touch, movement, and hearing.
  • Sensory panels – In this phase, it is also possible to introduce babies to several sensory Montessori toys, made with cloth, foam, unbreakable mirrors, rattles, and wood. Some people make such toys with wood and sockets and switches (not connected to electricity), so that children can play with fitting and squeezing, sharpening their sense of touch and sight, for example.
  • Cloth books – Cloth books are also a great choice for babies. They are Montessori toys that stimulate tactile and motor skills – with pieces that fit together -, besides introducing reading in a playful and fun way.
  • Building and Matching BlocksBuilding blocks can be introduced to babies before their first birthday. They can be made of wood, foam, or other material that stimulates the touch, colored or not, and are Montessori toys used for various stages of childhood. With different shapes, they allow children to use their creativity when playing and build their own universe. Another option is to use fitting towers, with little pieces that form structures, but that fit together with different geometric shapes.

Montessori toys 1 to 2 years

Between 1 and 2 years, children identify with toys that stimulate movement, sounds, and creativity. See some options below.

  • Wooden cars – In this phase when children are taking their first steps, wooden cars can be a good choice to help them explore places. With little pieces to assemble and fit together, they stimulate movement, motor coordination, and play. Both large pull and push trolleys can be used, as well as smaller ones for playing with the hands.
  • Building and Matching Blocks – Building blocks are still a good option for Montessori toys. After the first year, they can have more pieces, more fitting together and more diversity of assembly.
  • Musical Instruments – At this stage, musical instruments can be more diversified, such as larger drums, drumsticks, and ukeleles.
  • Ladders, ramps, benches, and towers – Ramps, wooden stairs, towers, or small wooden benches are good Montessori toys that will accompany your child for a long time. They are versatile, they can be useful for sitting, become small tables and help children reach places that their height does not yet allow. They allow more autonomy, independence, and security, as the definition of Montessori education asks for. Children can use the support to safely reach shelves, sinks, tables, and other places in the house.
Montessori toys serve as a tool to develop the child's imagination. Montessori pedagogy believes that the environment should be neutral, not hyper-stimulating and that toys should be few, good, and organised at the height of the child. Fit-together pieces, puzzles, recyclable materials, sheets of paper and paints are usually the chosen ones for those who like to follow the Montessori philosophy.

Montessori toys 2 to 3 years old

In this phase change between being a baby and a child, assembly objects are on the rise. The universe of letters and numbers can already be introduced. See more examples.

  • Toys with wheels – With firmer steps, children of this age are looking for toys that can keep up with their rhythm. Wooden trolleys and push toys help children to explore the whole environment.
  • Assembly letters and numbers – Builders’ toys with letters, numbers, and lots of colours are also of great interest to children at this age. Made of wood, they stimulate touch, and motor coordination and start to introduce and instigate curiosity about the world of literacy.
  • Building Blocks – The building blocks continue as a good option for a Montessori toy, now with the possibility of having bigger sizes, new geometric shapes, and different assemblies.
  • Sensory panel or activity table – A good Montessori activity panel is the construction of a sensory table with unused objects from the house. Here, creativity is valid: switches, sockets, doors to open and close, locks, and keys. Everything arouses children’s curiosity in the house, but, for safety, we do not let them play.

Montessori toys 3 to 4 years

At the beginning of pre-school, children are stimulated by pieces that induce creativity and imagination, like the items below!

  • Wooden puzzle – In this early preschool phase, Montessori toys greatly assist in children’s development. Puzzles are a good option to stimulate the cognitive system. Made of wood, they are easier to fit together and can come in different shapes: animals, drawings, houses, geometric shapes. A Montessori puzzle usually has a different format from a traditional puzzle, which stimulates children more.
  • Musical instruments – Musical instruments continue to accompany children. In this phase, to work on coordination and musicalization, it is possible to invest in wind instruments, such as flute and bagpipe, which can also be made of wood.
  • Wooden cars and felt dollsWooden cars and dolls made of felt and cloth are also good company, stimulating creativity and storytelling. It is important that the dolls do not have a very defined facial expressions, so as not to limit children’s play and to encourage them to explore actions and feelings.
  • Building blocks – Building blocks go hand in hand with children’s development. As the years go by, the Montessori blocks can have more options of pieces, fittings, and colours to complete the game.

Montessori toys 4 to 5 years

This is the age when children learn to write their own name and develop more skills in school. Some Montessori toys can help with this discovery!

  • Letter and number blocks – At this age children begin to have their first contact with letters and numbers at school, identifying number sequences and letters of their own names and those of their classmates. Montessori toys can help with blocks in the shape of letters and numbers to consciously assemble the first words and numbers.
  • Building Blocks – With Montessori building blocks, children of this age expand play by forming more complex games, such as cities.
  • Balancing PartsMontessori balance pieces are also suitable for this age group. Made of wood and made to fit together, they stimulate motor coordination, manual skills, and logical thinking.
  • Pieces with shapes – To activate creativity, manual work, and coordination, Montessori toys in the shape of animals, dolls and other objects sculpted in wood to be colored with paints are a great choice.

Montessori toys 5 to 6 years

In the last year of preschool, Montessori toys can help children exercise creativity and take the first steps toward primary schools.

  • Cardboard toys – Cardboard toys are a good choice of Montessori toys to stimulate children’s creativity at the end of preschool. Shaped like houses, cars, trees, they are great pieces in play and help create playful situations like role play. In addition, children can use their manual skills to colour the pieces and work on the creative process.
  • Felt and plush puppets – With a greater repertoire of words and knowledge of stories, felt and plush puppets are also Montessori toys for this age. With them, children can make up stories, work on playfulness, creativity, sensory, and play theatre.
  • Wooden pieces – Wooden pieces for colouring and making up their own stories can also be used at this stage. Puzzles with a larger number of pieces can also be used.

Montessori toys 6 to 7 years

In this phase of official literacy initiation, Montessori toys stimulate reading and word creation, among other skills!

  • Wooden alphabet – In the first year of primary school, the wooden alphabet is a good Montessori toy. With it, the child can assemble and reassemble words that they will be starting to learn to write in school.
  • Balance gamesBalance games with larger, more complex wooden blocks catch the attention of children at this stage and challenge manual skills, creating new scenarios and logical thinking.
  • Blocks, tracks, and recyclable toys – At this age, it is also possible to play with wooden blocks, wooden trolley tracks and other toys with recyclable or sensory materials that encourage creativity without the hyper-stimulation of electronic toys.

Montessori toys for ages 7 to 8

More grown up, children can use Montessori toys to play with friends, and family and develop more complex skills.

  • Assembly toys – A little older, children are interested in more complex assembly toys with more parts, which challenge their thinking and manual skills.
  • Shadow play – Wooden pieces that form figures are a great toy to use with torches for “shadow play” in the dark.
  • Dominoes, memory games, and puzzles – Dominoes, memory games, and puzzles can also be made with simple materials such as felt, cloths and wood and stimulate the children of this age group.

What is the Montessori teaching method?

The Montessori teaching method was created by the Italian pedagogue and doctor Maria Montessori in 1907. It focuses on the development of children with respect for their autonomy and freedom. The idea is to respect the natural abilities of each age, both physical, social, and psychological. The child is given the space to grow and has the environment prepared for him/her to do so safely. Education follows the child’s evolution in a natural way.

When developing her teaching method, Maria Montessori thought of development plans to respect each stage of growth of the child. That’s because, according to the doctor, at each age the child has specific needs and behaviours. That is why Montessori toys are divided and indicated for each age group. Thus, with selected toys, children can reach their potentials in a broader and safer way.

Autonomy in practice

With the Montessori method, the child is encouraged to reach their potential in a more autonomous way. Always under adult supervision, he or she conquers the surrounding environment with the help of instruments that ensure their development.

This is why the use of wooden benches or towers and ladders is so common among children brought up using this method. So that they have the independence to reach as many rooms of the house as they can safely. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Montessori toys, as well as their methodology, give freedom to the child to create and transform. All with respect to the abilities and capacities of each age group. Let’s start playing.

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