If you want to raise a curious and confident child, the Montessori method might be for you.
In the 1890’s, Dr Maria Montessori defined a method to classroom learning that puts focus on a child’s independence and choice. Now the Montessori method is used widely throughout the world both in schools and at home.
What makes a Montessori toy?
Although there are no official Montessori toys, it’s recommended to offer your child objects that stimulate learning and encourage them to experiment. That’s why more traditional wooden toys are often labelled ‘Montessori’.
Battery toys are out…
If the toy tells the child how to play with it, if it flashes, beeps and does all the entertaining for itself, your child won’t feel the need to interact as much. The toy is taking away their natural curiosity and creativity.
Wooden and metal toys are in…
They offer different sensory stimulation, are often less opinionated meaning children can find different ways to play and they are often more visually appealing.
Puzzles help children develop lots of useful skills, such as fine motor movement, carrying out logical steps, problem solving, completing a cycle of activity, shape and size recognition.
“There is a built in control of error in puzzles so the child can judge for herself, without the help of another person, if the work has been done correctly. This is high-level mental activity.” (Olaf, 2009).
Children need materials that make sense and help them make sense of the world around them. Expose children to real imagery, true to life objects or actual objects, like real fruits and vegetables, as much as possible. Later they will be able to connect more abstract, cartoon forms to the real thing.
The Domestic animal and Wild animal family match games have a photographic image of an animal printed clearly on each wooden tile. Great for toddlers to label animals. As your child develops they can play matching games and use the tiles as a prompt to discuss the animal’s habitat.
Music in Montessori
“Music can touch us in a way that nothing else can. No better gift can we give to the children than to open this door for them.” Dr Maria Montessori
Music can help children develop in a variety of ways, including problem solving, fine motor skills, logic and language acquisition, as they learn songs. Musical instruments like this drum, cluster bells and maracas are the ideal size for smaller hands to control.
Activities that help with practical life skills
Children are often fascinated and motivated by everyday things we do, such as preparing food and washing up. Montessori encourages independence in practical life skills. They develop motor control, coordination, concentration and a sense of responsibility.
The truth is you don’t need a lot of toys for this, although smaller versions of things like sweeping brushes, spades and stringing a low-level washing line, will make things easier for your child. The key thing is making these tasks available to your child. Show your child where you store the cloths, so they can wipe the table or any spills. Give them containers to practice opening and closing them. Provide a small jug of water and a cup so they can pour a drink. There are so many everyday tasks that children can be active participants in.
Montessori Maths Toys
The key to Montessori maths is that children have objects they can manipulate and explore, this helps enhance their mathematical understanding.
Using loose parts to show quantities helps children understand that 3 is a lot less than 30. Loose parts can also be used to represent odd and even numbers, using one type of loose part to represent odd numbers and another to represent even.
Shape boards can help with 1:1 correspondence, matching a certain shape to its socket. They are brilliant for introducing young children to geometric shapes, which is encouraged quite early on in Montessori classrooms.
Montessori Art materials
Providing open-ended art activities means your child has the freedom to express themselves, as well as develop their motor skills. As with the rest of the Montessori method, it’s the process that matters not the finished product, so try not to focus on any particular outcome, like ‘a card for granny’. Present cardboard boxes, paper, fabric scraps and other materials alongside things like paints, crayons, glue and scissors. This allows the child to decide what it is they want to put together.
General Montessori toy pointers…
- Offer a small range of toys and activities. Has your child pulled out toy after toy and not really played with any of them? Probably because they just can’t decide which one they want. Limit their choice and you’ll be surprised at how much more focused they’ll be.
- Place toys, activities and books on low and easy to reach shelves. It’s all about fostering your child’s independence. Even babies can have the freedom to make their own choices if things are available at their level.
- Ensure everything has a home and encourage them to put things back when finished (what parent doesn’t 😂).
- Slowly introduce new activities and toys
- Allow your child time to discover and play
- Avoid getting your child to an end product, enjoy the process with them
- Offer plenty of open-ended toys such as blocks, loose parts and toys that don’t have an obvious purpose
- Notice the activities your child doesn’t approach – perhaps they need to be simplified (for example reducing the amount of puzzle pieces). Have you introduced the activity to your child?
- Opt for more for toys made from natural materials such as wood
- Swap out activities and toys gradually somewhere between once a week to every four weeks. This is totally dependent on how much your child is still enjoying something.
How to organise your Montessori toy shelves…
- Select 4-8 (max) toys or activities that offer different opportunities for play and learning (musical instruments, loose parts, art materials, something to practice life skills).
- Give each activity and toy room on the shelf.
- Make sure there’s nothing else on the shelves, this might distract or give mixed messages to the child.
- Use lightweight trays to display activities with several pieces. This makes it easy for children to independently move the activity to their play area and put it back.
- Ensure puzzles and other toys are presented disassembled on the shelf.
- Store puzzle pieces in small bowls, baskets or bags.
- Select toys that are visually appealing together.
- Not essential, but presenting the toys from left to right in order of difficulty (right being the most difficult), can help children understand select the level of challenge they want.
- Be creative! Don’t be afraid to create your own activities or place everyday objects on your toy shelf, for your child to explore.
Ideas for Montessori Shelves & Activities