Did you know that there is no such thing as a Montessori toy? It’s true!
I often get questions about which toys are more or less “Montessori." It certainly is a reasonable question. After all, we live in a world where kids have toys - lots of them.
From birthdays to holidays and everything in between, it seems like our kids are getting toys constantly. So, why wouldn’t you want your gift to align with Montessori philosophy! It makes perfect sense to want to choose toys that align with the method.
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Best Montessori Aligned Toys for Preschoolers
Montessori aligned toys encourage children to learn through play. They are intentionally selected to encourage purposeful play so that a child remains excited and eager to learn.
A word of caution: many toys claim to be “Montessori,” but it’s often just a marketing tactic. That’s why it’s important to understand the characteristics you can use to assess how well a toy aligns with the Montessori learning philosophy.
What is Montessori?
The Montessori method is an educational philosophy based entirely around the child. Founded by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, it’s a way of teaching that emphasizes hands-on learning, independence, and the development of the child as a whole. It’s not about progress reports or strict milestones but rather meant to cultivate a lifelong love of learning and internal motivation.
When taking a Montessori approach, adults follow the child's lead, letting their interests drive the education within a prepared environment. Through the Montessori method, it is important to give the child ample opportunity to make choices in self-directed, hands-on, and exploratory play.
What are the Characteristics of a Montessori-aligned Toy?
There are eight key things to keep in mind when thinking about whether or not a toy is considered Montessori-aligned.
Montessori Toys are Simple
Development in a Montessori environment is the natural result of active exploration in a prepared environment. So, we want to provide a toy that actively engages the child instead of passively entertaining them. And the toy must not create an environment in which the child is overstimulated. Bottom line: say yes to building blocks and no to toys with bright flashing lights and loud noises.
To facilitate their understanding of the world around them, toys made of natural materials help children learn about natural consequences, care and the importance of respect. Montessori aligned toys are made from natural materials, such as wood, cotton or felt.
Choose Practical Toys for Preschoolers
Practical toys are those that are based in reality, not in fantasy. For preschoolers especially, giving them toys that confirm the child’s own sense of the world is important. We want kids to recognize the toys we provide and to use their imaginations to explore with them. So, say yes to a toy elephant and no to a toy superhero.
Montessori Toys Encourage Repetition
Montessori environments are purposefully designed to support learning through repetition and practice. This is critically important to supporting young children as they pass through various sensitive periods.
When your child repeats a challenging activity time and time again, they create strong neural connections that lay the groundwork for more difficult work later in life. When it comes to Montessori toys, say yes to marble runs with various possible configurations and no to battery powered trains a child watches go around the tracks.
Montessori Toys are Attractive
Montessori methodology relies on children’s natural curiosity to entice them into joyful learning. So, teachers, parents and other caregivers who follow the philosophy want kids to be naturally drawn to their toys. That’s why a more visually appealing toy is preferred - the child will want to play with it more than a toy that isn’t visually appealing. The key component here is to look to the beautiful toy with excellent craftsmanship and not to the mass produced toy that will fall apart quickly.
Choose Open-Ended Toys
When we say that toy is open-ended, we mean that it doesn’t have a specific, intended purpose. Instead, it can be used for a variety of purposes, and the possibilities in this regard are endless!
These toys encourage children to get creative and explore that which is relevant to them at the time of play. And, most importantly, the toy can change and grow with them over time. The benefits of open-ended play are indisputable! A great example of this is finger paint with plain white paper versus choosing a paint by number book.
Montessori aligned toys should align with a child's developmental needs and help them work on skills such as hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills, and problem-solving. Naturally, this looks different for a preschooler vs an elementary aged child. When looking for a toy for a preschooler, be specific with just that - a gift that's age-specific, not one that claims to be "great for all ages!"
Montessori Toys Are Not Electronic
Montessori aligned toys do not overwhelm the child. They don’t contain batteries, nor do they make artificial sounds or have flashing lights. Battery powered toys ultimately wind up doing the work for your child, so he misses out on the connection between his own action and its natural consequence.
Is there pretend play in Montessori?
Taking a Montessori approach to your child’s education does not mean discouraging pretend play. That said, it’s important that their make-believe play be rooted in a concrete, realistic foundation. Montessori kids are encouraged to use their imaginations, but their toys are rooted in reality. So, choose toys that your child can identify from memory such as construction vehicles. Pass on the unicorns.
Is there a designated play space in Montessori?
Another important thing to note as you are crafting a Montessori aligned home is that you want to incorporate the toys in a way that doesn't clutter the child's environment. The idea is always that less is more. Too many toys can quickly become overwhelming to the child.
The best way to present Montessori toys to your preschoolers is to only have a few at a time and keep them on open shelving placed at a low height. Look for baskets with low sides to keep items accessible, but organized, and anything that you actually want hidden away should be moved elsewhere.
Setting up Montessori shelving keeps it easy for the child to get the toy that they want. They’re also then able to practice caring for their environment when it's time to put the toy back in its correct space.
You can swap out toys weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. It's also great to swap out toys when moving into a new theme, such as studying life cycles or learning about the seasons.
Montessori Aligned Toys for Preschoolers
Now that we have a clearer picture as to what constitutes a Montessori aligned toy and how to keep things organized, let’s dive into the actual toys themselves.
Here are some of the best Montessori aligned toys for preschoolers:
Developing Fine Motor Skills Through Play
This first set of toys is all about helping preschoolers develop their fine motor skills through play.
Melissa & Doug Scissor Skills
Melissa & Doug Wooden Latches Board
Sand & Water Fine Motor Set
Primary Lacing Beads
Jumbo Colorful Eye Droppers
JUMBO Lacing Toy
Sensorial Toys for Preschoolers
Sensorial toys are designed to stimulate a child's five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. These toys might include elements such as bright, contrasting colors or different textures. These toys are meant to help preschoolers develop their senses in a safe and natural environment using play.
Water Beads Sea Tactile Experience
Play Doh Fun Factory
Phonics Games for Preschool
Teaching phonics with the Montessori method is the basis for teaching your preschooler how to then read using Montessori. These phonics games are a great place to start to instill the love of letters and learning!
Snap - N - Learn Alphabet Alligators
Sorting Toys for Preschoolers
Pattern Board and Blocks
Super Sorting Pie
Math Manipulatives for Preschoolers
These Montessori inspired math toys help children approach math and numbers with hands-on activities. These toys allow preschoolers to begin to attach concrete knowledge to the often abstract concepts in math.They also make for a great addition to your M3 Montessori Homeschooling Math Curriculum!
Mental Blox Critical Thinking Game
View-Thru Geometric Solids
Self-Correcting Letter & Number
Wooden Geoboard Mathematical Board
Practical Life Toys for Preschoolers
One thing we often forget about as parent is that what seems ordinary to us is a often a world of wonder for a child. Every day routines – meal prep, gardening, sweeping the floor – while potentially daunting to a child at first, is also exciting and empowering to master.
These toys are a great way to help your preschooler build on his/her practical life skills!
Replica Dyson Vacuum for Kids
Basic Life Skills Busy Board
Veggie and Fruit Prep for Kids
My First Daily Magnetic Calendar
When it comes to choosing Montessori aligned toys for your preschooler, only you know what will work best. I’m confident, though, that these ideas have given you a solid start.
Whether you’re looking to start incorporating more Montessori aligned toys in your own home or simply looking for a Montessori gift idea for a preschooler in your life, these toys are sure to thrill the little ones!
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