What Makes a Toy Montessori Aligned?

Any toy that is designed with the Montessori education method in mind and encourages purposeful play is a Montessori-aligned toy. What does this mean? It means that for a toy to be considered a Montessori one, it needs to meet the criteria set by Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy and serve a bigger purpose than simply providing fun.

Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy encourages children to take the lead in their educational journey. That is what we know today as the Montessori method. Every lesson, learning material, and toy in a Montessori environment is there to motivate children to explore, solve problems, learn practical life skills, and become more independent and self-sufficient.

Little boy watering plants in the garden.

Purposeful play is a type of play that helps children grow, develop, and learn new stuff. It’s not there only for amusement. Montessori-aligned toys that promote purposeful play can teach your child how to add numbers, solve puzzles, tie shoes, brush teeth, use cutlery, and more. Such toys will also help your child develop their gross and fine motor skills, among others.

As you can see, Montessori toys are child-orientated, making children’s development their core purpose.

Now, let’s dive into the specifics of every Montessori toy.

What Are Montessori-Aligned Toys?

Montessori toys teach one skill at a time, are based on reality, are simple yet teach complex stuff, promote real-life skills, are often wooden, and are made for specific ages. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re wondering if a toy you're looking to buy is a Montessori toy or not, run it by these 6 key traits, and you’ll know for certain.

One Skill at a Time

Wouldn’t it be great if your kid could use a single toy to learn how to write, count, ride a bike, and sing all at the same time? Well… probably not. We are exaggerating here, but the point is, learning multiple things simultaneously is both demanding and distracting.

More than a hundred years ago, Maria Montessori discovered that children need to focus on one task at a time in order for them to truly pay attention. That’s why Montessori toys are designed to give children one challenge after another. A Montessori toy can contain multiple activities. However, they are almost always done in sequence.

Based on Reality

There’s a huge Montessori vs. Waldorf debate about whether children should enjoy fantasy-based play and content before they are 6 or 7 years of age. Maria Montessori advocated for real-life, hands-on experiences. She believed that the youngest mind’s curiosity should focus on their daily lives.

One of the base principles of the Montessori method is that children find everyday items and events more exciting than fairies, dragons, or superheroes. That is why those first years should be used to learn as much about the real world as possible.

Montessori toys follow that principle. They often represent animals, vehicles, and real people or events. Children find them super-engaging but also learn about the world they live in.

Little boy in his Montessori inspired kitchen.

Simple yet Teach Complex Stuff

It is advisable not to give children toys that can cause sensory overload. Battery-powered toys that produce loud sounds or flashing lights have a tendency to do so. That’s why Montessori principles demand simpler designs.

A child should be able to focus on one task at a time and, more importantly, engage in active play. If they just observe what a battery-powered toy can do on its own, no learning or development takes place.

However, don’t confuse simple Montessori play and design with its educational outcome. What kids can learn using Montessori toys is much more complex. For instance, they can learn math, geometry, spelling, and even some basics of STEM education.

Real Life Skills

Montessori philosophy is all about learning real-life practical life skills through play. Montessori learning includes children:

  • learning how to prepare their meals
  • cleaning up after themselves
  • tending to their little garden patches
  • dressing themselves
  • creating their own games
  • and so much more.

Montessori toys are also designed to teach children skills they’ll use throughout their lives, making them more independent and self-sufficient in the process. Check out this Montessori Magnetic Maze, for example. Apart from boosting problem-solving skills, kids also learn how to hold a pen. 

Wooden (Not Always)

This is the most common misconception regarding Montessori toys. Yes, they are usually wooden. But no, Montessori toys don’t need to be wooden or made of natural materials to fulfill their purpose. Wooden toys can be costly, and not everyone can afford them.

That’s why many Montessori schools and toy manufacturers decided to use more accessible materials, like plastic, so more families can enjoy them. Even though plastic as a toy material is sometimes frowned-upon since it's not one of the natural materials, you can find non-toxic baby toys made from plastic in many places.

Made for a Specific Age

Lastly, if you want to get the most out of your Montessori toy, you should get one that best suits your child's developmental needs. The best way to do that is to see what developmental milestones they have already reached.

They will usually correlate to their age, but not necessarily. Every child develops differently, and that’s perfectly OK.

To ensure you’re on the right track, it’s best to start browsing Montessori toys by age.

Are Montessori Toys Self-Correcting?

Montessori toys are usually self-correcting, but not always. Self-correcting toys provide immediate feedback to children whether they’re fulfilling tasks given by toys or not.

For example, there is only one way to solve a puzzle. Each piece has its own designated place. If a child tries to put it into any other position or rotates it incorrectly, it won’t fit.

Little girl playing with puzzles.

Now, this type of play is great because it doesn’t require adult interference. A child can do it all on their own, taking the lead, solving problems, and becoming more independent and confident in the process. This self-correcting trait is typical for close-ended toys.

However, Montessori also believed in open-ended toys and play. There is no right or wrong way to play with an open-ended toy (apart from safety issues). If we want children to explore, imagine and create, there shouldn’t be any boundaries to their play. Open-ended toys are made for that exact purpose.

So, you can see how both type of Montessori toys have their benefits. Self-correcting is a big bonus for Montessori kids but can also hinder children’s creativity. That is why Montessori toys aren't necessarily self-correcting.

Do Montessori Toys Work?

They do if they meet the following criteria: a Montessori toy must be challenging but not frustrating to the child playing with them.

Here is why - If a toy is too difficult to solve or play with, a child playing with it might feel disheartened or frustrated. They’ll give up on it and move on to the next one. Too many toys like this may create a habit of easily giving up. That is not what Montessori toys are about.

On the other end of the spectrum are toys that are too easy and not engaging enough. Such a toy can hold a child’s interest for a few minutes at most. Toys like that only end up on a pile and never get played with.

So, your job is to find the best Montessori toys with the optimal difficulty setting for your child’s playtime.

What Is the Montessori Way of Organizing Toys?

Montessori prefers to keep things simple and organized. Too many toys are distracting, and each toy needs to have its own spot. If a child wishes to play with a certain toy, it needs to be easily accessible to them, meaning on lower shelves they can reach.

Once children are done playing, they need to return every toy to its original spot. This teaches children responsibility.

If you wish to organize toys the Montessori way at your home, remember that you need to create a clutterless environment where your child can do everything independently.

Keep the educational and learning materials and their best Montessori toys on lower heights so your child can reach them easily. Put things you don’t want them to play with so often, like video games, on top shelves.

Montessori classroom with round table and toy shelves.

Also, if you come into a situation where you have too many toys, try a toy rotation. It’s a simple method that will make your life much easier and your home much cleaner. Take 8-12 toys that offer different types of play and make a set out of them.

Place them within your child’s room and let your kid play with them for a few weeks. Once your child doesn’t find them all that exciting anymore, take those 8-12 toys out of the rotation, and bring others you have waiting somewhere in the box.

The idea is to use fewer toys to let your child engage in deeper play. You will also save a lot of money in the process because you can keep rotating the same toys for much longer.

Montessori-aligned toys are a great addition to any child’s playtime. They bring so many benefits, and children find them exciting. The important thing is to find the one that suits your child. If you need any help finding the perfect Montessori-inspired toy, write to us at info@montessorigeneration.com, and we’ll sort you out.

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