Dr. Montessori observed, “Play is the work of the child.” This means the inner goal of your baby, toddler, or young child is to grow and develop into a productive adult. Whatever your little one chooses to engage with or do – even when it looks like play – is guided by this unconscious noble desire. When you give your little one toys, you are contributing to this process. Choosing toys that are developmentally appropriate will support your child in their journey of growth.
Developmental Toys for Newborns
There are two main categories of toys for newborns. The first category includes mobiles, and the second includes rattles. These categories cover the two significant capabilities of newborns, respectively: Seeing and grasping.
Newborns are developing the use of their eyes – both focus and movement. By hanging mobiles for your baby, you are supporting this work. The first mobile in Montessori, the Munari, is black and white to take advantage of their interest in high contrast objects. It moves slowly in the currents of the air to allow your baby to practice moving their eyes with the movement of the hanging elements.
The second category of developmental toys for newborns takes advantage of their reflexive grip. As soon as they are born, and even in the womb, they will grasp their hand reflexively around anything that brushes their palm. Biologists believe that this grip developed so that the young of fur carrying primates could cling tightly to their mothers.
There are many sensitive nerve endings in your baby’s hand, and they will learn much about the world through them. By offering lightweight rattles of different materials and textures, you will allow your little one to glean information about the materials of the world as they grasp each rattle and see how they feel.
Developmental Toys for Babies
Your baby is working on the strength of their core, which will be used for sitting and moving, and on the use of their hands. Dr. Montessori offered two kinds of toys to support this work.
One of the best kinds of developmental toys for your baby’s core strengthening is a collection of balls. These balls can and should vary for interest, but they should all be an appropriate size for your baby to hold with both hands. They can be different colors, materials, and textures, and you should only offer your baby one at a time. Giving more can be overwhelming for them. They will lie on their tummy in front of the ball, and they will push up with their hands and arch their backs to look at the ball. Then they will work towards grabbing the ball with their hands and bringing it to their mouths. This is excellent work for building their core muscles.
Once your baby is sitting well, they can start work on the activities that encourage the development of their hands. One of the best toys for this work is the Object Permanence Box. They will sit with the box between their legs and hold the ball in their hands. Then they will work to put the ball in the hole and release it. The ball will disappear momentarily and then emerge into a tray. This is hard work for a young baby! They have to line up the ball with the hole and then release at just the right moment. This activity challenges the use of their hands and supports refinement of this fine motor skill.
Developmental Toys for Toddlers
Your toddler is working on walking, and on more complicated activities with their hands. These activities often require experimentation, which engages their mind in very basic reasoning.
One of the best developmental toys for your new walker is the pull toy. This is a toy with wheels that your little one will pull along with a string. They will enjoy the experience of pulling the toy behind them, and turning to check as they toddle along. This toy will give them repeated practice with walking, and also challenge their balance as they turn to check on the toy and squat to look at it.
Your little one can practice using their hands and their reasoning with a Montessori toy known as The Mailbox. The mailbox is a box with different shaped openings on top with different geometric objects that fit through the openings. The top of the box swaps out for several different options, offering one, two, or all three openings. This provides your little one with varying degrees of challenge. As your toddler experiments with the objects, trying to fit them through the openings, they will practice the use of their hands and also their reasoning as they learn which fits through.
Developmental Toys for Three-Year-Olds
Your three-year-old wants to do challenging work! They are ready for more activities that challenge their hands, as well as work that involves processes.
Look for experiences that will challenge your three-year-old’s hand-eye coordination. For example, a lacing set. It is hard work for a young child to do successfully and will require patience and perseverance, while at the same time supporting the refinement of the use of their hands and eyes together.
Further, activities like lacing, simple craft projects, and building projects (with blocks or even pillows!) introduce a process-oriented activity with a tangible result. Your child will need to remember the steps, experiment with materials, and see the consequences of their decisions. Look for toys that involve more steps.
The Montessori curriculum provides excellent guidelines for toys that support your little one’s development from birth. By choosing developmentally appropriate toys, you allow their play to also be meaningful work. They will refine their physical and intellectual abilities, and build a foundation that will serve them even into adulthood!