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What is the Difference Between Learning Toys and Montessori Toys?

Babies are always learning. Every toy you give them is an opportunity for them to learn more about their abilities and the world around them. Most toy companies seem to comprehend this in theory. You probably have seen many toys marketed as learning toys. It can be tempting to buy these toys for your little one and assume that they will learn their colors or letters or shapes from these self-proclaimed educational toys.

However, Montessori toys take a different approach. Dr. Maria Montessori understood and respected children’s developmental timelines. She knew that exposing a baby to letters and numbers before they were ready to understand what these symbols represented was just noise for them. She observed that the youngest children learn best when they explore isolated concrete concepts on their own. In this way, Montessori learning toys are different from most learning toys on the market. Rather than presenting abstract lessons to a child, Montessori toys are designed to invite children to build their own concept of the world.

toddler playing with montessori pegboard

Why Your Baby Doesn’t Learn From “Learning Toys”

Many products calling themselves learning toys look flashy! They look interesting! You want the best for your baby, and it can be easy to think that earlier is better. If you want your little one to be an early reader, then don’t you want to expose them to letters and numbers as soon as possible?

The short answer is: No.

Letters and numbers will be meaningless shapes to your baby until they are almost three. It is not until they are three that they can actively connect the sound of a letter with the shape.

Numbers will have a similar challenge for your baby. One-to-one counting is the first time that individual numbers will hold real meaning for them. Your child is not ready for this ability and concept until they are four.

Before then, they may be able to memorize how to recite numbers in order, and they may have a sense that 3 is more than 1, and 5 is more than 2, but the purpose of numbers doesn’t hold value until they are four years-old.

Toys covered with numbers and letters are intended to be instructive, but your little one does not learn this way yet.

They learn by exploring concepts that are accessible to their young minds.

You can see that exposing your baby to these complicated symbols when they are little will not do much to actually create an understanding of what these symbols mean. Instead, you want to give your baby time with toys from which they can actually derive information and develop abilities.

Related: What actual learning toys for toddlers look like >

What Toys DO Babies Learn From?

Babies are concrete thinkers. They are explorers. Your baby can begin to distinguish information about the physical world–shapes, colors, textures, weight. Any toys that give them experience with these differences will help them develop a framework for this knowledge. Simple toys make this information the clearest to them because they can actually derive the essential concepts.

Your baby also can learn from exploring the toys on their own. They will put their hands on a cube and see that it does not fit into a round hole. They will see that they have to put the largest ring on the cone first so the smallest ring can also fit. All of these are discoveries that they have to make on their own through their own work with the materials. This is not something you can teach your child. They have to learn it on their own.

Montessori materials provide tools for your baby to learn developmentally appropriate information about the world around them. They also allow your baby to construct this knowledge in their own brain by giving them opportunities to use their hands and senses to work with the concepts. And the truly magical thing is that this foundation will give them the curiosity, joy, and intellect necessary for when the time does come for them to learn their letters and numbers!

Your little one is full of potential. They are ready to learn about themselves and the world. The best toys you can give your baby meet them where they are developmentally. They introduce concepts that they are mentally ready for, and they allow them to explore with their own body and mind. Montessori toys will give your baby the tools and information they need to construct an active intelligence inside of them.

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