If we, as adults, are overstimulated by the abundance of toys and activities available, can you imagine what that experience is like for your child? Surrounded by toys with too many colors, too many noises, and too many parts, they might feel overwhelmed. So what guidelines can you use when selecting toys for your child?
Montessori philosophies offer incredible wisdom in this arena and the strength of thousands of hours of observation to study what children respond to and need in their environment. A Montessori approach can provide comfort when toy shopping.
5 characteristics found in Montessori toys:
Montessori toys are simple
The best toys to give your little ones are simple. Your child is trying to make sense of this wild wonderful world they have so recently come upon. They learn best when you give them organized information. For example, a simple puzzle with a triangle, a circle, and a square in three different solid colors gives your toddler organized information about shapes. These are three essential geometric structures to distinguish between. They learn about the relationship between the three as they take the pieces out and put them away. And they absorb that these shapes are related to each other without the distraction of decorative faces or random shapes. When too much information is offered in one toy, children cannot abstract the essential elements of the activity.
Montessori toys are based in reality
Before the age of six, your child’s brain is relatively incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. In order for them to develop real imagination and a secure relationship to their world, they need to first learn about what the world really is like. Read them books about real things: Tigers in the rainforest, not tigers driving buses. Give them toys with real consequences. Skip the boxes with knobs and buttons that produce unrelated and random noises. Stick to toys that have true consequences. A ball dropped into a hole will roll down a ramp and emerge for your toddler to handle again. An actual and visible bell will ring when your baby bats at it.
Montessori materials are natural
Choose toys made from natural materials whenever possible. A rattle made from wood or metal will give your baby much more information about their world than a plastic one. The metal is cool to touch at first and then warms in their hand. Wood provides a variety of textures. And both metal and wood have an interesting “taste” for the baby. Plastic, on the other hand, is always the same temperature, and either has no taste, or has an artificial feel in their mouths. Similarly, metal and wood provide an interesting weight when your toddler is working with puzzles, balls, and similar toys. They will vary in feel and weight based on size, where plastic tends to need a larger change in size in order for a distinct change in weight.
Montessori materials are functional and constructive
All the toys we give our children should require their participation and action for use. The best toys for our little ones’ development allow them to explore and involve their own will, decisions, and ideas. They aren’t passive spectators to an adult’s idea about entertainment. They manipulate and build and interact, learning about their world and their capabilities.
Montessori play offers limited choices
Give your child limited choices when setting out their toys. Having too many choices is overwhelming and dissatisfying. It is harder for them to decide what they want to play with, and it is harder for them to stick with the toy once they’ve chosen it. Rather than concentrating on the toy and fully enjoying its purpose and value, they will flit from one toy to the next, making a mess and feeling progressively undone. The ideal number of toys will increase as the child ages, but will depend on their individual personalities. Rotating from their collection will allow time to explore and use all the toys they have.
With the plethora of choices available to us in this modern world, it is becoming harder and harder to select beautiful toys that appeal to children’s needs and meet them where they are developmentally. Using these guidelines can help you navigate the options, and help support you in educated decision making for your child’s toy selection!