Montessori toys, this is a tough one because Dr Montessori didn’t actually design toys. She designed pieces of equipment that would help a child learn different skills. And she did that with some very specific ideas in mind. These days a lot of this equipment is labelled as toys, so let’s take a look at what passes the Montessori “toy” test.

Montessori Pink tower

Are Montessori Toys Boring?

In a world full of bells and whistles and people with 2-second concentration spans, this may seem the case. But if you ever watch a child work with Montessori equipment, you’d think differently.

Let’s look at The Pink Tower, which is probably the most recognisable and popular piece of Montessori equipment. Yes, it can be compared to a stacking tower toy but there are some very important differences.

The most obvious learning done with the pink tower is stacking the cubes on top of each other, in size order. But the pink tower is designed to teach so much more. Each cube is a precise measurement from 10㎤ to 1㎤. As the child handles each cube they subconsciously begin to recognise the size and weight difference of the cubes. This is why the cubes being solid is so important.

As with other Montessori equipment, the sizing is standard so the child absorbs measurements before they are even introduced to a ruler and the concept of length.

The tower is just plain pink. Why pink? No one actually knows but it’s believed that Dr Montessori had some pink paint handy, so it was painted pink. But keeping it just one colour helped the child to focus.

If we look at a typical stacking toy, it’s often multicoloured, it might have counting activities on one side and animals on another. It becomes distracting and confusing. Are they stacking size? Are they counting? Are they learning colours? Too many things to try and focus on.

As the child uses The Pink Tower they usually go through stages, first is getting the cubes in the correct order. Once they have nailed that they will try and do it more precisely, making it a tidier tower. There are then several extensions where the child learns other ways to use the tower. Some of these involve other pieces of equipment.

What might look like a pretty boring toy to the untrained eye, it does keep the child focused and interested and is often one of the most loved pieces in a classroom and homeroom setting.

Must Montessori Toys be made of natural materials?

Montessori equipment is usually made of wood or other natural materials, we need to remember that cheap plastic wasn’t a thing back in Dr Montessori’s day. She used what she has at hand which often meant wood and metal.

Wood and metal are great, it lasts well, and it’s much better for the environment but it is also more expensive when we start looking at natural toys. But again, the child learns so much more from natural toys. Not only is the difference in weight and texture of different woods and metals but also how they change in temperature as you hold them. Wood and metal taste different too when a child is exploring with their mouth, as many small children do. Whereas plastic pretty much stays the same in weight and taste (if it does have a taste) unless the size of the object increases dramatically.

So should you only buy natural toys?

I think a lot of us who are interested in this type of education would prefer to but it’s not always possible. As a rule of thumb, if you can afford the natural one buy the natural toy. If there is a choice between stained wood and painted, stained it often lasts longer and is usually a safer option as it doesn’t chip like paint does.

The other good thing about buying wooden toys is that you can mix and match sets. We had a wooden train track, a wooden marble run, and several sets of wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes. Some days my son would just take out the train track and then other days he would create a huge city using all his wooden toys.

BUT…

Just because it is made out of wood does not make it a Montessori toy. There are some equally crap wooden toys out there as there are brilliant plastic ones. If you are undecided, ask yourself the questions at the end of the post to decide if the toy is suitable for your child or not.

Montessori toys are based on reality

Children under the age of six, in fact often older children too, are incapable of distinguishing fantasy from reality. Before they can understand the difference between what is real and what is imaginary they need to understand what is real.

Giving them toys that have natural consequences and mimic the real world helps them develop the skill more quickly. Having a marble fall from a marble run because of a break in the track is teaching the child how the marble can get to the end of the road or not. Compare that with a toy where a button is pressed and an automated sequence happens, this is not a clear real-world action and reaction.

A toy that allows the child to experiment, try things out, fail and explore on their own terms is much more beneficial.

Failing is an important part of learning, toys should have a way to fail so that children can learn how to solve the problem.

When choosing toys, especially for those under 6 years old, look at what the toy teaches them. Is it cause and effect and it is teaching them something about the real world? Does it allow them to manipulate the toy and figure out their own solutions to the problem?

Does my child need fun toys too?

If your child is engaged with what they are working on or playing with then they are having fun. A bored child will walk away!

Often kids end up with so many toys that they become overwhelmed with choices. And that is when they lose the ability to concentrate and flit from thing to thing. One way to prevent or cure this is to remove most of the toys. Have a limited number of things available on the shelf and every week or so, rotate the toys.

Once the child has normalized, not only will they start to play with each toy for longer it also helps keep the place tidier as there is less to clean up. And that makes it easy for your child to clean up by themselves and the work-cycle will become a natural thing to do. Win-win!

Does a toy have to be educational?

Whenever a child interacts with something in the world they are learning. Whether that is making sand castles on the beach, jumping in puddles, making cakes out of Play-Doh, or building towers out of wooden blocks, they are learning.

Educational doesn’t mean they have to be drilling the time’s table or learning to spell, learning how the world around them works is equally if not more important. The choice then is how can I help my child learn about their world.

The knobless cylinders (below) have 4 sets of cylinders that all vary. Which gives the child lots of ways to explore. As with the pink tower, they are very specific in size. You can get 50+ extensions and 3D pattern cards to go with the set here.

Cute toddler girl playing with toy kitchen at home

Questions to ask when you’re buying toys

if you are unsure when it comes to buying a new toy ask yourself these questions and it will help you choose a better quality and useful toy.

  • What will the story teach my child about the world?
  • Other than the obvious, is my child going to learn anything else when using this toy?
  • Does the toy encourage my child to experiment, and fail?
  • Can this toy be used with something that we already own, such as wooden blocks being used with a wooden train set?
  • Does this toy have one main focus or has it got too many variables making it difficult to understand the clear purpose of the toy? (Such as a sorting activity that has different colours and shapes)
  • Is the story a one-trick pony, that is to say, once the child has completed the skill is the toy deemed useless?

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