Montessori Materials

I’ve written elsewhere about Montessori Toys and where to get them.

However, even though the name of this site is, I realize that technically speaking, the name used in Montessori is not toys, but “materials.”

So let’s talk about the distinction–why call them materials? why not call them toys? and what that means for you and me.

Childhood Is Serious Business Masquerading As Fun

For all the laughter that echoes around when children run around and explore their environment, the fact is that children are continually learning and figuring out how the world works. And this process is fundamental for everything the child will ever do in the future as he or she grows up.

Within the Montessori Philosophy, the word used for what children do is “work” rather than “play.”

Children work. And when they’re hard at work, they’re busy figuring out how to manipulate objects, distinguish between samenesses and differences and interact with their environment in a way that builds their confidence.

As fun as child play can be, the Montessori approach constantly emphasizes the usefulness of the work children do when they, as we say, “play.”

Children Use Materials To Work

Montessori uses the word “materials” to describe the objects that children use in order to learn the important skills that the education process naturally teaches.

Every “toy” in the Montessori tradition serves multiple important purposes.

A set of ramps with brightly colored balls not only entertains the child but teaches about physics, coordination and the relationship between different things.

Watching the balls roll down the ramps may set the child to giggling joyfully, but important learning is happening each step of the way.

These brightly colored letters of the alphabet help the child distinguish between different letters (which are really just different shapes) while also encouraging the development of fine motor skills.

Every Montessori material serves multiple functions, but it’s easy to miss the subtle brilliance of the materials if you are used to looking at toys as simple “fun” diversions.

But Wait–There’s Even More To Montessori Teaching Materials

Now that I’m an adult and can look back at my time in my Montessori preschool and kindergarten through the lens of the Montessori Philosophy, I find this stuff incredibly fascinating.

I don’t want to bore you, but if you’ll stick with me, I bet you’ll start to get how interesting and incredible the Montessori approach to “toys” and “fun” really is.

Within the domain of Montessori Materials, there are actually four classifications for four different areas of learning that go in in the Montessori classroom. And each of these categories has materials that go along with it.

These four categories generally apply to the materials children use from when they’re newborns up to age 6.

The categories are:

1. Practical
2. Sensorial
3. Language
4. Mathematics

Now, a single Montessori material can of course span across these four categories. For example, a sensorial material might include several parts, which could help the child learn mathematics.

Knowing of these four categories allows you to get creative with the creation and purchase of materials for the children in your life.

Really quickly, I do want to give you a little more info about each of those categories:

Practical activities emphasize the learning of important life skills that are applicable all over the place in the child’s life. From tying shoes to pouring liquids into cups, the practical category covers anything and everything that helps the child feel more comfortable interacting with the world.

The sensorial category involves materials and activities that help the child to become more aware and capable within the domains of the five senses. From bright colors to the sounds of music, different types of textures to the tastes and smells of the natural world, this category is all about helping the child experience the world through the five senses with as much perception and acuity as possible.

Language materials assist the child in developing language skills in a very linear manner. From the sounds of words to how those sounds are put together to, finally, the rules for how words combine to form sentences, materials in this category will help the child become skilled and comfortable in using language.

Mathematical materials help the child ground the abstract ideas of math in actual manipulation of shapes and pieces. From counting from 1 to 10 to learning fractions and mathematical operations like adding and subtraction, materials in this category are specially designed to guide the child into mathematics simply and confidently.

Materials, Toys, Play, Work

So whether you call them materials or toys, and whether you describe what children are doing as play or work, the Montessori philosophy situates these activities within the natural progression a child makes in learning to be in the world confidently and creatively.

I love the Montessori approach. The more I learn about it, the more I notice how much it helped me establish a firm foundation for my adult life.

You may not be able to send your child to a Montessori school, but you can definitely buy or make Montessori materials for your children. With a little background understanding, you can even help your children develop in line with the Montessori philosophy.

Montessori Equipment and Montessori Supplies — Where to Get Them

If I’ve done my job here, then I’ve explained enough to have you interested in actually picking up some Montessori materials for the young children in your life.

So where to go?

Well, I’ve found that is a fantastic place to find Montessori supplies at very reasonable prices.

If you check out my Montessori Toys article, you’ll find several recommendations for specific toys there.

In addition to those, however, I have some other materials to recommend here. There are basically so many great materials out there that it’s hard to make the call. You don’t want to inundate kids with too many toys, but how do you choose the best materials for your child?

That’s a topic for a whole other article, so for now, just check out some of these favorites of mine and explore Amazon to find others that appeal to you:

I remember playing with blocks and shapes very similar to this Bead Sequencing Set in my Montessori school growing up. This kind of material could captivate your youngster for hours and hours.

As your child gets older, the pieces and grow smaller in size and larger in number. A material like Montessori sorting box this teaches so many different skills all at once!

Do you want your kids to learn math the Montessori way? Then this Brilliant Minds Montessori Math Kit is the answer–there are practically limitless ways you can use the pieces of this kit to help your child accelerate into a thorough comfort with mathematics.

Fun Materials for Playful Work

Hopefully I’ve helped you understand the reasoning behind the Montessori philosophy’s use of words like “work” and “materials.”

And hopefully I’ve helped you become a little more familiar with the kinds of materials that are available for children in line with the Montessori philosophy.

I love the fact that there are so many great options when it comes to providing children with fun–but useful–materials for playful work.

And as always–if you know of some other materials that you particularly love, please contact me and let me know about them!