Montessori Philosophy on Children’s Toys and Playthings

In his fantastically written books on health, diet and nutrition such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan has put forth a very simple summary of the best diet for humans.

His summary reads: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

The simplicity of that summary of how to eat well for health translates easily into a summary of the Montessori philosophy of toys for children: “Real toys. Mostly wood. Not too many.”

A Simple Approach To Educating and Raising Children

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of much of mainstream society, the Montessori approach to educating and raising children emphasizes simplicity and setting children up to be able to learn things on their own through their own explorations.

If this sounds hopelessly boring, trust me–it’s not. It’s a surprisingly liberating philosophy. And children love it.

So let’s talk a little more about what Montessori toys are like and where you can get them if you’re interested in providing them for some children in your life.

Real Toys

You won’t find much plastic in a Montessori classroom.

That’s because the Montessori method emphasizes natural materials that are healthy, safe and innately enjoyable for children.

Mostly Wood

In actual practice, this means that the vast majority of Montessori toys that aren’t books are made of wood.

The toys are usually quite simple–no flashing lights, no buzzes, chimes or whistles. No cartoon characters or corporate logs. Just simple wooden toys with simple moving parts like wheels and rope and elegant shapes.

Not Too Many

A cluttered environment can confuse a child. Too many options leads to overwhelm.

So, instead, the key is to have just a few well-chosen toys that the child can use in order to learn new skills and explore the world in a spirit of adventure.

I’ve entered the homes of friends with children and noticed a deluge of toys pouring out all over the place creating a plasticky mess. Just entering these cluttered spaces induces a headache.

On the other hand, if you have only a few simple, elegant and natural toys available for the child to enjoy, the effect is similar to being outside at a beautiful park or walking in a pristine forest. You can breathe. You can think. And you can enjoy the spontaneous flow of energy that exists in each moment.

How About Some Examples of Montessori Toys!

Have I piqued your interest?

By now you can probably tell that I am a huge fan of Montessori toys. (And yes, I know that technically they’re called “materials,” but you’ll have to check out my article on Montessori Materials to hear my thoughts on that topic!)

My parents sent me to a Montessori school when I was 3, and I attended that school through Kindergarten.

It was such an amazing educational foundation to have under me for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful to my parents for sending me to Montessori school.

Now that I have some nephews of my own, I’ve been reconnecting with the beauty of the Montessori method and remembering all those great toys I used to play with.

So let’s talk about some of the toys that remain classics in the Montessori world.

Shapes, Shapes, Shapes

Some of my favorite Montessori toys growing up involved having to stack wooden shapes on simple wooden pegs. That might not sound like much, but to me when I was 2 or 3, it was great fun!

ThisĀ stack board from Melissa and Doug is a great modern version of some of the shapes I played with when I was little.

Melissa and Doug Stack Board

Here’s another nice shapes-stacking toy from Melissa and Doug.

These counting disks from Kid O also take me back. I remember learning how to slip the disks through the different number of holes and enjoying making different patterns with the different colors.

For really little ones, there’s this sweet set of stackable rainbow-colored circles (also from Melissa and Doug).

Other Classic Montessori Toys

This climbing wooden bear toy is a classic and goes back way before Montessori came into existence, but it can still capture a child’s attention for hours. This was one of my most treasured toys growing up.

Nothing beats building blocks! This toy alone occupied me for hours and hours day after day. You can do so much with them, and they absolutely line up with the Montessori philosophy of allowing children to develop motor skills while also exploring the laws of physics through direct experience and experimentation.

Toys for Slightly Older Children

When I got older but was still in my Montessori school, I enjoyed more challenging toys that had more ways to explore and use them. Here are some of my favorites.

This set of cylinders reminds me of some of the toys I played with at my Montessori academy. So many different parts, and it was great fun to line them up in order or scramble them and compare their weights and the way they rolled on the carpet.

There are lots of kinds of Montessori spelling toys. I love how the brightly colored wood looks and feels. The words are almost like a little bonus!

But Where Do You Get All These Wonderful Toys?

You’ve probably noticed me linking over to Amazon.com for a lot of these toy recommendations.

Amazon is a great place to get your Montessori toys, but it’s not the only place.

Here are a few other great resources for checking out and ordering Montessori toys for the children in your life:

Michael Olaf runs The Montessori Shop, which carries all kinds of traditional Montessori toys that you can’t really find anyplace else (on the web or off, it seems). Definitely a great place to check out.

Maitri Learning specializes in Montessori books and cards. Lots of great reading material here for your Montessori youngsters.

Montessori for the Earth offers several different programs you can purchase and use to bring the Montessori method into your own home. Lisa Nolan, the creator of these programs, is a Montessori teacher (and Mom) who has created some great resources for in-home Montessori schooling and enrichment

Real Toys. Mostly Wood. Not Too Many.

Of course, toys don’t have to be officially designated as “Montessori Toys” in order to embody the Montessori philosophy.

Many traditional toys that have been in use for hundreds of years are totally in line with Montessori methods.

The toys I’ve listed here provide you with a great place to start in bringing the sane, beautiful Montessori approach into the lives of the children you love.

Just be sure to keep this overriding perspective in mind as you continue your search for Montessori Toys:

Real Toys. Mostly Wood. Not Too Many.

–Uncle Matt