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  • Writer's pictureLeah Vizgan

Be Ahhh-Mazed with Montessori Toys

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

Montessori Methods and Toys my daughter loves

We've all seen or heard of Montessori Toys. I love to see how my children use them. Our Montessori toys are often found on our playroom shelves. It is so popular and I understand why but I didn't know it's history until recently.

The Montessori method isn’t just an approach to academic learning—it can help guide baby’s development right from the get-go.

“The method actually starts at birth and continues through elementary school and on into adolescence,” says Kathryn Holm, MEd, a 0-3 Montessori educator based in Los Angeles.

An easy way to start applying the Montessori method at home with your little one is by stocking your child’s playroom with age-appropriate Montessori toys.

The Montessori Method is a child-centered approach to education and development that embraces hands-on, multi-sensory activities that kids can engage in at their own pace.

Based on Montessori’s observations of how children naturally learn, the method encourages parents and teachers to create a space full of developmentally appropriate toys and games, and then let kids choose for themselves which ones they want to play with.

“Learning is internally driven,” says Angeline Lillard, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and best-selling author of Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius.

Throughout history, mazes have often been used as a form of meditation, with their twisting paths freeing the mind to contemplate higher things. This maze, however, is much more likely to keep your kids busy while driving the cars around and past each other and then finally parking them at their locations: The ambulance at the hospital, the fire truck at the fire station, the school bus at the school, the ice cream truck at the ice cream store and the car at the house.

Mazes are loved by most of the kids & they provide a challenge for children that they enjoy! 

Here are some benefits & reasons to do mazes with your child -

  • Fine Motor: Mazes require the child to control the objects through the maze. Fine motor skills are mastered by this very exercise that helps in writing later.

  • Visual Tracking: Mazes require the child to use his eyes to scan the maze in order to find possible solutions. Scanning is a great skill used for reading and writing, as it is important to scan from the left side of the paper to the right side.

  • Problem Solving: Mazes help the child to work on planning and problem-solving skills to reach to the end of the maze.

  • Confidence: Mazes boost your child’s confidence like anything. Starting from easy to difficult mazes, a child can glide into the mazes gradually.

This car maze is great pre-school practice for those fine motor skills. 

The Magnetic Maze provides a fine motor exercise combined with an early exploration of magnetism.

A small 'pen', with a magnet in the tip, is used to attract the magnetic balls. As the pen moves the balls are pulled along and they can be transferred from the start to the end of each maze.

This pen can be carefully tucked into the top corner of the board to keep the entire activity self-contained.

The use of the pen can help to encourage the development of a pincer grip. The lines and curves of the various mazes can also be seen as indirect preparation for the movements involved in writing numerals and letters.

The Maze seems to engage their attention for all of the repetitions required to maneuver all of the magnetic balls along all four of the mazes. 

It is a low-pressure experience that a child can revisit when they are in need of some cognitive rest. It seems almost a little meditative - like raking sand in a zen garden!

  • Fine Motor Skills: Promotes dexterity, hand/eye coordination, and manipulation.

  • Problem Solving: Introduces logic, matching, spatial relationships, critical thinking, and an understanding of cause and effect.   

  • How to play? Mom and Kid could play together, each one holds the magnetic wand to race the marble, the first one to reach the goal wins.

Shape sorters have been around for centuries with the object for a child to fit the correct pieces into their matching slot on the container. 

Wooden shape sorters tend to have more shapes because of the additional planes, and are more challenging for an older toddler who has already mastered easier shape sorters. 

How can my child benefit from playing with shape sorting toys?

Playing with shape sorters can:

  • Facilitate motor skill development and problem-solving skills

  • Teach cause-and-effectIncrease self-esteem

  • Help with shape identification and color practice

When a toddler tries to insert a square block into a round hole and sees that it isn’t working, he may brainstorm how to get the block to go through, and try a different slot until he finds the one that works.

He used problem-solving to figure out his dilemma and witnessed the cause-and-effect when attempting to pass a block through an incorrect space vs. through a correct space.

Once the basic concept of fitting the correct pieces into their corresponding slots is mastered, toddlers or young children can also use shape sorters to practice color and shape identification. They may also use the toy to practice counting, as shapes are often taught using the concept of “how many sides does this shape have?” The child can count the number of sides on each shape and then examine the shape sorter to see which slot has the same amount of sides (or lack thereof for a circle or oval), and effectively use counting and problem solving to figure out the game.

For older children, once they have completely mastered the shape sorting toy, they can work on improving their speed. Just be careful with the sharper edges and wooden pieces, which can potentially be dangerous if a baby decides to chew on them or throw them.

A bright and cute exercise for young children featuring a caterpillars creeping through a bright red apple or strawberry! This magnetic toy allows you to catch the caterpillar with a stick and pull them out of the holes which is a great exercise.

It is well-received and a favorite toy of my daughter and her friends and is in almost constant use. Each child tends to spend a great deal of time focusing intently on the task and engaging in lots of repetition. 

The child builds hand-eye coordination, motor control, and concentration!

Another popular version of this type of toy is the Wooden Lacing / Threading Apple.

Tracking toys allow the child to focus on a moving object. This prepares the eye for reading. The simpler the toy the better, too many patterns provide a distraction. These are great for children of various ages. This specific toy is very lightweight and easy to use.

As the cars glide, the child's eyes are inspired to track them from side to side (rather than turning the whole head), allowing the eyes to visually cross the midline.

The Track also provides the additional 'visual tracking' exercise of allowing the eyes to follow a smoothly moving target. Visually tracking is an incredibly important pre-reading skill so it is useful for young children to engage in activities that literally exercise the muscles of the eyes in preparation for tracking words across a page!

My DIY Homemade Activity Board

When it’s not safe (or practical) to let your toddler play with your tools, this is a great stand-in.

The use of tools provides a child with a range of benefits, including (but not limited to);

  • An increase in fine and gross motor coordination.

  • An increase in the child's sense of self-confidence ("I'm using tools, just like an adult!").

  • A proficiency with tools that will remain equally relevant and useful throughout the child's lifetime.

  • An encouragement of problem-solving, creativity and persistence.

  • A productive, positive outlet for energy.

  • A promotion of maths skills such as measurement and comparison.

  • A connection to the sensory beauty of wood.

  • An encouragement of meaningful creativity and imagination followed by the physical actualization of the intellectual thought.

  • A promotion of gender and age equity ("It doesn't matter if I'm a boy or a girl, or if I'm young or old, I can do it myself!")

Object Permanence / Push & Drop Toy

This is one of the most classic Montessori toys. It’s designed to encourage baby’s motor skills and hand-eye coordination and is a super-fun way to learn about cause and effect. The ball disappears...and there it is again!

For really little ones, simply take the hammer away and let baby explore with his hands. Pushing the ball through the holes is great for strengthening baby’s hands. This activity fosters hand-eye coordination too. Once a baby is about a year old, it should be ok to hand the hammer back over. 

Stacking Rings are a fundamental and universally popular resource for babies and toddlers. They offer many developmental benefits and result in lots of delight and discovery for our littlest learners! 

This colorful classic is among people’s favorite Montessori toys for toddlers. It helps young ones work on their fine motor skills and cause and effect know-how as they place the rings on the post and bat the wobbly base. Plus, it introduces your child to the concept of relative size as she sorts and stacks from big to little. 

This provides a perfect opportunity for an adult to engage with the child to explore colors. The adult can simply start by role modeling these terms - eg "I'm going to put the orange disc on next" - and can eventually progress to encouraging the child to verbalize these names too by asking questions such as "What color should be next?". 

The discs vary in color but also size. The tower is ideally built by starting with the largest disc and stacking consecutively smaller discs on top - with the 'cherry on the cake' being the red sphere at the top. These descending sizes offer the opportunity to introduce lots of descriptive terms such as "largest", "smallest", "larger" and "smaller". 

The presence of six discs, with the red sphere sitting atop the tower, also provides an opportunity for an early counting experience. An adult might simply count aloud as the discs are placed on the dowel - 1..2...3..4...5...6! An older toddler may start mirroring this behavior, spontaneously attempting to count along independently. 

Working with the stacking ring encourages a young child to engage in problem-solving and persistence as he or she experiments with the different patterns and variations. It also promotes hand-eye coordination as the child attempts to align the wooden dowel with the hole in each disc.

The rainbow stacking toy is designed to encourage open-ended play: a child can use the colored components as building blocks or to model worlds of their own invention. Like the toy, this sculpture comes with an instruction that is suggestive rather than didactic: the work can be 'played with' (exhibited) in a variety of ways.

This is similar to the way artists work, to imaginatively envision the world as a different place.

Is it art or is it a toy? I say it's both. And it's beautiful and interesting. It's maths and it's science! It's based on the concept of play, building and discovering spatial relationships through creativity and sensory experiences.

We've all seen the Grimm's Stacking Rainbow in Montessori, Waldorf and other homes around the world. I Iove the Stacking Rainbow, I love to see how my children use it. It's bright and colorful. It is so popular and I understand why.

  • Introduce your child to concepts of size and color.

  • Which is the smallest? Which is the biggest?

  • Can you make a rainbow tunnel?

The Locks & Latches Box is one of my ‘must-haves’...and it is just as engaging and inspiring in the home!

I couldn’t possibly count the number of cumulative hours of activity that this tool has inspired in my own home. 

There are lots of features that I appreciate about the Locks & Latches Box, but here are my favorites:

  • It promotes fine-motor control and dexterity as little fingers work to open each lock and and latch. It encourages long periods of concentration and persistent problem-solving.

  • It inspires social interaction as several children start to collaborate on opening the doors and communicating through them. 

  • It features a handle at the top so that children can easily carry it from the shelf to the workspace.

There are many variations of the Locks & Latches Box concept. Some Lock Boxes are highly decorated with crazy colors or cute characters but I prefer the more simplistically neutral, yet attractive, style box. It allows the natural beauty of the wood to take center stage, with the colors acting as an attractive but not overwhelming touch.

The true value of the Locks & Latches Box is its sense of versatility and open-endedness. Yes, it’s primary purpose is the mastery of various locks and latches but, in the spirit of Montessori materials, it then offers the chance for extensions.

My favorite way of extending the life-span of the Locks & Latches Box is to use it as a ‘point of interest’ for other explorations. The box simply acts as a hiding place for materials that will introduce a new topic. This takes the box from being a fine-motor favorite of a tiny toddler to an engaging, educational treasure box for a Pre-schooler.

For instance, you can try some of the following ideas (placed in a suggested order based on a common progression of developmental interest).

  • Turn it into a Colors Box. Place several colored objects (such as pom-poms or scarves) inside.  The child can then take a ‘lucky dip’ and try to identify the color. Alternatively, the adult can request a particular color (“Please find me something red…”) and the child checks each door to find the corresponding object.

  • Turn it into a Sensory Box. Create a great, tactile guessing game. This can be done either as an Identification Game or a Matching Game. To play the Identification Game choose a collection of small objects from around the home or the classroom. These can be a random group (such as a pencil, a hairbrush, an apple, a spoon, a small teddy) or a collection of thematically related items (such as ‘from the garden’ – a pine cone, a stick, a leaf, a flower, a rock). Work with the child to identify each object by name while feeling it with the hands and fingertips. Then hide the objects inside the box. The child then reaches in (without peeking!) and feels an object inside the box. The child guesses the identity of the object based on these tactile impressions before pulling it out to self-correct.  To play the Matching Game a similar collection of objects can be gathered but in pairs (two shells, two pencils, two bananas and so on). Again the adult and child identify and feel each object. Then one of each pair is placed in the box while the other is retained by the adult. The adult passes one object at a time to the child and asks the child to reach into the box to find the object that feels the same. Remember that the child can assist with the process of choosing the objects!

  • Turn it into a Counting Box. Fill the Lock Box with a series of objects that can act as counters. The adult shows the child how to use the doors on the top of the box to reach in and access the counters. The child is then invited to count out a particular quantity of objects. This invitation could be a prompt from the adult (“Please collect six counters for me…”) or could be inspired by number cards (or just numbers written on paper!) that the child picks out before each turn.

  • Turn it into a Rhyme Box. Choose a set of objects that represent rhyming pairs. When you first start you might like to keep the quantity limited to just a few pairs, for instance: a cat and a hat (a small toy hat!), a dog and a frog, a hen and a pen. Place these objects inside the Lock Box and invite the child to reach in through one door to pull out an object. Identify the object by its name and help emphasize the end sound (“you chose a cat”) then invite the child to open the doors until he or she can see something rhyming with cat. The child then searches the treasure box, peeking through the various doors, until he or she spots the ‘hat’. Put the rhyming pair together and repeat the process until all are matched! When the child is successfully matching the rhyming pairs then you can start introducing more pairs to make the exercise more challenging.

  • Turn it into an Initial Sounds Box. Collect a group of objects each with a prominent and distinct initial sound (such as a toy dog, a cup, a ribbon, a spoon, and an apple). Identify the objects first, ensuring that you clearly enunciate and emphasize that initial sound. Then hide the objects inside the box and invite the child to find the object that starts with a specific sound (such as, “Please find me something starting with s…”).

The sky is the limit for these treasure-chest activities. Between your own ingenuity and your observations of the creativity of the child, you will no doubt discover many more applications!

  • Wooden Montessori Practical Lock Box

  • 10 different kinds of locks, all with doors and latches

  • Good for cultivating kids hand-eye coordination skills and practical life skills

  • Also, a mysterious wood box for kids to hide their little items, having fun hiding and discovering their small treasures by locking and unlocking the doors

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