First, let me be clear: Montessori materials (the materials that Dr. Montessori so carefully developed) are never considered toys. Actually, they are considered children’s work.
However, there are some toys out there that seem to align with Montessori philosophy and could be thought of as Montessori-inspired or Montessori-like toys.
I went to a warehouse sale the other day and was on the hunt for some deals on toys that I could use for future Montessori activities. I found this gorgeous Plan Toy that will be perfect for a colour sorting activity and a great example of a Montessori-inspired toy that can be used as a Montessori activity!
A friend gave Freestyle a Plan Toy when she was just born and recommended the line (come to think of it, she’s also a Montessori teacher!). They are eco-friendly and seem to be an ethical company, but the price tag reflects this (fair enough!). So I was so excited to see a table full of the toys at the warehouse sale!
This particular toy has a lot of the characteristics of a Montessori activity:
- Made of a natural material— wood (from an eco-friendly and sustainable resource)
- Bright and beautiful colours and appearance— attractive to children (and their parents!)
- High-quality production— Montessori materials should be made for longevity so that the children have experience cleaning and taking care of them so that they do last for the next child.
- Built-in Control of Error— The bees should match the hive colour when the activity is complete.
- Made ethically, in an environmentally-friendly manner— bonus!
- There is only one isolated quality— Montessori materials isolate a single quality to introduce new concepts. This way, the child is able to recognize the difference between the objects. Here, the bees and beehives are the same shape and size and they have the same appearance save for the colour. The child is then able to focus on the colours since everything else is the same!
So those are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking for Montessori-inspired toys and activities for your child. Don’t forget to only introduce the activity when you believe that your child is prepared (mentally and physically) for it. This is to ensure that they are Set Up for Success* an important aspect of Montessori philosophy.
Colour sorting activities such as this one are easy to DIY!
- Save/buy your own small containers (yogurt cups, baby food jars, paper cups, etc.)
- Paint/cover the containers with coloured construction paper.
- Collect/buy small objects that will fit into the containers in matching colours (marbles, buttons, beads, etc.)
- Tongs are optional. You can also use a spoon to spoon the items from a clear glass container to the coloured containers. Younger children can even use their fingers and practice their pincer grip!
*Montessori teachers (and parents!) make sure to Set Up Their Children For Success. This means that before any lesson is introduced, the teacher has considered the child’s abilities and experience and believes that he or she is ready for the new lesson. Using the above activity as an example, I wouldn’t introduce it to Freestyle until she develops the fine motor skills to use the tongs.
The lesson is thoroughly thought-out and planned, which means that all materials and resources are prepared and ready to be used and that the teacher herself is familiar with the step-by-step instructions and the desired outcome. If I introduced this activity and didn’t have the tongs on hand, it would take away from the momentum as I leave to go look for them, wouldn’t it? Also, it would not help in teaching Freestyle to be prepared!
Any setbacks are anticipated and the teacher is ready to assist or even stop the lesson and re-introduce it when the child is better ready.
I always had to consciously keep this in mind while in the classroom, and I have to admit that sometimes during especially busy times of the year I forgot to consider it and it did not lead to a great lesson! This way of thinking can also apply to many aspects of parenting, huh?