Montessori toys: Educational toys for toddlers

Find out what the Montessori approach to learning is, and eight educational Montessori toys that are suitable for toddlers.

What do Prince George, Beyonce, and the founders of Google have in common? They all attended (or currently attend) Montessori schools.

The Montessori approach was founded by Maria Montessori who believed that children are naturally curious enough to explore the world independently. Her idea was so well-received that today there are over 22,000 schools across the globe that use the Montessori method of education.

But Montessori isn’t just about schooling – it can begin from birth. And since children learn so much through play, toys are a big aspect of Montessori learning.

What makes a toy Montessori?

There are many misconceptions about what makes a toy Montessori-approved, but it’s really quite simple. The main requirements of Montessori toys are that they are simple and open-ended. 

Simple, in this context, means that they invite the child to imagine and explore what the toy can do. There are no flashing lights or sounds. When a toy does all the work for the child, they miss out on the opportunity to explore what the toy can do.

They don’t have to use their imagination to interact with the toy. They don’t absorb the lesson of the connection between actions and their natural consequences. Once they’ve exhausted the limited possibilities of the toy (the car beeps and flashes when I press this button, the doll says the same three phrases on a loop, etc), they lose interest. There’s nothing more to explore.

Montessori toys are open-ended, meaning their intended use is ambiguous or flexible. The child can explore and experiment with what they can do with the toy while developing their imagination as well as their problem-solving skills.

A Montessori toy is usually made from natural materials and are free from distractions or unnecessary frills. They’re designed to promote learning, both academic and real-life skills, while not overwhelming the child. You won’t find Montessori toys with batteries and high-tech functions. 

Eight Montessori toys for toddlers

Here are eight Montessori toys suitable for toddlers.

1) Climbing frames

Climbing frames, such as the Pikler triangle (or cheaper alternatives) encourage risky play. Risky play teaches children their own boundaries, skills, and physical limitations.

2) Puzzles

Puzzles are easy to find and budget-friendly, and they help develop your toddler’s problem-solving and motor skills. And for parents of busy, noisy toddlers, puzzles can provide an opportunity to sit down and have some quiet time. 

3) Baby dolls

In addition to being a real-life imaginative activity, baby dolls can teach your child social-emotional skills. Nurturing a doll can be beneficial for children who are expecting a baby sibling. Caring for a doll, like dressing, hair brushing and spoon-feeding can also help them develop those skills for themselves.

4) Shape sorters

Not only does shape-sorting speed up their problem-solving and fine motor skills, but naming the shapes will help their vocabulary and shape recognition. Sorters like this can help them identify basic shapes, while ones like this can help them learn colours. Budget-friendly options are also available.

5) Hammering toy

In addition to building arm strength and hand-eye coordination, hammering toys also provide an appropriate outlet when your little one is going through a hitting phase. 

6) Stacking toys

Stacking toys have been a staple for Montessorians and non-Montessorians for generations and for good reason. Stacking toys like this, this or this can teach a multitude of skills including muscle control, colour and size differentiation, and grasping and releasing.

7) Blocks and tiles

What kid (or adult) doesn’t love blocks? Your child can develop their self-confidence while constructing amazing architectural feats and you can use alphabet blocks to spell swear words, uh, teach them letters and sounds.

An alternative to wooden blocks is magnetic tiles. They’re a similar concept to blocks, but the tiles magnetise together to make your creations more sturdy and have a sleek 3D appearance.

8) Balance bike

If your child isn’t yet ready for a big-kid bike, a balance bike can teach them the coordination and balance needed to ride. With a balance bike, they’ll feel confident and safe with their feet firmly planted on the ground and they can practice their muscle strength and control while developing their posture and motor skills.