When you Google “Montessori Toys”, lots of images of lovely wood toys that seem vaguely “educational” will pop up. It’s funny to me that toys can be marketed with the name Montessori, when this is what Dr. Maria Montessori, in The Secret of Childhood, actually had to say about toys:
“Although the children in our first school could play with some really splendid toys, none cared to do so. This surprised me so much that I decided to help them play with their toys, showing them how to handle the tiny dishes, lighting the fire in the doll’s kitchen, and placing near it a pretty doll. The children were momentarily interested but then went off on their own.”
Story of our lives right? We buy awesome toys for our kids and they seem to lose interest faster than the payment clears from our bank account! Sometimes I feel more interested in my daughter’s toys than she is. Montessori went on to say…
“Since they never freely chose these toys, I realized that in the life of a child play is perhaps something of little importance which he undertakes for the lack of something better to do. A child feels that he has something of greater moment to do than be engaged in such trivial occupations. He regards play as we would regard a game of chess or bridge. These are pleasant occupations for hours of leisure, but they would become painful if we were obliged to pursue them at great length. When we have some important business to do, bridge is forgotten. And since a child always has some important thing at hand, he is not particularly interested in playing.”(p. 122)
Before you scoff at this idea, I want to let you know that Montessori regards the tasks children focus on and lose themselves in as “work”, and not “Play”. So when your child becomes totally enthralled for a great length of time on the kitchen floor pouring water from one container into another (as mine does), this is not something she would say is “playing”. We might think that it’s play, but to Montessori this kind of task is deeply meaningful to the child and prepares them for a higher state of development. This is why, she might say, they may ignore the beautiful dollhouse after a few moments but will keep on pouring that water for 20 minutes.
So, how has my background in Montessori education affected the kinds of choices I make regarding toys for my daughter?
1. Your Kid Doesn’t Need That Many Toys!
Well, for one, it’s made me chill out on thinking she needs lots of toys. She has a modest amount I would say, although I guess I’m just judging comparatively to friends, family, and other homes I’ve been in for play dates. I try to put some away for a while, and rotate out the selection to keep it interesting. I also remember that various kitchen items and containers do just as well. I give her tasks — emptying the dishwasher, putting dry clothes from the dryer into a basket, wiping the floor, etc. and believe me, she occupies herself with these as happily as with toys, and for longer!
2. Yup, wood toys are better.
Secondly, yeah, I do prefer wood toys! I couldn’t really find a good quote to tell you xyz reason why Dr. Montessori insisted on wood. I guess my preference just comes from my own experience as a Montessori student and now as a Montessori teacher, in a classroom full of beautiful wooden materials to learn from. They have the feel of quality, they last longer, and they aren’t obnoxious colors like most plastic toys. The materials and furniture she designed were of wood, and I guess that’s enough of a reason for now.
3. Toys should serve a purpose
Thirdly, I think about either a direct or indirect purpose of what I might buy my daughter. One brand that sells a lot of great Montessori materials and toys, “For Small Hands”, says this about their goods: “Delight young children with real tools that let them handle real tasks “all by myself!” Our hard-to-find, child-size items allow them to pour their own juice or rake leaves by your side, purposeful “work” that supports self-confidence and independence. From a pitcher to fit small hands to open-ended games, toys, and crafts that call on spatial, motor, or problem-solving skills, we make sure every item provides an enriching opportunity.” And that’s what I try to think about when I buy her stuff. Sure sometimes it’s an irresistibly cute stuffed animal that she’ll clutch to her chest and hug all around the house. Other times I’ll think about how she’ll use such and such toy indirectly for fine motor development, or spatial awareness. I want to get her a broom her size based on my observation of how she loves to try and push my broom around after I have. There are just lots of toys out there that do nothing but make obnoxious sounds or stare back at you with a creepy painted smile, and if you look closely those really are the ones kids get sick of the fastest.
Next post I’ll go in to how to organize your kid’s toys (and more) in order to maximize their independence — which ahem, is a major theme in Montessori philosophy as mentioned in this post. Stay tuned!