With the enormous offering of exciting new toys coming into the children’s market every day and, for many, the overwhelming overabundance of choice on offer to us as parents, it’s becoming increasingly hard for us to really know what toys our kids should be playing with.
The word ‘Montessori’ is likely one that you will have heard in recent years but if you’re new to the idea of Montessori toys and Montessori play, Maria Montessori explained by famously saying that “play is the work of the child”. In other words, play is the goal for children and everything else just follows suit. Play is the priority.
We can see this theory in practice in countries like Holland, Poland and Finland, where they don’t actively teach young children (not even the alphabet!). In fact, children don’t even start school until the age of 7. But instead, children are given the opportunity to learn and develop on their own, with a focus on the importance of play. This could make you wonder whether these children are at risk of academic delay? Well it turns out that this is not the case at all and children in these countries in fact, repeatedly outperform their same age groups in the UK and U.S, in reading, maths and science; and have higher high school and college graduation rates. Now I’m not saying delay sending your kids to school by any means but isn’t it interesting to know how important the lifestyle focus of ‘play’ is in these countries! Play isn’t just for fun, it’s one of the most important ways to aid in the development of our emotionally, socially, and mentally intelligent kids.
The Montessori philosophy is based on encouraging children to explore the world around them and play is a key part of that exploration. Montessori play promotes the offering of small selections of beautifully simple, developmentally appropriate, natural (where possible), sensory-rich, hands-on, and open-ended toys. There are 5 key characteristics found in Montessori toys and more widely, the Montessori movement…
Simple yet functional and constructive
Your little ones are trying to make sense of the wonderful world around them and learn best without distraction. When too much information is offered in one toy, children can often find it difficult to process the essential elements of the activities and become overwhelmed and distracted. So, simple toys work wonders! Ivy Wild Kid’s silicone Teething Rings are a simple object for little hands new to the world of toys. Not only will they offer babies and toddlers the opportunity to discover and enjoy the 3 interlinking hoops but they also provide the perfect texture to help soothe sore little gums.
Montessori toys give children a purpose when using them, whether it’s building, manipulating, pushing, or pulling; they give kids the opportunity to explore, get involved and make decisions as they play. Ivy Wild Kid’s Nesting Dolls are a constructive, purposeful toy that combines a few toddler favourites - stacking, nesting, transferring, and hiding objects inside boxes! The four figures also provide a great opportunity for open-ended play.
Based in reality
Before the ages of 3-5, many children’s brains haven’t developed enough to distinguish fantasy from reality. That’s not to say that children shouldn’t begin to explore the joys of imaginative play before these ages, but Montessori toys will help develop important life skills and a child’s understanding of the world around them. It's important for children to see and experience the consequence of their actions and interactions with their toys. Take Ivy Wild Kid’s silicone Stacking Cups - a toddler will only need to build up a tower once or twice before they learn that the consequence of a misplaced cup will result in the tumbling of the tower (to lots of smiles and giggles, hopefully!) Building, nesting, stacking, arranging, and balancing are just some of the limitless possibilities stacking toys offer. The use of our charming coloured silicone material means they are not only beautiful to behold, but kinder to the planet and a durable item that will be with you for years to come. The stretchy, pliable and gripping qualities of silicone, make transferring, filling and emptying activities particularly interesting.
Made of natural materials
A toy made from wood for example, will give your baby much more information about their world than a plastic one. Ivy Wild Kid’s beech wood and silicone Animal Teethers will help stimulate your little one’s senses - natural textures to touch, smell and taste. Even weights of natural materials are much easier to distinguish between compared to plastics, which often need a much larger change in size in order for a distinct change in weight.
Promotes unstructured play
Unstructured play is open-ended and free. It allows your child to lead the way and explore their world with their own senses and freedom of choice. In this type of play, there are no pre-set rules, coaching or classes. There’s no need for you to make up a game involving the toys for example. Unstructured play allows kids the space to be spontaneous, creative, and adaptable. Kids love to play naturally, so all you really have to do if you’d like to adopt this type of play, is to stay in tune with your child and make sure the day contains lots of unscheduled time to play freely. In fact, the great thing about unstructured play, is that toys aren’t even essential! It seems that the fewer toys we have around and the less specific our toys are, the more creative kids can become, and the more they are then motivated by their own creativity. It was only last week after forgetting to bring our usual backpack full of toys to a family picnic, an afternoon of collecting daisies and buttercups on our picnic plates ended up being just as exciting for our little girl!
Quality over Quantity
Don’t get me wrong, with the wonderful selection of toys on offer to our kids these days, it’s no wonder our playrooms, living rooms and lofts are bursting at the seams with our kids' toys! But could fewer really be better when it comes to toys in your little one’s playroom? Research supports this: a study compared how children played when offered 4 vs.16 toys in a room. Toddlers who were offered 4 toys engaged more meaningfully with each, playing in a deeper way and spending more time exploring than toddlers who had 16 available toys. On average, the parents of the toddlers in the study had 90 different toys at home.
Montessori has a more minimalist approach, encouraging fewer toy choices, neatly arranged on low shelves with space between each, with the idea that a smaller selection of carefully selected toys will keep them engaged and satisfied for longer. Put a little one in a room with 50 toys? It’s harder for them to decide what they want to play with and subsequently harder for them to stick with the toy once they’ve chosen it. Rather than concentrating on the toy and fully enjoying its value, they will dart from one toy to the next, feeling progressively unfocused, inattentive, and overwhelmed. If you’re keen to explore Montessori play, you don’t have to get rid of toys by any means, you could simply put some away and bring others out; though this can provide an opportunity to do a little decluttering and donating. Rotating the toys you do have keeps them fresh and interesting for your little one. Myself and my husband have been trying this method out since our daughter turned 1 and the choice of toys we had accumulated was getting out of control! After having a good sort through, we keep a good selection stored away in a spare room but keep a regular shelf of toys she goes to in our main living room, which we switch toys in and out every so often when we feel the need. The ideal number of toys you want out will undoubtedly increase as your kids age and will depend on their individual personalities. Rotating from their collection will allow time to explore and make use of all the toys they have.
We find the idea of Montessori play intriguing, and there are many aspects that we have adopted into our own family lifestyle. As owners of Ivy Wild Kids, we are passionate about play and getting the most out of toys for children and their development. The natural desire for knowledge, choice and independence are all amazing consequences of the power of Montessori play!