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Understanding What Makes a Toy “Montessori”: A Guide to Giving Montessori-inspired GiftsWashington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut

Understanding What Makes a Toy Montessori- A Guide to Giving Montessori-inspired Gifts

In the wider world, toys marketed as “Montessori” or “Montessori-inspired” are often accompanied by expectations that they are beige or boring; the antithesis of the loud, neon-hued toys demanding your child’s attention in a toy store.

But the truth is, Montessori toys can be just as bright and engaging. Moreover, just because something is made of wood, doesn’t mean it’s earned the Montessori stamp of approval.

What makes a good Montessori toy?

To understand what makes a toy aligned with the Montessori philosophy, it’s always a good idea to start from the source. Here’s what Dr. Maria Montessori had to say about children’s toys:

We are completely on the wrong track when we believe that expensive toys should keep a child happy, or that the child who has a nanny to do everything for him is particularly fortunate. In reality it is the child of the busy [parent], who is left to try and do things for himself, left to improvise toys from simple things and use his own ingenuity, who is fortunate. … [C]hildren with cupboards full of toys are often bored and naughty, while the child who is left alone takes pleasure in very simple things and is happily absorbed for hours at a time in work of his own choosing.

Dr. Montessori makes no mention of toys needing to be bland. Instead, she focuses on three core principles:

  • Independence
  • Imagination
  • Ingenuity

Passive toys (like iPads, gaming consoles, or other screen-dominant forms of entertainment), or a vast quantity of toys, are far more overstimulating to the young child than something colorful, or even noisy. Simpler toys that encourage self-directed, improvisational play spark creativity and focus.

Another quality that makes a good Montessori toy is cohesion with the adult world. In The Secret of Childhood, Dr. Montessori writes, “A child is an eager observer and is particularly attracted by the actions of the adults and wants to imitate them.” Toys that simulate or promote practical, reality-based tasks are a great option for children curious about adult activity.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the toys we feel best meet this criteria for children of all ages.

The WMS Montessori Gift Guide

The following gift guide is designed to showcase a small selection of simple toys that we feel instill independence, imagination, and ingenuity in children.

But before we get started, a quick disclaimer. This list does not include three of our favorite categories of gifts: experiences, handmade items, and books. We always recommend the aforementioned as gift options for children of all ages; however, we wanted this specific list to focus on demonstrating the variety of Montessori-aligned toys.

Montessori Gifts for Young Children (3 and under)

Balls in Cups Starter Set (Ulanik)

  • Bright, primary colors
  • Develops visual, sensory, memory, and fine motor skills
  • Can be used by the child in many different ways

Push-n-Pull Waddling Duck (Imagination Generation)

  • Encourages standing and walking
  • Develops fine motor skills
  • Sparks imaginative play

Busy Board (Montessori Generation)

  • Helps young children with hand-eye coordination, patience, and attention
  • Colorful and tactile
  • Builds muscle memory and finger dexterity

Montessori Gifts for Primary Children (3-6 years old)

Felt Garden Kids Playset (Crate and Barrel)

  • Immersive and engaging
  • Reality-driven activity
  • Perfect for independent play

Classic Magna-Tiles

  • Encourages ingenuity and creativity
  • Helps children develop problem-solving skills
  • Cultivates an early appreciation for STEM

ThinkPeak Binoculars for Kids (Target)

  • Perfect for indoor nature watching or outdoor adventure
  • Develops visual skills, patience, and attention to detail
  • Mirrors adult activity

For even more ideas for gifts for young children, check out For Small Hands, an online retailer that sells appropriately sized, fully functioning, authentic, practical life tools and activities. Children enjoy and feel empowered when their work is purposeful and they can exercise agency within their home environment as they do in their classrooms. This site offers various items at different price points and is a favorite among many Montessori teachers and families.

Montessori Gifts for Lower Elementary Children (6-9 years old)

Rory’s Story Cubes

  • Sparks creativity and imagination
  • Can be enjoyed alone or with a group
  • A great way to get children interested in storytelling

Little Chef Kids Cooking and Baking Set (WeeSprout)

  • Develops practical and fine motor skills
  • Instills an interest in cooking and baking
  • Comes with three recipe cards and three blank cards for children to create their own recipes

Marble Run Building Blocks (Picasso Tiles)

  • Intuitive construction is ideal for self-directed play
  • Teaches children about engineering and physics
  • Customizable to maximize creative potential

Montessori Gifts for Upper Elementary Children (9-12 years old)

The Woobles Beginner Crochet Amigurumi Kits (Blick)

  • An independent and immersive activity
  • Helps with focus, concentration, and attention to detail
  • The adorable result provides a sense of accomplishment

Kanoodle Puzzle Game (Educational Insights)

  • Enhances spatial reasoning
  • A fun way to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Portable and perfect for on-the-go activity

National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit (Target)

  • Fosters a love of geology
  • Emphasizes the importance of the scientific method
  • Reinforces the value of patience

Montessori Gifts for Middle Schoolers (12-15 years old)

Book Nook DIY Kit (Rolife)

  • The perfect craft kit for book lovers
  • A variety of different scenes to choose from
  • Enforces the values of patience and process

Carson Pocket Microscope (Walmart)

  • Encourages a love of STEM
  • Great for on-the-go exploration
  • An independent and engaging activity

Azul Board Game (Target)

  • An immersive, logic-driven strategy game
  • Aesthetically appealing design inspired by Moorish artwork
  • Gameplay variation allows for solo play
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