Over the last couple of years I have been on a long journey towards carefully curating the types of toys and materials that come into our home. Since I began studying Maria Montessori’s philosophy a couple of years ago, I’ve become much more aware of just how important it is to select the right type of materials for my children. If you want to know more about Montessori toys, read this post.
These are some of the questions I ask myself before purchasing something new (or new to me!):
- What is the toy made out of? The Montessori method favors toys that are made from natural materials such as wood or metal over plastic. This is because natural materials tend to appeal to a variety of sensorial experiences. Wood has quite a different texture and temperature to metal for example. Natural materials are also, of course, found in nature and throughout a child’s world. Plastic tends to be one dimensional as far as sensory input goes. It doesn’t change temperature when you touch it and is almost always the same texture. Plastic toys are also usually made in a quite bright and garish colors which can be overstimulating to young children. Toys made from natural materials also last longer and have a better resell value than plastic ones. If possible, I always go for wooden toys for these reasons. HOWEVER, there are certain toys, such as Lego, which are just simply perfect the way they are. It’s okay to make exceptions!
- Is it multi-use? We don’t often buy single-use kitchen gadgets, so why do we buy single use toys? Many toys marketed for infants and young toddlers are very specific in their usage. For example, they are good for sitting babies or babies just learning to crawl. I am thinking of some loud rolling ball that is supposed to encourage crawling here. If you buy a new toy for every tiny development your child goes through, you will soon find yourself surrounded by discarded toys. There’s a reason for that joke about buying a new toy only for your kid to ignore it and play with the box! Open-ended toys are toys with multiple purposes and encourage creativity. Think about a train set where you can build an unlimited combination of tracks and they can become imaginary worlds as the child gets older vs something like a remote control car where all you can do is drive it around and eventually the attraction gets lost. Blocks, dolls, art materials, climbing frames, and small things like bean bags and scarves are all open ended.
- Does it have longevity? The best toys in our house are the ones that all three kids enjoy playing with. These tend to be open ended toys such as our walker wagon, train sets, and play kitchen (although a play kitchen is not technically Montessori aligned FYI). We want toys to appeal to our child for not just a few months but through multiple ages and stages. Sometimes it can be hard to predict what your child will like in the future, but I think you can’t go wrong with open-ended toys like those I have mentioned above.
- Is it based in reality? This is huge especially if you follow the Montessori method. Children under the age of 6 cannot determine between fantasy and reality, so it is important to provide toys and books based in real life vs cartoon characters and fairy tales. You would be surprised at how many children’s books have talking animals as the main protagonist! This can be confusing to young children. Character-based toys can also be distracting and limiting to a child’s imagination, particularly if they have seen the movie or show the toy is based off of. A child with many character-based toys may only play with them in the way they have seen the character act versus creating an entirely new world based solely on their own imagination.
- Can I store it easily? Living in an urban environment with limited storage, I tend to shy away from large toys because I won’t be able to store them when they are out of rotation. Toys that can fold up or break down into smaller pieces are much easier to store and will guarantee they stay in your toy closet longer than that huge plastic baby walker you were gifted that is always in the way.
What is important to you when shopping for toys for your kids?