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The Best Montessori Toys for Babies and Toddlers

(And a little bit more about what Montessori even means.)

Just because a toy is wooden, or looks like it belongs in a museum as opposed to an actual playroom, doesn’t make it Montessori. In fact, the best Montessori toys are kid-sized versions of stuff that kids see around them, as opposed to outlandish light-up robots or talking dogs.

“Montessori toys are grounded in reality, as little ones learn about the world around them. They are made of natural materials, are simple in design, and are child-powered, not battery-powered,” explains Stacy Keane, the head of learning at MontiKids,  an at-home Montessori program for kids up to age three. “Electronic toys with lights and sounds can put a child into passive mode, as they push a button waiting to be entertained. Montessori toys require a child to activate them.”

In other words, a Montessori toy, like a simple wood car, requires your child to push it around, to move it, to park it, and be fully engaged as he or she figures out how the thing works. The benefits of playing with Montessori toys are myriad: They help toddlers develop their fine and gross motor skills; they teach them about cause and effect; they encourage deep exploration, as children engage with the toys — as opposed to the toys engaging with them. And they challenge kids, as they learn how to place the ring on a stacker or that the square peg doesn’t go into the round hole.

But here’s the thing, parents. Chances are, you’ve done a Google search for Montessori toys and realized that any car or ball or rattle that isn’t plastic claims to fall under the very broad Montessori umbrella. In fact, “any company can claim to be Montessori,” says Keane.

So don’t assume that because a brand describes itself as Montessori, it’s legit. When choosing Montessori toys, keep things as analog as possible: Toys made of natural materials like wood or bamboo, without any batteries, that are simple by design. And instead of dumping a ton of stuff into the playroom, limit your child’s choices so he or she can focus on a few toys at one time to really be able to concentrate and explore.  You can swap them out as babies grow and when kids get bored or tired of them.

The Best Montessori Baby Toys

You can expose babies to the concept of Montessori right out of the womb. This high-contrast black-and-white mobile engages a baby's visual skills, and lets the child track its movements.

A soft ball that encourages sensory exploration, this one has different textures and high-contrast graphics.

This colorful wood rattle helps develop your baby's ability to grasp.

Babies respond to the visually stimulating black and white color pattern, interspersed with bright hues. And there's ample sensory stimulation as well: The soft blocks feature crinkle paper, a rattle, and a chime.

When babies roll this ball, they learn about motion and work their motor skills. And they hear a gentle tinkling sound.

The Best Montessori Toys for Toddlers

Kids create and act out stories with these funky and utterly unique hand puppets, handmade from reclaimed wool.

This set of 70 wood multi-colored blocks allows kids to build the towers and cities and animals of their dreams. And in doing so, they learn about spatial awareness and problem-solving, as they figure what needs to go where to build what.

Sure, it's a balance board. But is it also a ... tunnel? A bridge? A cradle? Part of a fort? It can be anything, which is why it's so magical. And it can support 485 pounds' worth of human, which means you'll get several years' worth of play out of it.

These wooden building blocks come in 9 shapes, allowing kids to stack them in a range of imaginative ways.

Sure, at first glance this is a wood puzzle. And it's a mighty engaging one. But take it apart, and it becomes a roof or a stable or a rocket or a tree.

Part wooden pegboard, part puzzle, this toy comes with 26 pieces that kids snap together to make letters, numbers, flowers — or interesting shapes created by the imagination.

Help kids get an idea of how a calendar works with this wooden troy, which features a statue for each month of the year and a set of blocks that represent the day of the month.

This beautiful citrus puzzle serves multiple functions. It helps kids get the hang of a simple puzzle, and gives them an opportunity to further refine their fine motor skills by practicing cutting the fruit with a knife. Later, they can use it as a visual for learning about fractions.

These blocks take building to another level thanks to their magnetic sides, which allows kids to build even taller and more elaborate towers.

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