Montessori didn’t call her materials “toys” even though children played with and preferred them to other kinds of materials. She called her materials “aids to development” because they were created to meet specific developmental interests and needs (no wonder children love them so much!). So while there are plenty of “Montessori” toys out there, the real gems are the one that give you the developmental framework around them (like the folks at MontiKids have done who share videos and other information about the development behind the toy). Even so, there are also some wonderfully creative families that are making these materials’ likeness from scratch and after working with several hundred families in The P.E.A.C.E. Program, I’ve compiled my favorites :)
1. The Pumpkin Kicking Ball:
One of the Montessori infant toys that is gaining some recent traction is the Takane Kicking Ball. We all know that children love to kick (they’ve been doing it since the womb) and yet we hardly ever give anything for their feet to play with! This little ball dangled by their feet is a real gem of a toy and is not only featured in set one of MontiKids, but is by far our most popular video post on Facebook (shared over 800 times!). And while as a parent I intended to make one, I also had an 8 week old that was dying to kick, so I strung up a plush pumpkin from a craft store and there it was, a DIY kicking ball…
2. The Gobbi on a Stick:
There are several iconic Montessori Mobiles and the Gobbi is certainly one of the favorites. It has five beautiful balls, each wrapped with different shades of colored thread. Each ball is also hung ever so slightly farther away from the previous one. For the child who is developing both their color and depth perception, this slow progression in distance and color makes it an exhilarating toy for the baby’s young eyes. This can be a time-intensive pursuit if you were to make it yourself, so I had a family that stumbled upon some pompoms at a fabric store and a stick from the woods to make their own…
3. The Sawhorse Pikler Triangle
When babies start trying to pull up, they want to pull up on everything! But not all babies are the same height and can’t always reach the various furniture and chairs they aim to pull up on. The Pikler Triangle is a staple in many Montessori classrooms and play spaces because of the series of rungs that allow the child who is just pulling to stand to slowly stand at the height that fits them. Most can also be adjusted to be relatively low, which can double as a great climbing aid. As an alternative to the several hundred dollar price tag, this family went to the local hardware store, bought a sawhorse and some wooden dowels and made this little gem for their 10 month old! It doesn’t adjust to crawl over, but it sure is fun for the child pulling to stand!
4. The Shoebox Object Permanence Box
Around 8-10 months, babies make an exciting cognitive advance to understand that an object that is hidden…is still there (amazing, right?). Montessori and her colleagues created some remarkably fun activities for the child to practice with this new idea, called “Object Permanence Boxes.” There are lots of styles…from balls that go missing into a box only to roll out onto a tray a moment later (pictured) to objects that hide in a drawer or in a slatted coin box. These are a tremendous delight to the young child! Throughout the years, I’ve had many families make their own from packing and shoe boxes! The key is that the cardboard is stiff enough to withstand an infant pushing on it and that you make a small elevation inside the box so that the ball rolls out when they drop it in.
5. The Converted Montessori Dresser
An essential aspect of Montessori is to have tools and materials that fit the child’s body available for them to use. And the child’s interest and pursuit of self-dressing is well within their infant and toddler years despite the vast majority of dressers available to them being built for the adult. The Montessori “armadio” is a child-size dresser that can hold just enough of the child’s clothes for them to self-dress successfully. A great DIY option for a child-size dresser is a converted Ikea Kallax unit! You can mix and match the drawers, but this has been and continues to be a great size for the child to become as capable at self-dressing as they are trying to be!