When you hear the word 'Montessori', what do you think?
Fancy nursery for pre-schoolers?
Expensive wooden toys?
It's not for families like us?
Montessori education, a method of supporting children and young people's natural ability to learn was developed over 100 years ago by Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor. Nowadays, the term 'Montessori' is frequently misused as a way of promoting educational toys and even advertising nursery settings as there is actually nothing in law to prevent anyone from attaching the word 'Montessori' to something they are selling!
(In fact, the same applies to people calling themselves a Montessori Teacher. Not everyone claiming this title has an officially recognised Montessori qualification!)
A 'Montessori Toy' does not, technically exist.
When Maria Montessori developed her educational method she designed and created a series of 'materials', each of which have one specific developmental aim and are used by qualified Montessori teachers in Montessori schools and nurseries. For example, The Pink Tower and The Cylinder Blocks (below) are designed to introduce and explore the child to three dimensions and size. They are made with the utmost precision and contain what is known as an inbuilt Control Of Error. This means that there is only one way to complete the task successfully and the material is designed in such a way that this will be obvious to the child and they will be driven to self-correct. The materials below are the perfect demonstration of this; if the blocks are stacked in the wrong order, the tower will not stand up and if the cylinders are placed in the wrong holes in the blocks, they will not all fit.
So what does all this mean if you want to apply some of the principles of Montessori education with your child at home?
Of course you can invest in genuine Montessori materials although the genuine articles are quite expensive (for example, the Pink Tower from renowned Montessori manufacturer Nieinhuis is around £100). However, for infants (up to the age of three in Montessori education), rather than buying items marketed as 'Montessori Toys', it would be better to focus on toys which enable you to introduce Montessori principles to your little one's very first steps on their lifelong learning journey. The essence of Montessori learning is a belief that children are born with an inner drive to learn and develop, providing they are within an environment which enables this. With this is mind, next time you are considering new toys for your little learner, try using this checklist to help you make an informed decision ....
Has my child recently shown an interest in something similar?
Is its main feature obvious to the child?
Does it represent familiar objects realistically? (photos are preferable to cartoon-like images)
Is it made from a natural material such as wood or metal ?(which provide greater sensory information)
Does it do what is is supposed to do? (eg a knife that actually cuts)
Hope that helps!