Before Otto was born I went into one of our local baby/toy stores. I wanted to see in person the baby car seat we had chosen, normally I'm happy ordering online avoiding such places. I was totally overwhelmed. The store was so bright and overstimulating, I wanted to leave immediately. It made me appreciate the Montessori knowledge and materials that we have accumulated over the years. It also made me understand how confused and overwhelmed many new parents must be, thinking they need all of these things, possibly not knowing there is another way. Most of the Montessori materials are not more expensive than the toy store materials but in many cases they are harder to find, especially if you are outside of Europe or the US.
I'm showing the above graphic not to depict the specific toys, but the aesthetic, the look of the Montessori materials. Imagine these in your home, how would they make you feel? Montessori infant home environments are not devoid of colour, the colour just comes from fabrics, plants and artwork on the walls, not from overstimulating, bright toys.
Where possible in the Montessori home infant materials are:
- quality and well made, not going to break quickly or easily, if broken may be able to be repaired
- attractive to the child, calls to the child
- made of natural materials and fibres such as wood, cotton, wool or natural rubber
- ecologically sound, compostable or biodegradable, toxin-free, children are the stewards of the earth and we need to lead by example
- fair trade, children are our future leaders and peacekeepers, again think about leading by example, consider the human cost of the materials
- rich sensorially, have texture, warmth or coolness
- developmentally appropriate
- promote independence and free movement, no baby jumpers, seats or walkers the child can't get out of
- reality-based, images often resemble reality, for example the butterfly mobile has life like butterflies and no cartoonish like characters are used
- free from commercial branding/commercialisation
- gender neutral
- simple, well designed with clean lines
- purposeful, each has a purpose such as for visual tracking (mobiles) for gasping (bell rattle)
- designed so that they present a concrete learning opportunity, with the bell rattle the child can see what has made the noise (the bell), there are no toys with buttons that do different and often unknown things, you can see the mechanism/how they work
- often handmade or able to be made by hand, albeit often from specialised craftspeople (woodwork)
- accessible and presented at the child's level in an ordered manner
- carefully selected for the individual child and kept to a minimum
"Remember that a supportive environment is sometimes distinguished more by what objects are left out, than by which are included." - Susan Stephenson, The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three.
If you are interested I've listed the sources for the Montessori materials: Playgym*, Walker, Gobbi Mobile, Bell Rattle, Ball Cylinder, First Stacker (similar here). Please also note that we are not perfectionists, there are items that don't meet this criteria that make their way into our and many other Montessori homes and play areas.
Disclaimer: I have used the terms toys and materials interchangeably, these are not materials designed by Maria Montessori but rather toys that are more in line with the Montessori philosophy in the home environment.
*The Playgym pictured above doesn't have any toys on it, initially we would put one toy or material on it for the child to focus on visually or for a slightly older child to bat at or grasp (such as a bell or simple wooden ring).
If you are looking for toys or materials for older children this is an excellent resource - A Montessori-Inspired Checklist for Choosing Toys at Vibrant Wanderings.