As the the gifts are piling up, you may be thinking, “which of these toys should we play with now, which should we tuck away for later, and what will my child learn when she plays with these?” This time of year can be overwhelming and we’d like to help you sort these questions out. Your child will be gifted wonderful, skill-building toys this season. Here are some things to keep in mind while considering which toys to rotate in your play space and when.
Natural materials – when possible, offer activities made of natural materials. This gives your child the opportunity to experience texture and weight of different materials. Plastic has a constant weight and texture and therefore does not offer the same sensorial variety. Your child learns through his senses and diverse and varied experience allows him to categorize and understand more about his world. Natural materials are easy to clean and maintain and last longer for multiple children and even generations. When choosing the combination of toys available at any given time, consider a toy of each different material.
Toys made of natural materials:
Simple and Beautiful – Dr. Montessori wrote that we should “offer the best to the littlest.” She recognized that beauty and simplicity call to the child. When a young child sees an activity that has a clear, single purpose and it is beautifully displayed on a low shelf, she has an internal drive to investigate. She wants to know, “What is it? How does it work? What can I do with it?”
Simplicity should be in the styling, so the purpose of the activity is clear. Each activity offered should focus on one skill. It is best to avoid toys that are marketed to have multiple “levels” and “grows with your child.” This usually means that it tries to cover too many skills and doesn’t do any of them justice. A single focus toy allows your child to develop the skills needed to be successful in her investigation of the toy, practice, and then master her skills. Building a sense of self-satisfaction and confidence.
Toys that are beautiful and simple:
Cycle of activity – every activity we offer the child should have a beginning, middle, and an end. This cycle of activity helps guide the child in his independent play to know where he is in his play. Choosing an activity from the shelf is always a beginning, working until satisfied is the middle, and returning it to the shelf is the end. The number of times he repeats and the length of concentration in the middle will very with practice, time, and interest.
Toys that encourage a cycle of activity:
Complete and in good repair – always keep your child’s activities complete and in good repair. If it is missing a piece, remove it until the piece can be found or replaced. An incomplete activity can be very frustrating and it is difficult for a young child to feel satisfaction from “almost” completing an activity when he has chosen to focus. For wood toys that are looking warn or faded, use beeswax to polish your natural, unpainted, wooden toys.
Encourages repetition – A Montessori activity encourages a child to repeat it. The repetition leads to concentration and mastery of a skill. Two very important parts of Montessori education. When activities encourage repetition, a child naturally wants to do it again. He then finds himself in a cycle, learning more about his own skills and the properties of the toy through the process. A self-learned understanding of the world inspires confidence and supports the natural desire to learn about the world, trusting that there is always something to learn if you are willing to invest time and practice. Display toys on a shelf with all the pieces in one basket or tray. This will help your child see what parts go together and know where to find the items he needs.
Toys that encourage repetition: