The Montessori method, developed by Maria Montessori in the early 1900s, has become popular around the world. Everyone, from child development professionals to social media influencers, likes to advertise the method by showing off wooden blocks and tidy nurseries with happily playing children. It’s a beautiful image, and it’s attracting new interest from many parents.
Without getting into the method, are Montessori toys really better? Will they hold your child’s interest? Are you depriving them of something by not prioritizing plastic, vividly colored, electronic toys? If you’re deciding if Montessori toys are worth the cost and effort to find, check out this list of pros and cons. It will help you make an educated decision, which is what the Montessori method is all about.
1. Pro: Playing with Montessori Toys Helps Your Child Develop Problem-Solving Skills
One of the primary goals of Montessori toys is to help kids use their brains. They need to stack rings on top of pegs, put shapes into the correctly shaped hole, stack blocks, and figure out how things move. Parents are supposed to provide minimal input on the correct way to play with Montessori toys, instead prioritizing letting the child experiment with possibilities. Failure is an option, and a welcome one, since that means the child can try again.
The ability to think through scenarios and solve problems is a vital skill for children to develop. Problem-solving skills translate to adult life and help children develop coping mechanisms, deal with failure, and push through struggles. When this learning curve is made fun, which is easy to do when the problem solving involves toys, even an intense challenge can be a positive experience overall.
All Montessori toys require a child’s participation and action in order to use them. There are no buttons that will make the toy move on its own, no voice boxes, and no batteries. The child chooses their toy and chooses how to engage with it. While this can sometimes lead to unexpected choices, like putting all the shaped blocks through one shaped hole instead of through the “correct” holes, that’s a legitimate way for them to play. Parents can encourage this and enjoy seeing their children grow.
2. Con: Many Montessori Toys Are Expensive
The biggest complaint that many people have about Montessori toys is how unexpectedly expensive they are. When a generic toy is available at the dollar store, paying $19.99 for a child’s play tool set is painful. If you’re going to get a wooden toy from a professional company, it’s even worse.
Not everyone has that kind of money. Parents shouldn’t feel guilty because they can’t spend hundreds of dollars on the best Montessori-style toys, handcrafted toys, or full exploration sets for every developmental stage, but it’s hard not to get jealous of social media influencers and others who can get these toys for their children.
In reality, Montessori toys were meant to be accessible to everyone. Cheap options may not feel the same as the Instagram Montessori life, but it works. Dollar stores carry realistic plastic farm animals, older relatives may have wooden blocks and toys in the attic, and other budget-friendly options are available. Remember, it’s about the child’s play, not about the aesthetic.
3. Pro: You Can Make Montessori-Style Toys Cheaply
Montessori toys are, in their simplest form, something that encourages your child to make sense of the world around them. They are simple, based in reality, constructive, functional, offer limited choices, and are ideally made of natural materials that are durable and grounding for children. With a little bit of problem-solving and creativity, you can make your own Montessori toys for your children!
If that sounds familiar, it’s because you’re about to use the same problem-solving skills you’re helping your child develop. Think outside the box! Remember, whatever gets your child’s mind working is something they’ll want to interact with.
Many Montessori concepts can be replicated at home with items you already own. Children can put plastic eggs in the cups of muffin tins, play with anatomically correct baby dolls, scrub potatoes or apples clean with toothbrushes, stack rocks in the backyard, or try to poke straws through the holes on a laundry basket. Give your child some random age-appropriate craft supplies and see what they make. Whether it’s a barn for a toy horse, a crib for a baby doll, or a glorious mess, this is Montessori play with low-budget toys. Good job!
Once you’ve got some ideas for Montessori toys, write them down so you can use them again. Try checking out TikTok, Mommy Blogs, and Instagram for functional ideas from parents like you. You might have everything you need for Montessori toys without spending a cent.
Of course, you’re probably not going to complain if somebody buys your child a wanted toy off a wishlist for their birthday. Homemade toys and store-bought toys work just fine in Montessori play, and your child can even combine them for added fun. Get as fancy or as simple as you want. Older children even can help make or find toys for younger siblings!
4. Con: People May Buy Non-Montessori Toys as Gifts, and Kids Don’t Like Giving Them Up
Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and in-laws are known for having some struggles with parenting ideas they think are weird. Telling your mother-in-law that you don’t want her buying the latest toy for your child might be met with some retaliation. As frustrating as this may be on its own, the struggle gets much worse if they buy the item anyways and give it directly to your child.
What do you do then? Let the child play with it for the party and give it away afterward? Let them keep it? Hope it breaks or the batteries die? It isn’t so bad with one toy, but they can pile up quickly if you have somebody in your life who takes your parenting style as a challenge.
In the end, this issue is really more about boundaries and communication than about Montessori toys themselves. Inviting loved ones to research the benefits of Montessori toys for themselves is probably the best way to reset this issue. If they want to have non-Montessori toys at their home, your child won’t be damaged by playing with them. Hopefully, the gift-givers will be able to understand that you’re doing this for a reason, not just because you’re picky.
If your child really loves the non-Montessori toy, it won’t kill them to play with it. You can try incorporating it into Montessori-style play and see what your child does! Yes, the toy might have a dozen lights and sing super annoying songs, but if the batteries are gone it can go back to a simple imaginary phone for your child to use playing house. Take a deep breath, and work with the options you have.
5. Pro: Montessori Toys Are Not Overstimulating for Kids or Adults
Anyone who’s heard a loud, blaring, never-ending electronic children’s toy knows the dread of watching the child unwrap one. It’s like they’re lying in wait for you to step on them and wake up your baby with their horrible songs. Kids seem to love them, but everyone else dreads them.
If these toys are so intensely overstimulating for adults, imagine how your child feels when they’re surrounded by dozens of them. A child in a room packed with fun toys might not actually be disinterested in those toys. They might just be overwhelmed by their options.
Montessori toys are meant to be simple and never overstimulate the child. The child gets to initiate play, decide how the interaction is going to go, and work from there. If they want to walk away, they can walk away and choose another option. They can return when they’re ready and the toy will stay silent and stationary until that moment. There’s no speaking, no rolling, and no loud music.
This is one of the many reasons that Montessori toys are so wonderful for children on the autism spectrum, children who might have ADHD, or children who fall anywhere on the neurodiversity scale. Reducing unwanted or excessive sensory input allows the child to relax and think more critically about what they want to do. If they want noise, they can bang blocks together to make noise! If they want to silence, they can choose silent play. The toy isn’t going to go off if they stumble while holding it.
Besides benefitting neurodiverse children, this is also a wonderful benefit for neurodiverse parents. Many parents with ADHD, ASD, or any other situation that leads to sound sensitivity will be grateful for the simple nature of Montessori toys. They’re less visually stimulating and overwhelming in an environment, and you won’t hear the same jingle played 87 times. You can play with your child without worrying about a migraine.
Montessori toys let playtime stay playtime and not turn into stress time. Enjoy the opportunity while it lasts!
6. Pro: Montessori Toys Encourage Creative Play
Besides just encouraging problem-solving, Montessori toys encourage children to engage in creative play! By combining toy options they have available, children can mimic their parents, mimic caregivers, invent new games, and stretch their imaginations in every way.
Some classic Montessori toys are blocks, anatomically correct baby dolls, simple machines that look like lawnmowers or vacuums, miniature farm animals, and toolsets. It might take some time to get used to having a little mini-me following you around the house and copying whatever you do, but that is a legitimate and valid form of play. Kids love copying adults, and you’ll learn to have fun watching the creative solutions your child comes up with.
Blocks become houses, cell phones, play food, and traffic cones. Toy animals can be animals, pets, food, or toys for baby dolls. Don’t be shocked if tissue boxes or toilet paper rolls go missing and end up incorporated into the toy box, since that just means that somebody was thinking outside of the box in a literal sense.
7. Pro/Con: Montessori Toys Work Best with Limited Choices
This point can really be a pro or a con, depending on your personal situation. If you already have a playroom loaded with toys, simplifying for Montessori toys to be effective might be a long and painful process. However, parents starting from scratch or who are just beginning to buy toys for their children will enjoy the benefits of this limited-choice method.
Montessori toys work best when they are easily accessible to the child, displayed openly where the child can make their own decisions on what to play with and when to play with it, and limited enough that the choices aren’t overwhelming. Three to six toys with lots of creative freedom are ideal.
The reason limited choices are best is that it pushes the child to play creatively and reduces decision fatigue. Have you ever seen a child who is used to two or three matchbox cars be given an entire set? The cars end up being left behind much of the time because the choices are too overwhelming and it leaves their little brains with major decision fatigue. Many mothers have found this happening to their own children and solved the problem by implementing the Montessori method with Montessori toys.
The “pro” for limited choices is most applicable to families actively trying to downsize, families just beginning to buy toys for a child, and families who already stick with minimal toys. For these groups, transitioning to Montessori-style toys will be relatively easy. Budget isn’t a huge concern when you’re only buying a few toys, especially when so many are easy to make at home, and parents with organizational difficulty will be particularly appreciative of how easy it is to clean up and reorganize after playtime.
The “con” is strong for families with multiple children who have a lot of toys already. Kids get understandably attached to their toys, and they don’t like to see things change. Parents should be compassionate and empathetic when dealing with their children’s emotions and involve them in the process of trading toys out for new Montessori-style toys and playrooms.
The “con” can also be mitigated by checking your existing toy room for toys that are already Montessori-related. For example, blocks, some dolls and dollhouses, and play kitchens can be Montessori play opportunities. If this is the case, keep those toys!