In this post: What makes a good Montessori toy for 2-year-olds and toddlers? As both an early childhood educator and parent to a preschooler, I value toys and tools that our little ones can use and grow with, not just academically, but also socially, emotionally, and physically. In this article, learn more about what Montessori means, guidelines for choosing toys for your two-year-old that adhere to a Montessori education, as well as a few of my family’s favorite Montessori toys.
Table of contents:
- What is Montessori?
- How do I choose toys for my 2-year-old that fit the Montessori philosophy?
- Our family’s favorite Montessori toys for my toddler
Fun tidbit: I love our Habbi Habbi books and puzzles for hands-on and open-ended learning in multiple languages! (For us, that’s English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese.) Though they are electronic-based, they still align with core Montessori principles and are a fantastic option outside of- or in addition to- an actual speaker with native-level fluency!
What is Montessori?
Over 100 years ago in Rome, Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first school serving underprivileged children in the area. Through scientific observation, she focused on fostering the children’s curiosity by building a learning environment and creating materials conducive to their needs. Within a few years, she opened two more schools and published her experience which detailed what we know as the Montessori method of education.(1)
These are some of the core principles of the Montessori method:
Respect for Children:
The Montessori method emphasizes respect for children. Children are given freedom and independence to work and grow at their own speed. Each child is unique and their learning is personalized to respect their individuality.(2)
Education of the Whole Child
A Montessori education strives to foster natural independence in children to grow and mature physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. This means school isn’t just about reading and math. There are also practical life skills and cultural learning, with peace and social justice also a crucial aspect.(2)
Also known by the Montessori term “auto-education,” this is the belief that children can and will teach themselves if given the opportunity. With relevant and developmentally appropriate subjects and unique and purposeful materials, children can be interested and self-motivated enough to pursue their own learning. 2 Essentially, children lead the way, while adults guide and assess.
These principles of the Montessori method are facilitated by an orderly environment with purposeful materials; this is what Maria Montessori referred to as the “prepared environment”. It encourages and fosters children’s natural desire to learn. Students are allowed to explore, engage, and learn at their own pace, moving from different activities that foment different aspects of their development. 2 This allows for individual learning goals and a personalized and self-motivated learning path for each child.
Basically, the Montessori method gives children agency in their own learning and development. By virtue of both being allowed opportunities to make their own choices and take responsibility for their learning, children employ and develop many of the same traits desired in successful adults: independence, confidence, self-motivation, and accountability. And yes, play can and does absolutely foster this type of development!
How to choose Montessori toys for 2-year-olds?
By two years old, children are interacting more with their surroundings and with other people in their lives. As they reach their milestones, you’ll see how curious they are! Choosing high-quality toys can help reinforce those newly developed skills as well as help them on their way to their three-year milestones.
You probably have seen many ads about ‘Montessori toys for toddlers,’ but that doesn’t mean that toy actually adheres to Montessori principles. On the converse, a toy or product that does not have a Montessori label may still be suitable for a Montessori learning environment!
Here are some features to look for in toys or tools. Please note this is not an exhaustive list but can serve as a few considerations as you are evaluating toys and products. If your toy fits all three of these, it can likely support and complement a Montessori environment.
You will often see toys that label themselves as Montessori made of wood (and sometimes metal and clay). Natural materials provide input about the world around us, as opposed to human-made materials like plastic. They have distinct weights and textures and qualities that can teach us something about our surroundings, like trees, dirt, and stones.
However, just because a toy is made of plastic or another human-made material does not automatically exclude it from fitting Montessori methods. Ultimately, it is more about the design and purpose of the toy.
Simple and Practical
Montessori toys are meant to give children opportunities to learn, so they have a practical purpose. This could be academic in nature but often broadly it applies to life skills.
There are many toys that have flashy lights, sounds, and movements. Toddler toys with lots of bells and whistles typically primarily serve as entertainment - and are avoided from a Montessori perspective. Simpler toys are often preferred, as they are designed for exploration and experimentation.
Hands-On and Open-Ended
Toys that follow Montessori methods are usually interactive items that toddlers can manipulate. They also tend not to have a very specific end goal - so there is more than one way to play or achieve the end goal. The idea behind these toys is for toddlers to play, rather than the toy doing the playing for the child.
My toddler’s five favorite Montessori toys
With that outline of what Montessori is and how to choose toys that adhere to Montessori guidelines, here’s five of my family’s favorites.
1. Pikler Triangle
What it is: A Pikler triangle is a triangular climbing frame. They come in different sizes, with additional accessories and can be modular or adjustable. Our particular set is actually two Pikler triangles that can be combined in different ways and also includes two double-sided ramps.
How it fits Montessori principles: It has all of the aforementioned qualities: it is made of wood, is simple and practical, and it is definitely hands-on, as it promotes physical activity.
How it meets two-year-old milestones: Toddlers are reaching many physical milestones as they go from walking to running as well as climbing in a more coordinated manner. While 18-month-olds are starting to be able to climb up and down couches on their own, two-year-olds can further develop their gross motor skills with a climbing structure.
Teacher Tip: I love that our Pikler triangle can serve as a simple indoor playground for my daughter. She is challenged physically as she climbs, hangs, and slides. She is also challenged mentally as she considers new and different ways to navigate, especially when we adjust the setup or make it part of an obstacle course. We even work on social and emotional skills as we pretend the Pikler triangle is a house, store, or camping tent.
2. Wooden Blocks
What it is: These are simple solid natural wood blocks. Our particular set- hand-made and gifted to us by my uncle - has a few different length rectangular blocks, square blocks, right triangle blocks, arch and half-circle blocks, and cylinder blocks.
How it fits Montessori principles: They are made of natural wood material and are simple - just wood and plain shapes. They're also hands-on and open-ended - we can build anything we can imagine. I love that creation and construction are such basic tenets in daily life.
How it meets two-year-old milestones: Two-year-olds are beginning to play with more than one toy as well as use both of their hands to hold objects. Blocks are conducive to these skills as building with them often requires bracing with one hand and stacking with the other, and other toys can come into play often as the blocks construct a building or something else that has a further purpose in play.
Teacher Tip: My daughter is mentally stimulated through our various imaginative buildings and scenarios. Her motor skills are developed, as she carefully places blocks while stacking. She also engages in problem solving, as she tries to properly balance blocks, so they won’t fall. When we pretend-play using the buildings we have constructed, she practices social emotional skills by imitating various daily life events and activities.
3. Musical Instruments
What it is: This is a collection of a variety of toddler-friendly musical instruments; ours are a mix of mostly wood and some plastic. You can also find sets or individual instruments that are made of all natural materials.
How it fits Montessori principles: Our particular set does include a few plastic instruments, but many typical instructions (e.g. recorders) also have plastic, so it still reflects typical instrument design. They are practical since they serve the function of making music. And art is open-ended, hands-on, and supports personal creation.
How it meets two-year-old milestones: As a child reaches two years of age, they are becoming more social and cuing in more frequently on emotional and communication markers. Music communicates a wide range of emotions and is a great way to support these areas of development!
Teacher Tip: We love music, and we love to make up our own songs! Using the different instruments, my daughter grows physically as she works on breathing for woodwind instruments, fine motor skills with gripping and manipulating smaller instruments, and gross motor skills as we march around the house in our own little band! She also develops mentally, socially, and emotionally as we learn how to play the instruments, adjust style of play for the kinds of songs we want to play, and practice playing together.
4. Garden Tool Set
What it is: It’s a set of toddler-sized gardening tools; ours includes a wheelbarrow, rake, shovel, and watering can.
How it fits Montessori principles: Our set is made of plastic, so it’s not the desired natural materials, but practically speaking, a metal set of garden tools would likely be too heavy for a toddler to use. They’re practical and hands-on because they’re functional tools that a child can use for gardening and other outdoor play. (We also like to use them in the sand and snow!)
How it meets two-year-old milestones: Gardening requires both gross and fine motor skills, both of which are continuing to develop for two-year-olds. By two-and-a-half, children are further developing their fine motor skills, such as twisting objects with their hands. A gardening set where they can use a trowel to dig or a watering can to water plants focuses on their hand-eye-coordination and hand and wrist control.
Teacher Tip: My daughter loves to help with gardening, and our gardening set allows her to dig, scoop, shovel, rake, water, and wheel around all the dirt, sticks, weeds, and plants she can manage. It also allows her to engage directly with the environment. I love that she learns by actively planting, watering, raking, and picking up and wheeling sticks over to our burn pile. All of these activities help her develop physically, mentally, and socially and emotionally.
5. Habbi Habbi Wand System
What it is: Habbi Habbi has a collection of books and toys (Montessori-sized flashcards and puzzles) - which are compatible with their Reading Wand. Simply turn on the Wand and tap any part of any product to hear words, phrases, sentences, or musical tunes.
How it fits Montessori principles: While “technology” does not technically fit within Montessori principles, Habbi Habbi is screen-free and play-based. So it seems popular amongst Montessori moms and communities. As one Montessori mom described, “I don’t speak Spanish. Strict Montessori teaching would require someone native to speak - which would mean my daughter can’t learn Spanish. I love that Habbi Habbi can open that door to Spanish learning by giving her that audio exposure through her independent play - and screen free.”
How it meets two-year-old milestones: Two-year-olds start exploring more toys with buttons and switches and other interactive features. The wand works perfectly with that developing skill! Children can explore buttons as they turn the wand on and off and adjust the volume and they can use their hands and the wand to further interact and engage with more toys with just a tap.
Teacher Tip: I personally love the hands-on aspect that allows kids to explore as they wish. It promotes independence and self direction, since children are able to tap and learn and engage at their own pace. I appreciate that we can support bilingual learning - and that the wand provides accurate audio input from a native speaker. I also love that the topics covered in the books very much align with Montessori principles - practical subject matter, diverse cultural exposure, and more.
If you liked this, you may also appreciate the following:
- Spanish Montessori Bookshelf
- 5 Toys & Games that Make Learning to Read Fun
- Bilingual Printable Flashcards: In My Home Vocabulary (45 cards)
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Check out more bilingual resources from Habbi Habbi
We have lots more (fun stuff!) here at Habbi Habbi. You can explore our free resources such as bilingual printables, resource blog, and audiobooks. Of course, we also have our much loved magical Reading Wand, bilingual books, puzzles & flashcards. Our tools are currently available in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Korean, and Hindi.
About our lovely guest contributor
Kelly is an English-Spanish bilingual parent raising an English-Spanish-Mandarin trilingual child with her English-Mandarin bilingual spouse. She has a passion for education and literacy and language development, with a Master’s Degree in Reading Development and experience as both an English-only and Spanish-English dual language Kindergarten teacher. Nowadays, she stays home with her daughter and enjoys playing video games when there’s a bit of spare time.