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The Montessori playroom is all the rage. This type of playroom is thought to help kids develop new skills and to increase their self-reliance.
The roots of Montessori education can be traced back to rural Italy where Maria Montessori was asked to help educate orphans.
Montessori found that certain resources, or even the way in which classrooms were organized, had an impact on how children learned, the skills they developed, and what they remembered.
Through experimentation and careful analysis, she was able to develop material and organize her classrooms in a way that helped kids grasp even the most difficult concepts.
According to the Montessori philosophy, certain principles can help children learn. For instance, this philosophy believes that:
- The more children play an active role in their education, the better they learn;
- Children allowed to experiment, to invent, and to be creative learn better;
- Proposing critical thinking games and activities is beneficial to learning;
- Day-dreaming is an important part of learning
Today, these Montessori-inspired principles can help you identify the essentials of Montessori play. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
How to create a Montessori playroom
“Help me to help myself” is one of Montessori’s best known quotes, and it is a clear reflection of one of her guiding principles. She believed that everything children need should be easily accessible and that they should be able to reach the objects that they desired by themselves.
Also, when toys were easily accessible, chances that children would seek to engage with them were higher.
Montessori believed that it was important for children to be able to access their toys and things by themselves. This explains why many playrooms privilege Montessori-style shelves which make it possible to easily display all your child’s toys, making them accessible and therefore promoting engagement.
Montessori-inspired toys are not just about distraction. Their main aim is to promote engagement and to help your child develop specific skills such as their fine motor skills, their focus and concentration skills or even their visual discriminations skills.
For instance, The Montessori 100 board is designed to help your child understand how numbers work in a sequence, and it allows them to correct their mistakes by themselves.
The Wooden Wobble Balance Board can help them develop a sense of balance and work on their gross motor skills.
Good quality stacking toys like these ones are common in Montessori play because they help children to practice their creativity and to work on their fine motor skills.
3) Simplicity is the key to effective Montessori play
Montessori believed in simplicity, both in terms of simple toys and minimal distraction. She was against all forms of disorganization and mess which she believed had a negative impact on children’s learning.
Proposing a limited number of toys and activities is an easy way to adopt a Montessori playroom, and it increases engagement by limiting distraction.
Instead of letting your child play with all their toys, consider selecting approximately six toys at any given time, then rotate them occasionally.
While it is important to choose different toys to enable children to work on different skills, being attentive to their interests and their actual capacities can help you determine the best toys for them.
For example, instead of forcing your child to play with a toy in which they have no interest, or one that they clearly struggle with, put the toy away and have them try it again a few weeks later.
Or if they show an interest in stacking toys, privilege different types of stacking toys to increase their engagement.
Limiting the number of toys also frees up space in your child’s playroom, and open space is important because it allows them to move around more freely.
Having an open space can also allow you to install important developmental toys such as Pikler triangles which will help develop their gross motor skills – and if you choose a high quality triangle like this one, your child can play with it for years!
4) Emphasis on open-endedness
One of the key principles of Montessori education is that children should be provided with open-ended toys and activities, meaning those that enable them to use the same resources in many different ways.
Open-ended toys encourage your child to use their imagination and to develop their creativity and critical thinking skills.
Wooden blocks are a good example of simple and open-ended Montessori-inspired toys, and your child will love durable wooden blocks such as these Tegu Magnetic wooden blocks which they can stack, use to learn about colors and shapes, and build anything they can imagine!
Balance boards such as the Kinderfeets balance board also make great open-ended toys; in addition to teaching about balance, coordination and spatial awareness, your child can also use them in a variety of ways: as a bridge, a balance board, a fort, and so on.
5) Order is essential in this playroom
In Montessori play, each object has its own place, which allows your child to know exactly where everything goes. This allows them to pick their toys and activities – then put them back in the same spot – by themselves.
The best playroom is one that encourages your child to actively participate in their learning through exploration, engagement, and trial and error.
The key to making it work is to select a variety of activities, in line with their interests and development, to help them practice different skills.
But more than providing toys and activities, Montessori education is about making the most use of your child’s environment to help them participate as fully as possible in your family life.
This could look like:
- Providing them with a child-size broom and dustpan set to help them participate more readily, and easily, in age-appropriate chores.
- Privileging low shelves in your home to make it easier for them to participate in everyday household chores such as setting the table or putting away dishes.
- Using learning towers such as this one to allow your child to reach the countertop, sink, or the dinner table by themselves and to encourage their participation in everyday life.
If you’re tempted to propose Montessori play to your child, remember that the easiest way to achieve this is to keep things simple and to privilege open spaces where your child can freely express themselves.
This means limiting the number of toys and privileging those that allow children to use their imagination, or proposing toys that they can use in many different ways.
Remember that the key to a successful Montessori education also applies to the Montessori playroom: helping children to achieve success, by themselves, is one of the easiest ways to help them thrive.
An earlier version of this article was published in Parentmap.