The Montessori method of education — of which, notably, Prince George is a student and Beyoncé is a graduate — is built on the idea that children are naturally creative and curious, and therefore already have the keys to learning about the world around them. They just need a little encouragement, with the right alphabet toys and sets of building blocks, to become independent learners.
This can happen just as easily outside of the classroom: Parents and babysitters can set up a DIY Montessori space at home to keep kids thinking and playing over the summer. Or for any time of year, really. But we think it’s an especially useful summertime hack: “Work,” the Montessori word for an activity, is usually centered around analog toys that require focus, meaning kids (and adults) can take breaks from hot and noisy parks and pools, and loud and noisy blaring screens. To find the best toys for young creative minds, we consulted with Rika Motohashi, a longtime Montessori teacher in Vancouver. Here’s her advice on what to get.
A work mat
One of the things to start with is the clean workspace, which is an essential part of Montessori method. So, parents should start from choosing an appropriate mat made of cloth. While picking it, think of it as a desk. That is the place where “work” happens. A perfect work mat has to be small enough to be suitable to deal with the small hands. Kids who are studying with the Montessori method are responsible for unrolling their mat, arranging all needed materials on the mat, and, when they are done working, they are responsible for rolling it back and putting it to its spot. We really like and recommend this light-blue rug, which will fit in any style of home decoration.
For learning the alphabet
In Montessori schools, children learn the alphabet though phonetics. Very often they do activities that go far beyond the flash cards. It is a good idea to start this learning with the sandpaper letters that we recommend. To build up a muscle memory kids will trace the letters (both uppercase and lowercase) with their fingers. Kids are also encouraged to learn and identify the phonetic sounds at the same time. For example, while tracing the letter Z they can make zzzz noise.
The method of tracing the letters and numbers with the finger is applied in this book as well. The only difference is that it all is kept bound together in the same place. There are some suggested activities to mix them up.
This movable alphabet made of wood is recommended for more advanced kids of 3 years of age and older. This set allows more exploration, as well as letter combinations. Kids can also pierce together some simple word and even spell names.
The Montessori teachers give great importance to tactile play and learning. We recommend this set of colorful mat-sized letters made of plastic, which can be taken apart and children can physically practice to form different characters.
For learning about nature
As Motohashi says, Montessori encourages the connection between children and nature. Therefore, bringing the elements of the outside world inside our houses is a good idea. For education and intellectual grows the knowledge of nature and its life cycles are very important and valuable. Instead of buying the ant house for your kid, Motohashi suggests to check out some beautifully crafted games that explain how thing happen in the natural world. For example, this layered puzzle clearly depicts the transition from larva to a beautiful butterfly. This toy combines the entomology with coordination of hand and eye, as well as hands-on application through puzzle work.
For younger kids she recommends this more rudimentary kind of puzzle, showing fish. Other puzzles, manufactured by this company, feature chicken and blossoming poppy flowers as well.
This slightly more advanced picturesque puzzle, which is recommended for more experienced kids, encourages the studying and thinking about different kinds of animals. It also shows the rain forest ecosystem and how its branches are connected with each other.
Take a look at this underwater world menagerie, made by the same company.
For learning about numbers
For little kids the process of counting for one to ten by memory is a quite simple task. However, according to Motohashi, it is very important to comprehend the concept of sequence of numbers and quantities, and the demonstration of this concept requires some visual aids and tools. This is called “counting that is concrete”. She recommends these basic counting cards and checker-like chips, which are easy to spread out and to connect logically the numbers with amounts. Since it takes some concentration for little kids to get to ten a bit if quiet time will help.
Another recommendation is this set of bogus canned-foods. Children are required to do the same task, by associating the quantity of items with the number written on each can. While performing the main task kids can also learn a few things about fruits and vegetables as well.
The same principle is applied for this stacking owl game, which comes with a spinner. Children can challenge themselves by learning how many owls correlate with each particular number.
Motohashi suggests this set of wooden monochromatic blocks for the kids who are a little older, like 4-5 years old. Kids are suggested to use colorful blocks and small dividers made of wood to play various math games. The set includes tiles with numbers on them for basic adding operations. It can also be set in several different options to encourage kids to think about adding and to match different patterns.
Usually, the understanding of the essence of fractions is considered being more challenging than learning numbers and performing some basic addition. We recommend this colorful retro-style set for children who are math minding. It makes it much easier to visualize the issue and to explain what fractions really mean.
This Pink Tower (a classical attribute in Montessori schools) is an essential part for sensorial activities. Its task is to incorporate all five human senses, which are visual, audial, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory. Of course, not every activity involves all senses, however, when it is possible, the “work” projects should engage as many senses as possible. For proper application the pink Tower has to be stacked by size and requires coordination skills, as well as balance.
This tower option comes with animals on its blocks.
Unlike the other tower, these blocks have another incremental size scheme. However, also require balance and coordination to play with. And kids can make their parents happy by building cute little houses.
Books about the ABCs
The next recommended item, Bob Books, was created by Bobby Lynn Maslen, the kindergarten teacher. Even though it was back in 1970s, these books are perfect for kids who have learned the phonetic alphabet and are about to start reading. The simple illustrations, rhymes and repetitions are used for telling short and interesting stories.
Since we are suggesting retro books for children we cannot ignore Dr. Seuss’s ABC. Check it out