We all have those friends and family members who want to buy our children the flashiest toys they can find - the most colourful and eye-catching things on the shelf.
It's not to bug us as the parents, or maybe it is sometimes :), but I also believe they really do want to give our children an amazing gift.
I get it, the noisy, brightly coloured ones just look so much more fun.
I can see why someone would look at a singing Elmo doll and then look at a wooden bead stacker sitting next to each other and choose the singing Elmo.
But Montessori teachers and infant and toddler developmental researchers understand why the bead stacker is a much better choice for a variety of reasons - improved fine motor skills, the satisfaction of mastery, easier open-ended play possibilities...
Now how do we convince our loved ones of that...
The issue is that even though Montessori is becoming a lot more mainstream, it wasn't a very common approach to education or child-rearing a generation ago.
I won't go into a deep of dive of the psychology at play here but just the idea of doing something slightly differently than other parents (or our own parents) can feel like a rejection to them.
You've probably experienced this yourself. You've shared a parenting strategy or idea with another parent, only for them to do something completely different.
It kind of hurts, like they're telling you that they disagree with your approach.
You might even feel deep down, like they think you're a bad parent, even though that's not usually the case. We all just have different ideas, experiences, children, etc.
So even though we all know at a conscious level that choosing a different parenting path is not a personal attack on another parent...
...it can still be hard to tell our loved ones that we don't like their gift ideas.
So what can you do?
First off, a couple plastic toys will not ruin everything else you've been doing with child.
You can get rid of them or give them away if you want (like some of the more strict Montessori parenting books would suggest) but if your child genuinely enjoys them, it won't destroy their brain.
I think the real challenge with many of these toys, is that they're simple to "master" and not very open-ended.
First off, many of the flashy toys have a very simple and specific purpose, hit the button, pull this, move this, etc.,
In Montessori, we find that children get so much joy from mastery of an age-appropriate task. If it's too simple and they figure it out quickly, then there's not much satisfaction or repeatability in it. There's nothing left to master or explore, a main focal point of the Montessori approach.
Because these toys also tend to have a very specific function, it can be harder for a child to move forward with an open-ended, imaginative activity using the toy.
So what this comes down to is a space issue.
Do you want to store something that will be played with less often and provide less satisfaction for your child?
We do toy rotation with all our toys. I regularly ensure we only have a couple of the flashy toys out and those toys have to earn their space. If they're not getting played with, they are donated or passed on to friends.
...unless you're actually providing Montessori childcare.
For most of us, you don't need to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect Montessori school environment.
While there's a lot of value in Montessori materials, it would be impossible to replicate the structure of a school setting, complete with peers and a Montessori trained teacher.
Just focus on the basics in your play space: - not too many options to avoid overwhelming a young child
- make everything accessible so they can do as much for themselves as possible (take out and clean up)
- create some routine around Montessori activities.
If your child is currently enjoying playing with a light up, plastic firetruck, and the noise is not bugging you, it's not hurting anyone to have that on the toy shelf.
When your child is no longer playing with it, you can rotate it out and store it away for awhile, or give it away.
Most of the time, our relatives and friends are open to gift suggestions.
While they may not see the value in the more Montessori-aligned "toys" or practical life tools, they may be more receptive to some of the fun-looking, open-ended toys.
Open-ended activities are great for sensorial and intellectual exploration, creativity, and imagination. There is plenty of room for imaginative play in the Montessori approach, often times it's done in the classroom with Montessori materials after they've finished with the original task.
A couple great options that can be found at almost at toy store include Duplo/Lego, Playmobil, magnetic building tiles (ex. Magnatiles), or play dough + accessories.
We also have a couple amazing ones:
As parents, there's so much pressure to do everything perfectly.
While some days you might be struggling with a decision take the road less travelled in your parenting journey, just know that your child loves you and you're doing your best.
The fact that you're here, in your free time, reading about how to choose the best toys for your child(ren), shows your dedication to them.
So relax your shoulders and take a deep breath, you are a great parent.
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