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Unlike most daycares and kindergartens, you don't often see things like dollhouses, dress up stations, or Duplo in Montessori classrooms.

Montessori learning environments are typically filled with 'close-ended' activities - those with a clear beginning, middle, and end, like knobbed cylindersposting boxes, and dressing frames.

Montessori activities like this are designed to:

  1. Provide a sense of accomplishment - each material has a clear purpose and challenge. When completed the child feels a sense of accomplishment. It also continuously builds their confidence.

  2. Develop concentration - a specific, goal-oriented task at the right level of challenge allows the child to deeply concentrate in order to master it.

  3. Avoid the need for adult intervention - Close-ended materials are often self-correcting, meaning the material tells the child if they’ve done it correctly or not, eliminating the need for an adult to "correct" them.

    For example, a puzzle will only come together in one way. If a piece is put in wrong, they can't complete the puzzle. Self-correcting activities are great for building independence.

But what about all those other toys...

Toys like blocks, dolls, or play kitchens are known as 'open-ended toys'.

Open-ended toys are really just any toy that lacks specific instructions, children are free to explore them without any specific goal in mind.

The play is "open-ended".

These types of toys are a wonderful way to develop creativity and imagination.

So when setting up your playroom at home, a mix of both is ideal.

If you already have a collection of Montessori materials and activities, then open-ended toys and play ideas might be something you want to also introduce.

Our Five Favourite Open-Ended Toys

1. Blocks - Blocks and other building toys (i.e Magnatiles) are a great way to encourage creativity and spatial reasoning as children build structures exploring balance and stability. Blocks (which are typically made up of geometric shapes) are often a child’s "first" introduction to geometry.

2. Animal Figurines - Animal figurines are great for inviting imaginative play. They also help to develop language and social skills when playing with others.

Tip: Keep a basket of blocks close to the figurines so that your child can combine them if they feel inspired to. Typically children do this closer to 3 years of age.

3. Play Silks - Scarves or Silks are great for open-ended play. Put some in a basket on your child’s toy shelf and see what they do with them. You can use them to dance, play peek-a-boo, combine them with other open-ended toys (blocks, animal figurines, etc.), build forts, etc.

Check out this article for more info about why I love them - The #1 Open-Ended Toy On Our Shelf

4. Art Materials - open-ended art exploration is as simple as offering your child some plain paper and a variety of art materials, i.e. crayons, paint, dot markers, stickers, etc. What makes is open-ended is giving children the freedom to create whatever they are inspired to create rather than adult-led crafts which are not open-ended. 

5. Loose Parts - provide endless possibilities for open-ended play, promoting creativity and sensory exploration. Add tools and containers, or add them to other open-ended toys, i.e. animal figurines, play dough, sensory bins, etc. Wooden Loose Parts by Milaniwood is the ultimate loose parts set.