Tiny Playtime

big play ideas for little people

Montessori Play

The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child's own natural desire to learn - Maria Montessori

The term ‘Montessori’ comes from the historical Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori, born in the late 1800’s. Maria Montessori dedicated her life to creating social change and became well known and respected due to her pursuit for social reform. She was a well educated woman, who before entering the field of education, was a qualified physician, an unlikely career for a woman of her time. Her work in the education field first began due to her interest in providing stimulating and engaging learning opportunities for children with disabilities. This then evolved into the well known Montessori theory and approach that was soon adopted world-wide to provide rich learning opportunities to children of all different ages and abilities.
Imaginative Montessori Play

Montessori play for our little ones

Montessori is an approach that lends itself to both play and learning and focuses on the child and their interests. A Montessori playroom or place space is an environment that has been carefully planned and designed to foster independence and concentration. Toys are usually selected with the aim of being able to grow with the child. Montessori toys can also usually be played with in a number of different ways, promoting curiosity and creativity within the minds of our little ones.

Montessori wooden toys

You might be interested in the Montessori approach, or heard the term ‘Montessori’ thrown around a lot. If this is something that you’re interested in, but you also find quite overwhelming, don’t stress. You don’t have to completely change your entire way of life to fit this approach. You can simply implement the parts that you would like.
Montessori also doesn’t have to be expensive. The aim of this approach is to be engaging, stimulating and accessible for your little one. You will probably find you can create a number of activities that provide this type of learning experience to your child just by using items you already have in your house.

Montessori Imaginative Play
If you are thinking of creating this kind of environment for your little one to play in, consider putting away (or donating) the kinds of toys that do the thinking for your child. Think toys that you press a button and they flash and make noises and do different things. Yes they are bright, colorful and fun, and our children are usually drawn to them straight away. And yes there are an abundance of these kinds of toys sitting on shopping center shelves screaming for our children to pick them. But often these toys don’t hold our children’s attention for a very long period of time. They are not inviting the child to experiment using it in different ways or challenging our child to problem solve. Once the child has pressed the button, the toy is doing the rest for the child. It’s simply offering entertainment. For a limited time anyway. However, it is not inviting young minds to learn and grow. For this reason too, you will often find these are the kinds of toys children ‘grow out of’ quickly.
Imaginative Play

Displaying and rotating toys

We often hear about ‘toy rotations’ when we are talking or learning about the Montessori approach. Furthermore, toys are often displayed in a particular way. You might notice when you google ‘Montessori play’ that many playrooms or play spaces are fitted out with some sort of open shelving where toys are on display and are easily accessible to little hands. Displaying toys like this is a great invitation to play for children. It’s also a nice organised way for children to be able to see what is on offer for them to play with. Now there’s no set number for how many toys you should have out on display at one time. You might like to consider what works well in the space you’re working with. Often something around ten is a pretty safe number. This gives your child enough variation without overwhelming them and cluttering their play space (and their mind!)
A toy rotation is beneficial for a number of reasons. By offering a limited number of carefully selected toys, we are encouraging our children to be patient learners. To choose a toy and sit with it, learn with it, explore it, and enjoy it, before moving on. When children are surrounded by endless toys, they often move quickly from toy to toy, or activity to activity, feeling the need to get through everything. Leave no toy unturned!

In a strange way children can also be very similar to dogs. Many people who own dogs might rotate their dog’s toys every now and then. When the old toys are brought out of the cupboard that the dog hasn’t played with for a while, they become excited, as if they are being offered a toy for the first time. Children will often react in a very similar way! If you are rotating your toys every 1-2 weeks, when a new rotation of toys is presented to your child, it can feel very much like a shelf full of new and exciting toys for your child to play with.
When you decide it’s time to rotate your toys, don’t always feel like you have to change everything. Observe what your child has enjoyed playing with and what they perhaps haven’t chosen to play with as much. You might choose to keep a few items out that your child has played with non-stop, but rotate everything else. As mentioned earlier, there are no set rules. Follow your child’s lead and pay attention to their interests and you will find a rhythm that works well for you and your little loves in no time!