At Guidepost at Home, we love learning through play. We’re huge fans of the Montessori Method, which encourages child-led play; it's even proven to be beneficial for physical, cognitive, and social health.
When Guidepost at Home Nannies are playing with the children they care for, they are using Montessori toys in open-ended, creative child-led play. Montessori toys are made of natural materials, have simple designs, and can be used for different purposes in various types of play. They also grow with your child, helping reduce waste and clutter. Having lots of toys can cause clutter and become overwhelming for children (and parents too!). Studies have shown that fewer, simpler toys can actually help little ones focus and engage in creative play.
“When I am with my Guidepost at Home kiddos, I use our Montessori-inspired curriculum and often parents ask how they can reinforce this type of learning at home,” Guidepost at Home Nanny and Mentor, Brenda Guevara explains. “While there are many ways this can be done, choosing the right toys that encourage creativity and development as well as picking up the right books are a great start.”
To help you pick the right toys, we talked talked to Brenda and other Guidepost at Home Nannies, to get their expert recommendations.
Guidepost at Home Nanny and Nanny Mentor, Brenda Guevara
1. “Real-Life” Play Toys
Brenda says, “Little ones crave the ability to work with real materials that are built just for them.”
Child-sized and safe kitchen equipment, gardening tools, cleaning supplies, a tool box, or an easel can spark creative play and learning. Brenda tells us: “A simple mop and broom set can help lay the foundation for positive self-care and give little ones autonomy over their environment.”
Cups, pitchers, and bowls also make for fun and versatile real-life play toys. They have a variety of uses as well as endless options for creative play and learning. Practing using a pitcher to transfer dry and wet materials can begin as early as nine months!
Introduce your child to a child-sized broom after they turn one, and slowly add pieces to the set. Add a dustpan so they can sweep and collect with two hands, then add a mop to extend the activity.
Give them some plants to nurture and flowers to pick for the dining room table. Introduce gardening tools around 18 months and teach them the kindness and care it takes to help others thrive.
Have them start cutting their own fruits and vegetables at a young age to get them more interested in eating healthy and get child-sized equipment for baking: cutting board, mixing spoon, rolling pin, apron, and chef’s hat. Play baking and kitchen sets inspire confidence and independence.
2. Nesting and Stacking
Blocks are the quintessential open-ended, creative play tool. They foster development in all areas: fine and gross motor skills, social and emotional growth, science, creativity, self-esteem, mathematics, problem-solving, imagination, self-expression, and continuity and permanence.
Introduce the first blocks around six months. They will likely mouth at it, or hit them together to make noise. It isn’t until closer to one year old that they develop the dexterity to balance one block on top of the other (and even later until they get more than two!). Nesting cups, which can be used around six months, are great to practice the concepts of in and out. Engage your little one with nesting cups with holes in the bottom so they can use them for water play! To practice stacking, make a tower and let your little one knock it down. This is an essential part of the learning process! Blocks also come in all different sizes, colors, materials and textures including wood, cotton and felt for even more innovative play.
3. Musical Instruments
This favorite needs little explanation; music has an extraordinary effect on children. Kids love music! Not only is it joyful, but there is evidence that music instruction accelerates brain development in young children.
Musical toys can grow with your child for their lifetime. Start off with a rattle as early as you can and they’ll learn to match your rhythm around six months. Forming rhythm as a group is a huge social skill milestone closer that happens around one year old. Introduce one-handed items at first like egg shakers, and then build your way to two-handed items such as drums (pots and pans) with a stick, xylophone, and more. Practice volume and pace by teaching fast versus slow music, and loud versus soft music. The items can be as simple as an empty tissue box with a rubber band around the middle or a cereal box turned on its side to make a drum.
4. Useful Furniture
The right furniture can be both fun and beneficial for your kiddo’s social, cognitive, emotional, and physical development. Look for simple and adaptable furniture. They’re not Montessori per say but kids love them and they are incredible for your little one’s development. Wooden wavee boards and pikler triangles are awesome for one year olds for creative and physical play that will both inspire and tire your little one (great naps make everyone happy, are we right?!).
On the Montessori side, an excellent option is putting up a wall mirror and a wooden beam at toddler height before they turn one. Little ones can use this to pull-up to standing, make silly faces at themselves, and even dance. One of our favorite uses is for standing diaper changes. (You know, for when diaper changes get to a point where you feel like you’re wrestling an alligator!)
Another great opportunity occurs around 16 months, weaning tables, or child-sized tables and chairs, are excellent for fostering confidence, independence, and creative discovery as children learn to eat, play, and create. Give them a space that is their own—have them set their own table and give them a vase to place flowers in.
5. Silk Scarves
Silks are a Guidepost at Home Nanny and Family favorite. According to Brenda, “Silk scarves can be used for pretend play, such as wrapping a present, making a pouch, creating a sling for a doll, tying on a stick to make a flag or anything else their imagination desires!”
Silks can also be used for peek-a-boo, forts, capes, and are the best for dancing. Many moms and nannies say that this is the most-used toy in their home for many years.
6. Assorted Balls
A ball is an ideal toy for encouraging sensory exploration. You can buy balls in all different textures and materials, with some unique options including wood, cotton, and felt. Start using Montessori balls with your newborn to encourage grabs and grasps and allow the balls to evolve with the child. Get smaller ones as they get older to practice those fine motor skills and larger ones to support social learning when kids share, roll, toss, and bounce balls back and forth. Balls foster motor development, hand-eye coordination, and depth perception through kicking, throwing, and target practice. Balls can be hidden, bounced, tossed (around one year old), chewed on, rolled (prime for crawling practice), and can even masquerade as a giant boulder rolling down a mountain. Imagination and creativity are endless.
Brenda notes, “As your little one gets older [around eight months], the concept of object permanence is paramount. With this toy, a little one drops the ball into a hole in the box. The ball rolls out of the box and into the attached tray, thus allowing the child to experience object permanence by seeing that the ball doesn’t permanently disappear. This lays the foundation for secure attachment and helps them develop their concentration. This toy also practices precise hand movements while sending information to the brain that develops hand, wrist and finger control—also known as refined hand movements.”
“At Guidepost at Home, shape puzzles with small knobs are some of our favorites for developing concentration,” Brenda says. “It helps develop a pincer grasp in addition to strengthening finger dexterity and visual acuity. A chunky, colorful shapes puzzle is also a must-have for developing early sorting skills. It promotes dexterity, the palmer grasp, hand-eye coordination, matching, and spatial relationships.”
We also love puzzles that are based in reality; featuring animals, faces, and other real-world objects that can be placed into categories. Puzzles aid in problem solving and are precursors to being able to do a lot of things developmentally—including eating!
Start out with a one or two-piece puzzle at six months and add a piece for every additional three months as your little one becomes more adept at solving them. Start with circles which are easier and add a corner with each stage. Each added corner makes it that much harder to get the perfect fit. Move to triangles and circles around nine months and begin to work with squares after.
Choosing toys that are simple, minimalist and adaptable will help your child stay focused and encourage creativity and development. They’re also an amazing investment as they can truly grow with your little one.
“Even as infants, little ones can begin to learn through creativity and hands-on toys and activities that allow the child to explore what interests them,” Brenda says. “Guidepost at Home uses a Montessori-inspired curriculum with all of our families because it’s a proven methodology that encourages children to be an active participant in their own learning process. Toys offer a great way for children to explore at their own pace.”
Here's to playtime!