In the years ahead, your child will spend countless hours exploring the pleasures of puzzles. With these simple wooden puzzles, they get an early introduction to the satisfaction of putting pieces in their place.
These puzzles’ simple design is ideal for young children—with each one isolating a single shape, and each piece providing a small knob for easier handling. Free of distractions like colorful illustrations, the puzzles encourage concentration and help a young child focus on the task at hand.
As they boost your child’s cognitive development, puzzles work both fine and gross motor skills. Your child has to grasp the knob firmly and with control to guide the piece in place—giving them practice with motor planning (thinking through how to use their body to accomplish a goal), problem-solving, and spatial awareness. This combination of challenges is what makes puzzles so beneficial and fun for children.
Monti Kids Toy Tips: Introducing Wooden Puzzles
While your child is playing…
- Present the puzzle at a small table or on the floor.
- Start with one piece. After they’ve had some practice with it, move on to a different piece.
- After they’ve become familiar with all the pieces, rotate the different puzzles to help maintain their interest.
What to say:
Begin with the piece already in place. Then use a tripod grasp to grip the knob and tilt the piece up. Hold it with the base of the frame facing toward you—looking back and forth between the base and the frame to emphasize their relationship. Place the piece on the table and remove your hand so your child can absorb that the piece is out of the frame, then state what you did: “I took the circle out of the frame.”
When demonstrating how to place the piece back in the frame, grasp the handle with a tripod grip, then turn it over to put your child’s focus on the base. Rest the edge of the piece next to the edge of its space in the frame, then tip the piece into place. Remove your hand, then state what you did: “I put the circle into the frame.” Take the circle out again and invite your child to take a turn.
Research About Wooden Puzzles for Toddlers
A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago shows that children who display stronger spatial skills at an early age, can also grow up with a more advanced understanding of numbers. These children perform better when learning the number line and solving math problems, both in geometry and arithmetic. Introducing this kind of play now provides a strong benefit “since spatial learning is malleable and can be positively influenced by early spatial experiences.” Working with puzzles, building with blocks, and navigating obstacle courses are all activities that help children develop their spatial awareness.
What’s next? Fraction Circle Puzzles!
Like many Montessori toys, this puzzle, included in Level 8 of the Monti Kids program, invites self-correction. As your child practices, they will come to observe when they have placed the pieces in the wrong order. They will problem solve and eventually learn to self-correct.
Puzzles enhance spatial awareness as your child organizes, categorizes, and arranges the pieces. Later, they will engage in less trial and error and begin to plan ahead, thinking abstractly about how to fit the pieces. A Fraction Circles wooden puzzle presents a great opportunity for introducing spatial and mathematical language.
Using such vocabulary in the early years improves mathematical and spatial skills in later life. After introducing the words whole, half, thirds, and quarters, use these in everyday activities. For example, offer your child a choice between a whole, half, or quarter of a sandwich.
While nearly all students eventually learn how to count and add single-digit numbers, research shows that some adults never gain a deep understanding of fractions and how to work with them.
Offering your child hands-on experience with physical representations of fractions builds a solid foundation for later studies of fractions.
Tip: Baking and cooking with your child is an excellent way to experience fractions in a real-world context as you measures and mix ingredients.
By the time your child has become a toddler, they have already learned so much! They can stand, walk, and use their hands, and they are expressing their independence and thinking in new ways. They have spent the first year of their life doing the hard work of transitioning from baby to toddler, and now they are ready to refine their gross motor and fine motor abilities, as well as their independence and cognitive abilities.
At this point, your child is ready for a new level of learning toys for toddlers. But what can you give them to let them practice their skills? Thankfully, the Montessori curriculum has a well-developed program for your toddler, complete with activities and toys to help them with this important work.
Learning toys for toddlers that promote gross motor coordination
Ideal toys for toddlers are those that encourage balance, standing, and controlled movement that challenge them at exactly the right level.
Introducing a toy known as the “tracker” will help your child fine-tune their balance by isolating their center of gravity. First, they will squat to pick up a ball from the base of the toy, then they will stand in order to put the ball in the hole at the top of the toy. When the ball finishes traveling down the tracks and reaches the base, they will squat to get the ball and start the activity again. Each time your little one squats and stands, they are refining their sense of balance by locating their center of gravity in order to move vertically without falling over.
Next, you can offer a pull-toy to your child. The toy will drag along behind your little one as they toddle and work to refine their walking skills. Your child will engage their core muscles and fine-tune their balance every time they turn to check on the toy.
The push-toy will travel ahead of your child as they push it on the ground. This, again, encourages the practice with walking and gives your child a slightly more elevated challenge so that they refine their gross motor abilities as they move along with the toy. Once your child has mastered the push toy inside, you can take it to new terrain outdoors for a new challenge.
Toys that help develop fine motor coordination
Now that your little one can use their hands purposefully, manage several different grips, and release objects at will, they also will need to work on their fine motor coordination.
The best toddler learning toys to accomplish this refinement all offer different ways of using their hands in precise ways.
Simple puzzles and rings with dowels are the ideal beginning toys for refining the use of a child’s hands. Your little one will experiment with how to fit puzzle pieces into frames and how to manage rings onto the dowels by rotating their wrists in different ways and holding their fingers in various positions.
As they master these simpler activities, they will be ready for more complicated learning toys. You can offer puzzles and dowels with shapes that are more challenging. And, your toddler may begin simple beading tasks. Putting large beads on a string will require a new level of dexterity and precision.
Once all these activities are mastered, the Montessori curriculum introduces new toys that provide more opportunities for fitting shapes together and using string or other small tools precisely. A lacing set and the gluing set, like the ones included in the Level 7 and Level 8 Monti Kids boxes, respectively, are both excellent examples of ways to maintain your toddler’s interest in activities that further refine the use of the hand.
Toys that encourage independence in toddlers
Your toddler will want to do many things on their own, and it is in their best interest that you support them in this desire. They want to dress themselves, but clothes have so many parts! Now, you can look for learning toys that support this desire.
A great example is the set of dressing frames that Dr. Montessori designed. The dressing frames offer isolated opportunities with built-in repetition to practice different clothing enclosures— velcro, snaps, and buttons. Your toddler can practice with one dressing frame at a time until they master each type. Being able to practice these parts of clothing in isolation will help them when it is time to get dressed on their own.
Toddler toys that develop cognitive skills
There are two main ways to support the development of your toddler’s cognitive skills. The first is to look for activities that involve multiple-step processes.
Baking is an amazing way to involve your little one in a simple process with a satisfying product. Introduce a set of baking tools as a way to engage your toddler in the baking process.
They can help dump the ingredients into the bowl, mix, roll out the dough, cut out shapes, and then transfer the shapes to a baking sheet. It may seem simple to an adult, but to a child, it is a complicated process with many steps. All of the logical steps will help them think through what order the work should happen in and how one part of the process relates to another. This is important for supporting their cognitive development.
Here are other practical life activities that will help you include your child in processes with multiple steps.
The second way to support your toddler’s cognitive skills is to find toys that allow for experimentation, pattern, and consequences. Many of the toys that satisfy their urge to refine their fine motor abilities will also provide this opportunity.
As they try to figure out which object fits through the circular hole, they will experiment with different shapes, ruling out the ones with straight lines, and eventually determining that it is the cylinder that goes through the circle.
Similarly, the peg board, which consists of 25 pegs of 5 different colors, will look different depending on how they replace the pegs back in the board. As your toddler plays with the pegs and puts them back in different ways, they will discover how their choices affect the way the board looks. And they can think through how they want the board to look as they choose where to put the pegs.
Toddlers are ready to do so much! From gross motor activities to fine motor coordination to helping around the house, they are learning how to anticipate next steps and adjust their movements. We can support them by preparing play experiences and the best learning toys to challenge their developing minds and bodies.
When we do a kitchen activity, like making a smoothie with a toddler, we introduce them to new language. We are exposing them to the words for the ingredients and the equipment we use. And, we are exposing them to the names of concepts, such as measuring, pouring, mixing — and inevitably, wiping up spills.
Watch the video below for a toddler-friendly smoothie recipe and tips on preparing the environment for your child to help make the smoothie.
- orange juice
- ice cubes
- child-sized pitcher (helpful for enabling child to pour)
- spoon or small rubber spatula
- small containers for mise en place*
*Mise en place means “everything in its place”. It’s a french cooking term and it aligns nicely with the Montessori approach to the adults role of preparing the environment.
With everything in its place before you begin a kitchen activity, a child can independently add ingredients together.
As your child’s attention span grows and their ability to carry out multiple steps increases with practice, you can do less setting up and include them in more of the process. For example, retrieving strawberries from a container, washing them, and removing the stems will add another level of detail to making a smoothie.
More practical life activities
When your child is included in kitchen tasks, they feel pride and confidence, which will inspire them to take on more as they grow older.
Preparing the environment for practical life activities in the kitchen is the role of the adult. Here’s how we invite a child to make a smoothie.
Here’s a red, white, and blue snack project along with some tips for inviting your toddler to participate.
At Monti Kids, we talk a lot about cultivating 21st-century skills in our children: the ability to focus, problem-solve, and persevere. These are tools we believe will help our children be independent in their future.
In the elementary school grades, people talk about STEM, which is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. How do we support our children as they explore these subjects? How do we ensure there are enough students entering these fields that we will have sufficient scientists to solve the world’s issues in the next generation?
The answer is: you’re probably already doing it.
When the environment you prepare for your child is guided by the Montessori approach, they are encouraged to explore how things work, to conduct experiments, and to pursue a sense of order out of their observations.
Here are seven simple activities that support STEM learning in the youngest children
One of the foundational principles of the Montessori approach to supporting child development is an emphasis on concentration. When Dr. Maria Montessori developed her work over a hundred years ago, she observed in the tiny child an ability to focus on meaningful work, and then she observed the incredible positive benefits that followed this period of concentration. Children became peaceful, joyful, and capable of self-regulation. It was through these repeated experiences that she came to declare that concentration was a key part of supporting children in their most positive development. This means that, today, it is beneficial for children, even babies, to engage in activities that allow them to concentrate, so that they can bring about these positive effects in their interior life.
As parents seek these kinds of activities, they often see their children watching screens and ask whether this is an activity that supports concentration. It is easy to understand why this is such a natural question! When your little one is watching a screen, they usually can hold still for a long period of time, they keep their eyes fixed on the entertainment, and they are not easily distracted. In many ways, these are visible qualities of concentration.
However, it is important to note that, while this experience can look like concentration to an outside observer, it is not the same interior experience for your little one. When your child is focusing on a screen, they are being entertained. They are being occupied from an outside source that does not require any engagement on their part. A baby or child who is looking at a screen is passively consuming content. Similarly, your little one rarely will reveal the same positive development characteristics after spending time on the screen. Rather than joyful, peaceful, confident, and capable of self-regulation, you may observe that they are tired, cranky, and have trouble controlling themselves. This is another indicator that screens create a different experience from true concentration.
True concentration is different because it requires your child to be a willing participant in the activity. From this perspective, your little one must act, engage, move, and think in order for concentration to arise. When a child focuses in this way, their bodies and mind operate in harmony – both are active and alert. A concentrating child may hold still while they are thinking, but they probably will be moving some part of their body. If they are a tiny baby, they may only be moving their eyes as they focus on a mobile.
Older babies and toddlers will move their bodies and their hands as the activity requires. In this light, concentration means that their whole body and mind will be focused and working together towards the purpose of one task.
Supporting Dr. Montessori’s theory of concentration, many psychologists and educators refer to this experience as “flow” – the state that Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi observed in people when they were wholly consumed with an activity.
Flow is related to many desirable outcomes of positive psychology – joy, peace, and meaning. It requires the right match of skill level and challenge, which means that your little one must be an active participant in the activity, and not simply a passive recipient.
Another way to consider the idea of concentration is to ask yourself, “Who is working harder, my child or their toy?” Screens, as well as toys requiring batteries, are working hard! This is a sign that your little one is not working as hard as whatever it is that they are paying attention to. Toys that require imagination, creativity, and movement of hand and body all require that your child does work. It is through this active work that your little one will have the experience of concentrating, and, thus, developing themselves.
Just as Dr. Montessori did, one of your best tools in determining if your baby is concentrating will be using observation. You can consider whether they are consuming or acting, you can watch what parts of their bodies and minds they are using for their activities, and you can observe how they behave afterwards.
By finding opportunities for your baby or toddler to concentrate, you are supporting them in their development in the most positive way possible!
When we think of Montessori education, usually we think of wooden toys and a low shelf from which children help themselves to activities. But really, it’s a whole philosophy of child development. From the first moments a baby enters the world, we can think about how to support their physical and cognitive well-being so that they grow up to be independent, creative, and kind individuals.
When babies arrive in the world, they must adjust to their surroundings. There are lights and noises and air that moves through the room, all of which can be startling after nine months in a comfortable womb.
Watch: In the video below, we share a Montessori perspective on helping a newborn get comfortable in the world.
Further reading: Monti Kids families tell us how gratifying it is to see their babies develop the ability to focus on their mobiles. Read The Essential Guide to Mobiles For Newborns to learn more about what they get out of these fundamental Montessori toys for babies.
Dr. Montessori observed, “Play is the work of the child.” This means the inner goal of your baby, toddler, or young child is to grow and develop into a productive adult. Whatever your little one chooses to engage with or do – even when it looks like play – is guided by this unconscious noble desire. When you give your little one toys, you are contributing to this process. Choosing toys that are developmentally appropriate will support your child in their journey of growth.
Developmental Toys for Newborns
There are two main categories of toys for newborns. The first category includes mobiles, and the second includes rattles. These categories cover the two significant capabilities of newborns, respectively: Seeing and grasping.
Newborns are developing the use of their eyes – both focus and movement. By hanging mobiles for your baby, you are supporting this work. The first mobile in Montessori, the Munari, is black and white to take advantage of their interest in high contrast objects. It moves slowly in the currents of the air to allow your baby to practice moving their eyes with the movement of the hanging elements.
Learn more: The Essential Guide to Montessori Mobiles
The second category of developmental toys for newborns takes advantage of their reflexive grip. As soon as they are born, and even in the womb, they will grasp their hand reflexively around anything that brushes their palm. Biologists believe that this grip developed so that the young of fur carrying primates could cling tightly to their mothers.
There are many sensitive nerve endings in your baby’s hand, and they will learn much about the world through them. By offering lightweight rattles of different materials and textures, you will allow your little one to glean information about the materials of the world as they grasp each rattle and see how they feel.
Developmental Toys for Babies
Your baby is working on the strength of their core, which will be used for sitting and moving, and on the use of their hands. Dr. Montessori offered two kinds of toys to support this work.
Balls for Babies
One of the best kinds of developmental toys for your baby’s core strengthening is a collection of balls. These balls can and should vary for interest, but they should all be an appropriate size for your baby to hold with both hands.
Balls can be different colors, materials, and textures, and you should only offer your baby one at a time. Giving more can be overwhelming for them.
To interact, they will lie on their tummy in front of the ball, and they will push up with their hands and arch their backs to look at the ball. Then they will work towards grabbing the ball with their hands and bringing it to their mouths. This is excellent work for building their core muscles.
Classic Montessori Toys
Once your baby is sitting well, they can start work on the activities that encourage the development of their hands. One of the best toys for this work is the Object Permanence Box. They will sit with the box between their legs and hold the ball in their hands. Then they will work to put the ball in the hole and release it. The ball will disappear momentarily and then emerge into a tray. This is hard work for a young baby! They have to line up the ball with the hole and then release at just the right moment. This activity challenges the use of their hands and supports refinement of this fine motor skill.
Developmental Toys for Toddlers
Your toddler is working on walking, and on more complicated activities with their hands. These activities often require experimentation, which engages their mind in very basic reasoning.
One of the best developmental toys for your new walker is the pull toy. This is a toy with wheels that your little one will pull along with a string. They will enjoy the experience of pulling the toy behind them, and turning to check as they toddle along. This toy will give them repeated practice with walking, and also challenge their balance as they turn to check on the toy and squat to look at it.
Cognitive and Fine Motor Skills
Montessori toys, like the one known as The Mailbox invite children to practice using their hands and their reasoning. The mailbox is a box with different shaped openings on top with different geometric objects that fit through the openings. The top of the box swaps out for several different options, offering one, two, or all three openings. This provides your little one with varying degrees of challenge. As your toddler experiments with the objects, trying to fit them through the openings, they will practice the use of their hands and also their reasoning as they learn which shapes can fit.
Developmental Toys for Three-Year-Olds
Your three-year-old wants to do challenging work! They are ready for more activities that challenge their hands, as well as work that involves processes.
Look for experiences that will challenge your three-year-old’s hand-eye coordination. For example, a lacing set. It is hard work for a young child to do successfully and will require patience and perseverance, while at the same time supporting the refinement of the use of their hands and eyes together.
Further, activities like lacing, simple craft projects, and building projects (with blocks or even pillows!) introduce a process-oriented activity with a tangible result. Your child will need to remember the steps, experiment with materials, and see the consequences of their decisions. Look for toys that involve more steps.
The Montessori curriculum provides excellent guidelines for toys that support your little one’s development from birth. By choosing developmentally appropriate toys, you allow their play to also be meaningful work. They will refine their physical and intellectual abilities, and build a foundation that will serve them even into adulthood!