I am blessed with a family that is curious and supportive of our Montessori journey with our daughter, which has led to a common question this Christmas season: “What kind of gifts can I get for Kate that are Montessori approved?” So, here is a list of Montessori-friendly gifts for a 0-12 month old, as well as a brief explanation of how and why they fit into Maria’s philosophy. Something to note, some of the things on the list are not applicable yet since Kate has barely started rolling over, but we will be using them in the months to come as she becomes more mobile. I have broken the list down into three categories that I want to emphasize with Kate at home, Practical Life, Sensorial, and Language Acquisition.
Personally, I feel like Practical Life is the heart of a Montessori environment, and the emphasis we place on it is the biggest departure from traditional schooling. The fine and gross motor skills that children receive from Practical Life exercises prepare them to write long before they ever pick up a pencil. Practical Life also has the effect of increasing a child’s concentration, which is a skill they will need to go on with more complicated work throughout the rest of their life. While some of the items may not seem like much of a gift to our adult minds, children can find even our most mundane tasks fascinating because it does not feel like work to them yet. They are on a quest for independence and taking on the tasks they have seen their parents do for them is new and exciting.
- Montessori Pull Up Bar– There is a lot to address with this gift. For the early infant, it will serve as a bar that they can pull up on to practice standing and walking. After Kate starts walking I’m planning on moving it to the bathroom so she can hold onto it while we do standing diaper changes. This is something we do at the school I work for and it makes the toileting transition a lot easier for all parties involved because it makes the child an active participant. They can observe the process while being oriented in the same direction they will be in when they start using the toilet.
- Learning Tower– Kids love to observe and help out in the kitchen, and that curiosity starts YOUNG. The learning tower gives them the height and the balance they need to reach the counter top. I linked to a pre-made one, but How We Montessori offers a detailed DIY option here utilizing the BEKVAM stepstool from IKEA.
- Child size cleaning tools (hand broom, cleaning set)- I know your baby is not going to be much help in keeping the house clean at first, but having appropriately sized mops and brooms will help them start to learn how to care for their environment. It is a common sight at our school to see an 18 month old sweeping up crumbs from their snack with a hand broom.
- Child size utensils (whisks, spatulas, ect.)- Using adult size tools is hard for little hands, having appropriately-sized kitchen gadgets improves their dexterity and strengthens their hands for writing later on.
- Real 4.5″ juice glasses/plates/silverware – This one might surprise you, but using glasses and plates that are made of glass or ceramic teaches the child care of their environment. Everyone has witnessed this scene: Child willfully throws their sippy cup on the ground, parent picks it up and hands it back. Repeat. Montessori recommends using natural consequences, like a glass breaking due to gravity, for the child to understand that they have an impact on the world around them and that they need to take care of their things. Calmly involve them in the cleaning process (still taking necessary safety precautions) as much as you can. For babies that are trying to wean you can use shot glasses to get them started. (Much hilarity ensued when I shared this gem with my college friends)
- Gardening Tools Using adult size tools is hard for little hands, having appropriately-sized gardening tools improves the child’s dexterity and strengthens their hands for writing later on.
Maria believed that the hand is the instrument of the mind and that children take in the world through all of their senses rather than verbal instruction alone. In her book, The Absorbent Mind, she says “He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”
- Wooden Blocks– These strengthen the hands for writing and increase awareness of spatial relationships.
- Matryoshka Nesting Dolls– Nesting dolls also strengthen the hands for writing and emphasize a sense of order. Also, the act of putting things inside of things seems to bring joy to small children.
- Wooden Stacking Cups – These emphasize a sense of order and strengthen their hand coordination.
- Xylophone– These stimulate the child’s auditory sense and helps them understand pitch.
- Maracas/Rhythm Block /Jingle Bells– All three stimulate the child’s auditory sense and helps them understand rhythm.
- All of the playdough– You can make it yourself or buy it from the store. However it comes, we love it! Molding dough strengthens their hands for writing later on.
- Block Crayons– Compared to regular stick crayons, these are easier for little hands to grasp.
- Tempera Paint– This washable paint is great for finger painting. The tactile experience of squishing the paint through their fingers and the visual expression they can communicate through art are invaluable.
- Roll of Drawing Paper– There is never enough paper.
Language acquisition is hugely important in all stages of child development and it is crucial to introduce language often and early. I recommend reading the 30 Million Word Gap, which really makes the importance of language acquisition hit home.
- Books- Will and I try to keep our home library very small and intimate, we both use our kindles for books we will only read once and try to only keep books that are truly near and dear to our hearts. I am planning on doing the same thing for Kate, we will be visiting the library regularly since she doesn’t use a Kindle. These are some (definitely not all) of the books I am collecting to keep:
- Wooden Farm with realistic animals– We don’t use a lot of plastic in our home (because of the care of environment I mentioned earlier, we want to emphasize real materials) but for the animals I make an exception. They can look more realistic when they are made out of plastic. This is one of the materials we use in the classroom that also translates really well into the home. Kids love animals, so it is naturally engaging. I love the animals because it helps them learn all kinds of language. For example, “The COW is NEXT TO the FENCE” teaches not only the name of the animal, but the spatial relationship to another object.
These are just a few ideas to help you get into the Montessori mindset when you want to do some shopping. All of this said, I don’t play it hard and fast with the rules when it comes to receiving gifts. Sometimes gifts don’t exactly align, but they have special significance to the giver and provide a great experience for Kate. I prefer to keep an open mind and do a case by case assessment before I determine if something is going to be around for a season or if it will be a permanent addition to our home. When it comes down to it, we truly appreciate every time someone shows thoughtfulness towards our darling baby and that thoughtfulness will provide childhood memories I hope she will always treasure. I hope you all have a very joyful holiday season!