from "The Joyful Child"
Michael Olaf's Essential Montessori for Birth to Three

At this link it is now possible to order the The Joyful Child, which is a 70-page Montessori overview and catalogue of appropriate toys, tools, and materials for the home or school that support the Montessori philosophy for educating the child from birth to three years of age.

To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself,
that is the basic task of the educator.

—Maria Montessori, MD

Selecting Toys

When picking out a toy for a child, imagine just what she will do with it. Does it invite purposeful activity? Decision making? Imagination? For how long will my child play with it?

Imagination is a wonderful tool of humans, but it cannot be created out of nothing. Creative imagination is based on, and directly related to, the quality of sensorial experiences in the real world.

A rich imagination enables one to picture a solution, solving a puzzle for example, and to work toward it. The more experience a child has with real information, purposeful activity, and solving problems, the more useful, creative, and effective her imagination will become.

Organizing and Rotating Toys

Toys should be kept in the area where the family lives, not only in the child's room. Removable parts such as puzzles, stacking toys, stringing beads, are the most satisfying and interesting to a child, but they can be the most frustrating to parents who are trying to keep track of all of these small parts. Toy boxes make the problem worse because a child cannot find what he wants, and pieces get scattered and lost.

Having order in the environment creates a feeling of security in the child, and trust in the environment. Baskets, trays, small boxes neatly arranged on low shelves can be very helpful in creating this order. Limiting the number of toys available at any one moment is also important. If the adult carefully and continually puts the pieces of puzzles and toys back in the basket in front of the child, she will eventually imitate and join in the activity. Sometimes the "putting away" into baskets is the most enjoyable part of play at this age.

If you watch a child you will see which toys he plays with most and which ones just get dropped and forgotten. Try to keep only as many toys available to the child as can be kept neat, and uncrowded, in baskets on a shelf.

In our family we have kept the rest in boxes in the garage, rotating them every month or so in the first years, but keeping the favorite toys always available.

If you would like to see more information on Montessori theory and practice from birth to age 12 and beyond, links to lectures, information on Montessori teacher training, books and other materials for the home and school, and more, go to: The Michael Olaf home page The text on this page is reprinted from several different versions of The Joyful Child, with permission of The Michael Olaf Company.

Copyright 2009, The Michael Olaf Montessori Company
Please E-mail for reprint permission, but feel free to link this page to any site for educational purposes.


Visual Discrimination
and Eye-Hand Control

As the child explores the environment, she becomes aware of and interested in the variety of colors and shapes in the indoor and outdoor environment. This is the time to give very simple shape and color puzzles as children love to put things inside containers, and on dowels.

The use of knobbed puzzles and other toys that call for special finger and hand grips will prepare the child for writing and other fine muscle activities, while it satisfies her need to think and solve problems.

It is specifically the opposition between the thumb and index finger that has made it possible to execute the extremely refined movements that have produced the whole of human culture—from architecture to writing, from music to painting, and all the technology that enriches our lives.

—Silvana Montanaro, MD

Respecting Work and Concentration

One of the most important elements of Montessori philosophy is that of respecting the concentration of a child. When the child is engaged in something safe and purposeful (meaning an activity requiring effort of both the mind and body—not watching TV!) this is considered a child's important "work," and the adult's role is to respect and protect it.

The first essential for the child's development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behavior. Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing.

The teacher's [and parents'] skill in not interfering comes with practice, like everything else, but it never comes very easily. What advice can we give to mothers? Their children need to work at an interesting occupation: they should not be helped unnecessarily, nor interrupted, once they have begun to do something intelligent.

—Dr. Maria Montessori