Guest Post by Julie of The Bossy House.
There are many reasons a Montessori family may want to incorporate mainstream toys as Montessori materials. It can be challenging, but if you follow Montessori principles for creating meaningful works, you can have your Montessori materials and your mainstream toys coexist.
As a Montessori principal and parent, my home is truly informed by the Montessori environment we’ve created at our school. Being a Montessori family doesn’t mean you have to buy all the wooden toys and style your home like a Swedish magazine. You CAN create meaningful works from materials you have lying around the house and from regular ole’ plastic toys.
Place only a few things on a tray at a time, and group like things together. This reduces visual clutter and helps your child focus on just what you want them to be working on with this set of items.
Sometimes all it takes is putting a small number of blocks into a basket and….viola! A work!
Each collection of objects on the tray should have a clear purpose. You don’t need to tell your child the meaning of the work, but YOU should know what the point is when you put it together. Group items that can be used together and that have a clear purpose. At times, this just means putting the puzzle on the tray. Other times, you can follow your child’s mind and create a work based on what they are doing with the toy.
Find ways to collect objects together that serve a purpose and you can make those regular toys into meaningful works!
The Montessori philosophy includes this wonderful idea about how hands-on, physical manipulation of materials helps children understand abstract concepts. With Montessori curriculum and corresponding works, this principle is built in, and most of the learning in a Montessori school happens while children are working.
At home, you can replicate this by creating works that have hands-on components. Yes, you could put a worksheet together having kids draw a line from the puffer fish to the coral reef, but isn’t it more interesting (and fun!) to physically put the fish in the reef? What we know is that the physical manipulation of things looks like playing and results in real learning.
With a little creativity, you can create meaningful works out of mainstream toys and still adhere to Montessori principles.
All those farm animals? Put ‘em in a basket together. That makes it MUCH more likely that they will get played with as a set and not lost.
There are tons of things your child can do with that basket of dinosaurs or Care Bears or farm animals. Lining them up in height order (work on fine motor skills and visual discrimination), putting them in rainbow order (work on color progression), grouping them by animal type (sorting and categorizing skills), pairing up the adult and baby animals (matching), putting them in color groups, drawing the animals, and on and on.
All of this work is meaningful and important work for young children to do. You help make it meaningful by grouping the items together and presenting it as a work.
For imaginative play, having all the pieces in one place expands the range of the possibilities for play.
Can Peppa Pig toys be a work? Yep! Take a large tray and place the Peppa Pig figurines in a smaller box inside the tray. The van or school room can be in the larger part of the tray. That way, the tray becomes the containment area for the play, and your child can work with the Peppa figurines inside the playset.
Prepare the set of toys for maximum use. Require that it goes back to the right place afterward, and it’s accessible by itself, not in a pile with dolls and puzzles and stuffed animals and trucks.
Sometimes, a toy is intended for one purpose but you can use it in a different way to reinforce important skills.
Consider the possible uses for a toy like the B. Critter Toy Vet Playset. It’s a double-decker set of locking and unlocking doors, each door a different color with a corresponding key. Yes, you could use it to store the cats and dogs it comes with, but you could also put it on a tray with a series of colored objects and have your child sort the colors into each of the doors. The matching skills, fine motor skills, and sorting skills used to put a variety of objects into corresponding colored doors makes this more meaningful.
We all have those plastic magnetic letters on our fridge. Consider putting them in a metal lunch box and writing words on some popsicle sticks. Your child can copy the words on the sticks, manipulating the letters and working on language skills.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find lots of alternative ways to repurpose regular toys (and everything else in your house!) to make purposeful work for your child.
Julie is a Montessori school principal by day and a part-time blogger at night after her daughter goes to bed. Over at The Bossy House, she writes for women taking charge of it all, from work to parenting to the house to the world! Get her free Montessori Home Set Up Guide for creating Montessori works at home.
Have you already been able to use some of your mainstream toys as Montessori materials? Share with us in the comments!
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