May 30, 2023


Most parents want their children to grow up and be educated in a naturally stimulating and creative environment. The ability to play independently, problem solve, and work collaboratively with other children is essential for long term academic and career success. Even further, these skills are critical for a successful and fulfilling life. While many public and private schools or daycares do provide helpful and attentive learning opportunities, parents often look to other types of institutions and methodologies that focus on specific types of learning and skill development. One of the most popular alternative educational models (both in the U.S. and beyond) is called Montessori. In fact, over 500 public schools use some form of Montessori teaching and there are over 20,000 private Montessori institutions in the U.S.  

What is Montessori?

Montessori principles of childhood education were developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician with a keen interest in human development and psychology. Dr. Montessori was groundbreaking in more than one way. In addition to her revolutionary approach to children’s education, she was also one of the first Italian women to be granted a diploma as a physician. 

In essence, the Montessori method is based on allowing children to self-guide their learning with available resources and activities. In Dr. Montessori’s own words, "My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification... but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual." - Introduction, From Childhood to Adolescence, Clio

To help children develop independence and self-learning capabilities, Montessori institutions focus primarily on seven key principles:

  1. Play is work
  2. Prepared environment
  3. Independence
  4. Hands-on learning
  5. Observation
  6. Freedom within limits
  7. Respect

What are Montessori Toys?

There are a variety of tools, toys, and techniques that can be applied to help reinforce and support Montessori principles. The best Montessori toys are tied directly to the seven key principles discussed above. This means that Montessori-inspired toys will foster a spirit of independent play, creative problem solving, imaginative play, and self-structured environments. Montessori-inspired toys and tools are typically simple and made from real materials like wood. 

A great example of a common toy that works well with Montessori principles is a hand instrument like a drum or xylophone. This type of toy can be played with independently and it encourages kids to work on things like hand-eye coordination while discovering basic elements of musicianship. Alternatively, a child could also play their drum in coordination with other children playing similar or different instruments. 

To help determine if toys you are looking at will help foster Montessori principles, ask questions like the following:

  1. Is it a real toy (i.e., not digital or immaterial)?
  2. Does it inspire creative, self-guided play?
  3. Is the toy made from real or natural materials?
  4. Does the toy encourage individual expression?
  5. Can children learn while using the toy?
  6. Will the toy help with things like hand-eye coordination, arithmetic, etc.?

The Best Montessori Toys

At Nini and Loli we’re proud to offer parents a curated selection of the best Montessori toys. Browse the Montessori-inspired toy selection below to see our recommendations. 

  • The large semi-circle rainbow building set from Grimm is perfect for inspiring hands-on play. The 11 brightly colored wooden pieces included in this set are made in Europe and make an excellent addition to any wooden playsets or block collection. Inspire young builders or architects with unlimited possibilities at every playtime!
  • Grimm’s also makes a 12-piece rainbow pastel set of wooden shapes. This set features softer colors in a basic curved arch shape. These wooden pieces can be constructed in many different ways, allowing your child to explore as they wish! The beautiful wooden set is made of lime wood that’s painted with non-toxic water based stains. 
  • For a large block set that works for kids of any age, the Grimm’s authentic 60-piece colored block set is an ideal choice. This complete set lets your child expand their imagination and capabilities as they grow older. The delightfully colored blocks are small enough for toddler hands to grasp, but the unique and intricate shapes will allow older children to build towering city skylines. 
  • While noisy plastic electric cars or Hot Wheels are considered “classic,” the minimalist, authentic wooden small green convertible from Grimm’s easily makes it onto a list of the best Montessori toys. Great for kids that are 1 year old or above, this convertible lets your child pretend that they can drive a car anywhere they can imagine.
  • Oddly stacked rock piles often seen during hikes in mountainous landscapes make anyone curious about how they got there and what keeps them from falling over. These fire-colored pebble blocks inspire the same interest in building rock towers (though they’re actually made of lime wood). The bright orange and red colors and smooth surface make these blocks engaging from a tactile and visual perspective. 
  • The balance, hand-eye coordination, and attention to detail required to use Leonardo building sticks makes this collection ideal suited for older children. Without glue, Leonardo DaVinci used similar sticks, carefully positioned and interwoven, to build intricate models that have captured our attention for centuries. Let your child experiment and play with tools that give them a canvas for their own genius!
  • The shape and sort it out toy from Plantoys lets little ones experiment with how shapes fit together (or don’t) while developing critical motor skills. The primary colors and no-frills wooden designs let your child focus on the simple task at hand without distraction from sounds, lights, or other pieces. Made of sustainable rubberwood, this is one of the best Montessori toys for children at an early age.
  • For older kids that want a more imaginative playset (and one that’s not made of plastic), the large stacking castle toy from Glueckskaefer is perfect. This set includes 22 vibrantly colored pieces and is made in Germany and conforms to the stringent European Community safety standard EN71.
  • Art supplies are without a doubt one of the best Montessori toys that parents can keep on-hand. These supplies are usually easy to store, and can reinforce essentially every principle of Montessori learning, including artistic expression, hand-eye coordination, and self-guided imaginative play. Stockmar makes the perfect set of wax crayons that includes a combination of traditional crayon sticks and larger blocks. These varied sizes make the crayons excellent for kids of varying ages. Stockmar also makes an Opaque color paint set with 12 colors. These colors, which are based on Goethe’s color circle, are especially rich and luminous due to their high concentration of color pigments. The paints, brush, and mixing palette included can be used for a wide variety of painting techniques. 

If you’re interested in seeing our full range of toys organized by their type of play (or even the best Montessori toys), we encourage you to peruse our large collections. Our inventory can be specifically searched by the types of toys and their intended use. See below for some of the most popular categories:

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