Updated: Mar 15
When my oldest child was born 6 years ago, I had zero knowledge about the Montessori approach and minimalism when it came to purchasing toys for him. We had a plastic mobile for his crib, plastic shape blocks, a noisy activity table.. you name it and we had it! He was our first born and of course I wanted to get him the best there was available for his age. After he turned a year old, I happened to stumble upon a Montessori blog (after googling how to purposefully engage him at home) and a Facebook group of Montessori homeschoolers that discussed toys which would meaningfully engage children for prolonged periods of time.
After several toy purges and a toy audit of my childhood collection (my sister and I are still proud to have kept our Polly Pocket collections, a few vintage board games and dolls in mint condition!), I narrowed down my children's toy selection keeping the following 5 principles in mind:
1. Will the toy offer my children a chance to be creative, be co-operative with each other and offer endless possibilities in the way it is played with? (such toys are called "open-ended")
2. Is the toy a passive toy i.e., do my children actively play with it to entertain themselves rather than the other way around?
3. Is the toy made of sustainable, quality materials that ensure it is ethically made and holds up with rough use?
4. Will the toy be useful for a wider age range thus giving me value to the money I spent on it?
5. Will my children be able to focus on the toy for prolonged periods of time? (note to self: rotate out existing toys periodically based on their interest thus not keeping out too many choices of toys)
Why 'less is more' in our home:
We honestly don't have a lot of toys at home (I know the exact location of every toy we own!). I read somewhere that your child's toy choices at home could be compared to that of groceries in a supermarket. Imagine yourself walking into a supermarket and having to choose your breakfast cereal off a floor-to-ceiling shelf that houses 20 different brands? How long do you think you would take to make a decision if you had fewer choices? Would you be less overwhelmed and less anxious as well? The same principles could be applied to how many toys you keep out for your child.
My children's favourite toys are kept on their shelves ALL the time and the rest are rotated out (not that many). The former that aren't rotated as frequently as the others are:
Magnatiles: I store these in a cane basket so they can see the tiles easily and tidy up independently once done with play. I've had the kids use them since they were 2.5 years old and they still haven't gotten tired of playing with them. The kids have made 2D structures (including structures on a small window with a metallic frame!) and 3D structures taller than themselves. There's really no end to the type of creations one can make out of these. This toy is easily one of our most loved at home.
Here are some of my children's creations using their Magnatiles:
Spielgaben: We saved up for this "toy" last year and have not regretted buying it (it is slightly on the higher end in terms of cost but if you're like us and spend money on toys every 1-2 years, then this is a very worthwhile investment). Spielgaben is a curriculum-based learning resource that consists of various toy manipulatives. In my opinion, this is a fantastic material that encourages learning through play. The kids are learning symmetry, geometry and so many math concepts on their own when they play with the numerous loose parts this toy has to offer. I know of some parents who have created their own version of the Spielgaben so if you're looking for ideas to DIY, pinterest may have tons of inspiration for you!
We've learnt the different moon phases, make country flags in our cultural studies and make imaginary worlds using the Spielgaben loose parts!
To get a sneak peek of what's inside each drawer, click here:
LEGO may be one of the few plastic toys that we absolutely love. No kid or parent needs any introduction to this versatile genius of a toy. Toys Tribe, an online toy library loaned us a really interesting toy called FLEXO that makes rigid LEGO structures flexible using special bricks and 'tendons'. This toy is recommended for kids aged 8 and above (by FLEXO themselves) . From my observation, the tendons were a bit challenging for my 6 year old to handle but he could make simple creations like the ones below.
These are some of the structures my son made using FLEXO! Bracelets for the girls (my daughter and me!), a ball and an arrow.
Magnatiles and FLEXO are available for rent and sale at Toys Tribe. They have a vast collection of open-ended toys that you can rent (or buy if you child loves the toy!) thus saving on space at home, avoiding unnecessary toy purchasing and giving an opportunity to your child to try out new toys every month for a very small cost! We got our toys delivered in a reusable tote bag (yaay, no plastic bags! The toys were professionally cleaned too).
Toys Tribe is offering a special discount code to all my blog readers using the code GLOBALMJ (valid till 7 December 2018). Click here to view their toys for rental and sale: https://www.toystribe.sg/
Light Table manipulatives:
We have an upcycled light table that allows an extension to my children's open-ended play. A2 loves it, especially because of her love for creating 2D designs. The table has a dimmer function to adjust the brightness of the light as well. I usually rotate out the light table play pieces we own which include manipulatives from Learning Resources (View-Thru Geometric solids, Transparent Colour Counting Chips and Translucent Geometric Shapes) .
We were introduced to a wonderful new addition to our light table by a mumpreneur-owned online toy store called Barefoot Toys. The 'Clear Junior Rainbow Pebbles' were an instant hit due to their pebble shapes and translucency (that reminded my kids of jelly!) and they were used to create random light table designs, a nature scene and food in their pretend play!
Check out some of my children's play ideas using the Rainbow Pebbles:
In addition to this toy, Barefoot Toys has plenty of other choices for open-ended play. They have an alternative to Magnatiles called 'Playmags' (I haven't tried them myself but I've heard rave reviews!) and a tempting selection of Grimm's wooden rainbows (Grimm's is a German toy brand that is known for its sustainably sourced wooden toys. The toys are also minimally packaged to reduce plastic waste!)
Barefoot Toys has kindly offered to give my readers a 10% discount using the code GMJ10 (valid till 7 December 2018) for the 'Clear Junior Rainbow Pebbles'. Head on over here: https://barefoottoys.sg/
Grimm's magnetic puzzles:
My mom gifted my youngest a Colourful Spiral Magnetic puzzle from Grimm's Toys and she has loved creating "art" with it. What I love about open-ended toys is that no two creations could ever be the same and this aspect makes the toy a lot more interesting to kids. This puzzle is handy to bring to restaurants (keep an eye on the small parts!) and on your travels as the pieces are easily stored in the metal tin (the insides work as the frames for the wooden magnetic art pieces).
Here are some of my daughter's creations:
I found another mumpreneur-owned online toy store called Noah's Toys and Games that sells a number of Grimm's wooden toys (in addition to other brands). They don't have the magnetic puzzles yet and I hope they can bring them in soon! Noah's Toys and Games is generously offering all my blog readers a discount code GMJ10 (valid till 25 December 2018) for their entire Grimm's toy selection (minimum purchase required). Do check them out here https://www.shopnoahstoys.com/.
To end off this post, I have rounded up some wonderful Montessori reads on open-ended play and pretend play that you might find useful:
https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/montessori-and-open-ended-play/ and https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/montessori-and-pretend-play/
*Disclaimer: Some of the products included in this post were given to me for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I love supporting local, small and women-owned businesses wherever possible. I also enjoy being able to share my opinions and experiences with products to help my blog readers in making informed purchasing (or renting!) decisions.