If there is one thing kids do better than adults, it’s play! Playtime is integral to a Montessori education at all ages. Babies practice an interactive style of learning as they look at black and white mobiles and listen to their parents read books.
Of course, it’s natural for parents to have questions about Montessori toys and how to integrate them into their child’s lives. Often infants and young children receive plush toys as gifts, but are stuffed animals Montessori?
Let’s weigh these cute, cuddly playthings against Montessori philosophies.
Are stuffed animals Montessori?
Montessori focuses on Natural, Safe Materials
Plush toys often contain synthetic materials, not to mention what is used as stuffing. Common fillers include manufactured fibers and plastic pellets.
Conversely, there are play animals filled with straw, wool, cotton, and beans. Whether you are practicing Montessori or not, it’s good to be familiar with the composition of the toys you are giving to your children.
Building off of the point above, most of the playthings in Montessori education consist of wood. Of course, wood is natural, and it is safe for children to place in their mouths. Wooden toys last longer, are safer for the environment and tend to be more educational.
If you step into a traditional Montessori classroom, you will see lots of wooden toys and little – if any – plastic ones. A stuffed animal is not wood, but plushies can be made of natural materials if you do a bit of research on well-constructed toys.
Montessori Playthings Are Designed Specifically for Education
Counting. Sorting colors. Recognizing shapes. Each Montessori activity has an overarching purpose in teaching a child something specific. Often a toy will mix several educational elements in one design, which maximizes what a plaything can teach.
Of course, children can use toys in creative ways.
Consider blocks. A child can learn shapes, colors, sizes, and counting by playing with blocks, but they also learn to use their imagination and build.
Whether they make a town, a schoolroom, or a pretend grocery store; they are using their brain in a variety of ways, which includes learning and creativity.
Are stuffed animals Montessori? Well, parents can point out colors and possibly a few shapes on plush playthings, but their design does not fulfill a specific aspect of the student’s education.
A child can use their imagination when they play with a stuffed animal, but plush toys are not explicitly designed to be multi-purpose or educational.
Montessori Emphasizes Minimalism
Because activity centers and playthings strive to serve several purposes in a child’s education, there isn’t a need for a plethora of toys. And, if one thing tends to accumulate for children, it seems to be stuffed animals. They almost seem to multiply within a playroom!
Having a curated set of toys gives stability to a child, and it also allows them to think about what they are playing. So many children want a toy, get it, and cast it aside in search of the next toy they want. Montessori greatly discourages this type of thinking by allowing a smaller selection of playthings.
Hence, the need for toys to do double duty. This also enables a student to explore further ways they could play with a toy instead of just tossing it aside when they get bored. Genius!
Toys Are for Learning, Not Entertainment
Minimalism and wooden toys may seem stark, but in a Montessori environment, toys have the express purpose of teaching valuable skills. Playthings that have colorful lights and music stimulate and entertain.
Not that a child can’t learn from these, but being overstimulated can be unsettling for children.
If a baby plays with a toy that has flashing lights, bright colors, and loud music, it will entertain them. Still, if they are allowed to play with a more straightforward toy, they can investigate it and learn its ins and outs instead of merely having their mind occupied with an overload of sensory information.
Yes, some stuffed animals have lights and sound, but most don’t have these aspects that overstimulate a child. That is a plus, but the purpose of the plush isn’t for education or teaching.
Montessori Toys are True to Life
Often, Montessori toys mimic real life in a child-sized way. Playthings encourage creativity but also translate into reality, and fantasy worlds don’t fit into the model of Montessori.
Stuffed animals can align with this point as long as you are choosing a plush that is a real-life animal instead of a mythical creature. Finding one that has coloring and features as close to the original is ideal for your child.
Learn from Maria Montessori’s Classroom
When Maria Montessori began her school, she had a lot of support as people wanted to help the underprivileged kids she was teaching. If you have ever started something – a business, a marriage, a family – everyone gets excited and wants to offer encouragement. That is manifested tangibly at times.
Montessori’s classroom was packed to the gills with lovely playthings, but she began to notice something.
Most of the toys were not being used.
She was baffled, so she started looking at toys – and how the children played – in a different way. When activities had to do with real-life movements, they were interested, but playing with toys seemed to be a time filler.
The children were making their own decisions as far as the type of things they wanted to learn. They wanted to know what their parents and siblings knew and to mimic the activities of adults. How eye-opening!
So, Are Stuffed Animals Montessori?
In short, no, they aren’t specifically Montessori, but don’t toss them out quite yet! Plushies can offer comfort.
They can also be a companion to a child while they are playing independently. Stuffed animals could also serve as a beloved keepsake.
As a parent or guardian, you can choose whether or not to introduce your child to stuffed animals. To keep with the idea of minimalism, letting your child have just one favorite plush to tote along is much better than having an overabundance of plush toys.
The choice really is yours.
Cheers, and don't forget to subscribe!