by Audrey Butters
With the holiday season upon us, we wanted to share some Montessori-inspired gift ideas for children. If you’re anything like me, you have more than enough toys at home and get a little anxious about the idea of a huge influx of more “stuff” to find a home for. I am so grateful that our family and friends are so generous and that we are fortunate enough to have this “problem”, but I also want to keep my home from being overrun by too much stuff (blog post on this coming soon!). I am also fortunate that my family asks for Christmas lists. It can be a daunting task to come up with the lists (I’m in charge of my list plus all of the kids?!), so I wanted to share some ideas with you.
As a general guideline, we try to avoid plastic toys (besides Legos), toys that “entertain” our kids with lights, sounds, buttons and automatic movements in favor of open-ended toys that encourage creativity and problem solving. Books are always a good idea, with certain themes appropriate at each age. Art and writing supplies encourage fine-motor skills and self-expression. Finally, child-sized practical life items are a hit with children, and encourage them to contribute to the care of their home environment. Please visit our Pinterest page at iheartmontessori and start following us for more inspiration, product recommendations and Montessori love!
This year, my six year old son had a little bit of a case of the “gimmes”. He had determined that it was frugal and prudent to ask Santa for the most expensive gifts so that he could save money for his Dad and I. So his list was a long list of expensive Lego sets – the Death Star, Tower Bridge, and more. Then I came across this pin from Home by Heidi on Pinterest. It is a simple Christmas list to fill out with the kids, simplifying what they ask for to only 4 items. My son filled his out himself, and I wrote my four-year-old daughter’s responses for her. It was a hit with my kids and I would definitely recommend it! And I’m sure Santa will appreciate the simplified list.
For an expecting Montessori-loving mom or a brand new baby, consider a topponcino and covers. A topponcino is a thin pad used to hold babies, making them feel more secure and easing the transition from being held to a sleeping surface. Topponcinos also enable young siblings and unsure adults a secure way to hold an infant. You can find topponcinos on Etsy or Michael Olaf’s website. Michael Olaf’s Baby Play/Work/Exercise mat gives the infant a soft, comfortable surface to explore on that can be moved around the house to keep the infant near the family.
Mobiles are a wonderful gift for new babies – they should be made of natural materials and have images of real world things such as animals, plants or insects. For a very young infant, high-contrast black and white images hold their interest. Michael Olaf sells many beautiful mobiles, as well as a mobile with clips so that you can easily make your own with pictures. Some of our favorites are the Mother & Baby Whale mobile and the Butterfly mobile. Also, we love these Montessori mobiles on Etsy.
Grasping – as the child begins to reach, bat at items, and eventually grasp, there are many fun toys that encourage this development. The Arch Toy Hanger is a beautiful, wooden toy hanger to which you can attach interesting wooden toys, such as those made by Haba. The child can lay on a soft mat and reach for the toys attached with elastic. For a first ball, the Patchwork Ball is soft, easy to grasp, and rolls only a short distance from the child. It can also be attached to the toy hanger.
Sitting – once the child is able to sit and grasp, he will be interested in working from this new perspective. The Box with Soft Ball is an excellent toy to start with, as the child pushes or drops the ball into the box. The next step, Box with 1 Ball, is a wooden box with a slide inside that causes the ball to roll out into the attached tray. It introduces the concepts of cause and effect (drop the ball, it makes a nice sound, then rolls out of the box) and object permanence (the ball disappears and reappears).
Learning to Crawl – toys that roll a short distance provide motivation for an early crawler. Consider the Patchwork Ball or toys such as the Large Rolling Ball Toy from Michael Olaf. Infants enjoy chasing rolling toys, and pushing them along the floor as they go.
Learning to Walk – a favorite in our family for learning to walk was the Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon. With a wide base, significant weight, and wheels that stay straight, it is a very stable early walker that will not tip over when the baby needs help balancing. The wheels also provide resistance so the wagon doesn’t roll away quickly or force the child to walk too fast. Once walking, your child will love loading it up with their favorite items for walks around the house or around the block. Once the child is more confidently walking, he may still like the security of holding something as he walks. The Lawnmower Push Toy is a two-handed push toy that makes a pleasant clacking sound as the colorful balls inside roll and tumble. We think this is far preferable to the common plastic version of this toy that is too lightweight to provide resistance for walking and the mechanism for making sound is hidden. With the Lawnmower Push Toy, your child can watch as it turns and determine the source of the sound.
Other Montessori infant gift ideas: Treasure Basket – a low basket or sturdy box with interesting household objects and things from nature. Gather many objects to rotate out, offering only a few items at a time for the infant to explore. You can include an old wallet, a smooth stone, a pine cone, a brush, a wooden spoon, a glass jar with buttons or beans inside, a feather, and a bell, just to name a few ideas. Try to include different materials such as metal, natural (shells, natural sponge), wood, glass, fabric and leather. Avoid things that would be a choking hazard or harmful if mouthed. If you want more ideas for treasure baskets, check out “How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way” by Tim Seldin and this post from the blog LivingMontessoriNow.
Please check out our Pinterest page “montessori infant: 0 – 18 months” for images and links to the items recommended in this section and more infant gift ideas.
Ages 3 and Up
Please visit our Pinterest board practical life: montessori for links to products we recommend. Giving the children in your life the tools to take care of themselves and their environment is empowering and fun! A wonderful gift would be small broom, dustpan and brush, mop and bucket, and lambswool duster given with a hook system to hang them on the wall at the child’s height. Another fun idea is a window washing work with window crayons. The child can draw on the windows, then use the spray bottle, squeegie, and rags to clean off the window when they are done. (Thanks to my sister for this great idea!)
You can also give a child his own cutting board, safe chopper or knife depending on his age, small kitchen tools, an apron and a cookbook to invite them to participate in food preparation at home. Please see our “kids in the kitchen: montessori” pin board for product recommendations.
For your little carpenter or construction worker, check out our “woodworking with kids: montessori” board. Our pinboard feature high-quality, child-sized, real tools that children can use for building projects. For a young child, if you aren’t comfortable giving them real tools yet, you can start by working on skills such as hammering. My kiddos have enjoyed this work from Lakeshore or a similar work of hammering golf tees into clay. As they get more comfortable with hammering, you can find a softened tree stump and roofing nails (they have a big plastic ring around them) with safety glasses and a real hammer. This year, we are giving our six year old son many real tools and a certificate to help us build a workbench for him. We thought about building it for him, but why should he miss out on the fun? My husband and I are so excited to involve him in the building process.
For their outside environment, a child-sized push broom, small shovel, small rake, hand shovel, watering can, seeds and an outdoor apron would be a great step to giving a child the tools she needs to help in the yard. Children from age 3 and up also love wheelbarrows, and the important work of moving heavy things from one place to another.
Culture: Art & Music
If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing. – Zimbabwe Proverb
Music: 18 months – 6 years A small stereo with CDs is a great gift for young children. You can also put a green sticker on the play button and a red sticker on the stop button, so that when the child is old enough he can play and stop music by himself. I prefer songs with real musical instruments and beautiful singing instead of synthesized, computer generated tones such as those in “Baby Einstein” CDs. Some of our favorites include:
- Wee Sing – songs sung by children are in the right pitch for children to sing along
- Raffi – all of his albums are great, we especially like “Singable Songs for the Very Young”
- “20 Great Kids Songs”, a compilation by Music for Little People has an assortment of musical styles and artists
- Frances England – “Family Tree” and “Fascinating Creatures”
- Elizabeth Mitchell – “You are My Sunshine”, “You are My Flower” and “You are My Little Bird” will have you and your kids singing along
- “For the Kids” compilations have modern artists performing classics like Cake singing “Mahna Mahna” and Barenaked Ladies singing “The Other Day I Met a Bear”
- Composers – your child is never too young to start listening to and learning about classical composers
- Music from around the world: Michael Olaf sells a set of CDs with music from every continent, but you can also find great compilations on iTunes
- Aaron Nigel Smith – “Everyone Loves to Dance” and “Let’s Pretend” – my kids love dancing to his music
Scarfs, wrist ribbons, and ankle bells are fun additions that encourage dance and different types of movement to the music.
For ages 6 and up, an iPod shuffle or other simple mp3 player with headphones is cool. I load the songs with my son so I know what he’s listening to, and it has been useful for times we need to wait, for traveling, and for times when my son needs a little time to himself.
Along with the music player, consider a nice set of musical instruments. Try to find wooden instruments instead of plastic. Pictured is a nice set from Hohner. Melissa & Doug also sell a great starter set called “Band in a Box”. Some suggestions include:
- wooden egg shakers and small maracas
- xylophone with a full octave & accurate tone (8 notes)
- small drum
- metal triangle with striker
- hand-crank music box with visible working parts
Art supplies: Children need real art supplies. I get discouraged with washable art supplies, and markers that only work on special paper. Not only is the quality of the products inferior (Crayola finger-paints are more like gel than creamy, concentrated color), but children are not required to learn the boundaries and limits of coloring. Coloring and painting can only be done on paper (or other media for a special project). When a special marker doesn’t mark on clothes or walls, then curiosity leads children to experiment with other markers, paint and crayons to see if they work on clothing and walls as well. It just doesn’t send the right message.
Instead, consider some of the following, high-quality supplies – I’ve found the best selection at Amazon.com, but also check out Chinaberry, and Stubby Pencil Studio for a selection of eco-friendly art supplies (and check out our pin board art with kids: montessori).
- Faber Castell or Prismacolor Colored Pencils
- Faber Castell Watercolor Pencils
- Watercolor paper – real, heavyweight, textured and absorbent
- Pastels for older children
- Acrylics in red, yellow, blue, black and white (for practice blending and shading)
- Crayon rocks
- Art Caddy to enable child to work near other family members throughout the house
Books: I could go on and on about books, but here’s a quick summary. Picture books are great for all ages. Before age 6, books should be based in reality and have realistic illustrations of the real world. Fairy tales should be saved for kids 6 and older. Some of our favorite picture books are:
- A Butterfly is Patient, A Seed is Sleepy and An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (author) & Sylvia Long (illustrator)
- Robert McCloskey’s books such as Make Way for Ducklings, and Blueberries for Sal
- Virginia Lee Burton’s books like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow
- Ezra Jack Keats books like Snowy Day
- Dr. Seuss
- Margaret Wise Brown – best known for Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, make sure you check out The Sailor Dog and Seven Little Postmen too!
- Ruth Heller – her beautifully illustrated books discuss real-world topics such as The Reason for a Flower and Animals Born Alive and Well
For early readers, it is hard to beat the Bob Books. Thy are phonetic, short, and correspond to how children learn sounds and reading in the Montessori environment. Their short length allows the child to feel accomplished by completing a book by himself. As they move on, they can continue to read and push themselves with an appropriate level of challenge. The Magic Tree House series is great for first “chapter books”, with references to historical fact mixed with adventure.
From age 6 and up, kids will be drawn to books that help them research new information about the world. Dorling Kindersley offers ‘My First Encyclopedia’ books on the human body, dinosaurs, plants, animals, insects, the solar system and more. A common activity in Montessori elementary classrooms is to research topics of interest and present the findings to the class, so great reference books will empower them to learn more! One of my son’s favorite activities at school right now is looking up words in the dictionary, so he would love a great “first” dictionary. As elementary children mature, they become more interested in people of the world, ancient civilizations, history, heroes and mythology.
Poetry is a gift for all ages. The assistant in my daughter’s class has her masters in literature and teaches poems to the 3-6 year olds. My daughter loves to share her poetry, and the sing-song flow of the words. A few great poetry books are:
- The Book of American Children’s Poems
- Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne
- Anything by Shel Silverstein
More gift ideas:
- Wooden stringing beads (3+)
- Classic games that all kids should have
- Concentration/Matching Games (Ages 3+)
- Chinese Checkers (Ages 3+)
- Card games like war, Go Fish, Old Maid
This really is just the tip of the iceberg! Just remember to follow the child – their interests and the inspiration here will guide you to memorable gifts that the children in your life will treasure! Happy Holidays!