RIE and Montessori educations are all about respect and setting your Little One’s up to be independent. Letting them use their curiosity to guide the play and to develop their motor skills. We have taken from both school’s of thought to provide a comprehensive list for countless hours of self-directed, developmental learning!
RIE (Respect for Infant Educaring) – Magda Gerber was all about simple, sturdy toys. The common theme among toys she recommends are those that don’t do anything and luckily most don’t cost much either! From her own post:
The best first “toy” is a scarf about 18 square inches made of sturdy cotton or linen and hemmed all around. You can buy or sew several in different colors and patterns. Hold the scarf in the middle and arrange it to form a peak. Place it at an angle where the infant can look at it, reach out for it, touch it, and eventually grab it. (We tried a couple different scarves and kitchen towels of different patterns, but Jet wasn’t interested. This “toy” was a favorite for some of our friends’ babies, so we’re including it on the list.)
Balls, balls, balls: big ones, small ones, plastic whiffle-type ones with holes. I like beach balls blown up to different degrees of firmness, so it is easy for little fingers to grab and lift them. Rubber balls are fine, but avoid nerf-type foam, because infants could bite and swallow pieces. Inflatable water toys, especially beach rings offer many different kinds of experiences for infants, all on dry land, of course. We also allowed Jet to explore lacrosse and tennis balls!
Raid your own kitchen for these wonderful play objects. Collect a variety of colorful, sturdy plastic containers. Make sure some will nest inside others, and that some will stack. Find some that make interesting noises when tapped against each other or the floor. Infants also enjoy holding things with holes in them, such as plastic bread baskets. Plastic, one-piece ice cube trays are a favorite, too. For more variety, include some light, shiny metal plates or pans (but watch for sharp handles). Some of Jet’s favorites: collanders, egg beaters, and bamboo/silicone spatula.
All sizes of plastic bottles, thoroughly cleaned, are safe and easy for babies to manipulate and explore with their fingers. They also make very interesting noises when they fall over or bump another object. The 2 liter size soda bottles are among the best of this type.
As a baby becomes older and more mobile, boxes of all types are excellent play objects. Large boxes can be crawled on, in or through; smaller ones can become containers for other play objects. Boxes can become towers, tunnels, walls, and vehicles. Of course, the same criteria of safety and sturdiness hold for boxes as for other play objects.
Montessori Toys for Babies – Montessori education hopes to encourage focused attention on some aspect of reality so that learning occurs. Montessori had an eminently practical answer to the duality of these needs. She engaged the whole child in the process of learning: the body and the mind, the hand and the brain. By keeping “doing and thinking” together, the child gradually develops the ability to inhibit all movements not conducive to the accomplishment of the task at hand. Furthermore, by encouraging repetition, Montessori guaranteed that the child would coordinate the movements for a task until they became permanent. By showing care in the toys you choose for your child, you are showing him that he is important to you. You are sharing what is beautiful and meaningful to you in life. You thereby help your child in turn to look for beauty and logic in the world around him. Parents sometimes forget in the stress of daily living how magnificent, inspiring, and magical the real world actually is to them. Making conscious decisions in what we make available to our infants and young children in every area of life can help us to recapture that awe and appreciation.
What kind of toys can parents select for their young child that are going to serve as an aid, rather than an obstacle, to his best development? We want any object that we give to the child under the age of three for independent play to enhance our ultimate goal: connection with others and an understanding of his world. We want, then, to avoid toys that represent the fantasy of an adults mind, instead of building the creative capacities of the child’s mind.
Teddy Bear / Doll
A teddy bear on the other hand relates to a real animal with a life of its own, capable of feelings and reactions. A cuddly doll represents real beings that can love back. The young child uses it to mimic the actions of those about him: to bathe, to put to sleep, to feed, and to dress and undress repeatedly. This repetitive “play” develops skills for feeding and dressing himself and leads him to further identify with the doll as a symbol of self or other family members. We animate Jet’s stuffed monkey to give hugs and kisses, clap, and wave, often eliciting many giggles from our baby.
Realistic models of animals that live today provide many opportunities for the young child’s play. If you separate them into baskets of jungle animals and domestic animals; all different breeds of dogs; a family of mother, father, and baby of one type of animal; animals that live only in the desert; and so forth, you make possible further discoveries for your child by providing keys to the order in his world. When you first show a basket of animals to your child, you can line them up carefully and name each one, using the experience as a language opportunity.
Montessori suggested mobiles that are moved by the wind or the child’s own motions, rather than wind-up, mechanical ones that require someone else to set the motion. A mobile over the child-bed helps to develop the baby’s abilities to explore the world visually. The baby gradually develops focus on a moving object, tracking of an object, and perception of color and depth. The mobile is changed every two weeks or so to accommodate the infant’s habituation to that particular mobile and to match her progressive visual development. Hence, the first mobile portrays flat, black-and-white geometric shapes and reflected light from a glass sphere. Subsequent ones are introduced in ordered sequence: three octahedrons of colored metallic paper, ideally each in a primary color; five Styrofoam balls covered with embroidery thread in gradations of the same color and hung in ascending order from darkest to lightest; stylized paper figures of light metallic colored paper that move with the slightest current of air; and, finally, stylized wooden figures painted in pastel colors.
The mirror that we attach to the baby’s wall next to the childbed further enhances her sight by showing a different or “mirror” image of the room. The baby also sees her own image reflected and begins to connect her movements with the reflected movements of the child in the mirror. Thus she discovers that there are more faces to examine than just her mothers at feeding time. Eventually she sees others reflected in the mirror as they enter the room to play or talk with her. Encouraging the newborn to spend waking time on her stomach so that she can practice lifting her head makes these first visual experiences with the wall mirror possible.
The Walker Wagon consists of a wooden rectangular box or tray attached to four small wheels. It has a stationary vertical hand bar that the child uses to pull herself up to her feet and thence to push the “wagon” in front of her as she walks forward. Use this aid on a carpet or grass until your child is ready for the faster movement of a wooden floor or hard surface. However, it is essential to avoid all other commercial items advertised to “help infants walk.” These products put the infant on her legs, thus causing her to bear her full body weight before her bones are sufficiently developed. They also constrain the child in an unnatural position—one she is not ready for—to enable her to walk forward. As a result, the child receives the wrong messages about maintaining balance.
Egg in Cup
By eight or nine months, your baby can explore putting a wooden egg in a cup and a wooden cube in a box. The infant, holding the container in one hand and a wooden egg (or ovoid) in the other, puts the egg in and takes it out of the container. When he is proficient with the egg and cup, you can introduce the cube and box. This activity is more challenging for the baby because it is necessary to line up the corners of box and cube in order for the cube to fit within the box. You will want to be careful not to present this activity too soon, or your baby may become frustrated and perhaps use the items for throwing instead. If you have difficulty finding a cube and box that fit together, you can make them from cardboard and cover them with paper. The egg and cup should be approximately one and one-half inches high. The cube should be one and a half inches in width and height, and the box just big enough for the cube to fit easily. Both of these activities enhance eye-hand coordination and give the infant an opportunity for two hands to work together in a meaningful way.
Wooden blocks are a time-honored toy we can use both to extend the child’s knowledge and to encourage him to make discoverieson his own. Whenever possible choose items of wood rather than plastic for young children. Wood offers a diversity of experiences to children: the beautiful detail of its different grains, whether oak or maple; a variety of smells, as in pine or birch; the differing weights of teak versus aspen; and a range of sounds when different woods are struck or tapped. Further, wooden products teach the child respect for the natural world. They must be handled with care if they are to last over time. Wood is a natural product that the world has always offered and hopefully always will. Children need these experiences with objects from the living earth. They serve as reminders of our human responsibilities to the preservation and wise management of the natural world. Plastic, on the other hand, is a man-made product that is virtually indestructible, requiring no special care. Nor does it offer a variety of sensorial experiences to the child. In addition, as human beings constantly develop new materials and technologies, it is unlikely to be part of the world forever.
Cars / Trucks
Cars and trucks or blocks are beneficial for children fifteen months to three years old, if you give some direction and purpose to the activity. Arrange a basket of three identical objects that vary only in color (begin with the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow). Line them up carefully and name the object and its color: “blue car, red car, yellow car.” Play a game with your child, naming the cars, and eventually asking for them by name.
Object Permanance Box
This involves a wooden ball that the child drops into a box through a hole in a sliding lid. Such a toy is designed so that the child can begin to fathom exactly what is happening. He can answer his own questions: where did the ball go? what did it hit when it made that sound? why does the lid slide? why won’t the lid come off? Meanwhile, he is practicing ever more precise hand movements and sending information to his brain. He grasps the ball and feels its shape and temperature. He aims for the hole in the lid, releases the ball, and hears the sound as it hits the floor of the box. He grasps the knob on the lid, experiencing how it feels as he does so. He moves his arm to the side to openthe lid. He releases the knob and grasps the ball. This toy gives knowledge worth learning: namely, reality does not change.