The playroom is the perfect place to introduce your child to the Montessori method. But when stocking the shelves, how do you know what qualifies as a Montessori toy? Here’s what to look for:

• Natural materials. Toys made of wood, wool, cotton, metal, ceramic and even rock are Montessori staples since they connect children to nature and are generally safer to mouth. Plus, “different textures, temperatures, and weights help children refine their senses and give them more to learn about when holding a toy,” Holm says.

• No bells and whistles. Montessori toys are designed to encourage kids to explore and discover independently. So instead of going for tricked out toys that move and make sounds on their own, opt for passive toys that require your child to physically manipulate them and incorporate them into their pretend play.

• Realistic playthings. Montessori toys tend to be lifelike and rooted in reality, providing a great learning opportunity about the world around us. “Infants and young children don’t have a framework for what’s real and what’s fake,” Holm explains. “To them, a unicorn is just as likely to exist as a rhinoceros, because how would they know any different? It’s very confusing for them when we teach them about something and then says it’s not real.” Choosing between a stuffed dragon or elephant? Go with the animal that you and your child can later see and learn about in the zoo.

• One-task learning toys. Look for teaching toys that hone one skill at a time. Montessori toys should also have what’s called a built-in “control of error,” meaning kids will know if they’ve completed the task correctly.

• Toys with a purpose. Montessori toys can also be child-size items that allow kids to independently engage in job-like activities, like raking leaves. “Purpose draws a child in,” Holm says. ‘It makes him or her feel like a competent and important part of their world.”

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