If you’ve ever looked up types of toys or learning in the early years, you would have come across the terms ‘Montessori’ and ‘Waldorf’. Have you wondered what the difference between these philosophies are? Or which would be more suitable for your child?
From using natural toys to encouraging learning through exploration, both these schools have a lot in common. But they each also have their own history and idea behind design and play.
As eco-friendly toymakers, we’ve designed several toys that can be used in Montessori and Waldorf classrooms. So in this blog, we'll walk you through what these philosophies offer and how you can pick the best toys for your child!
What are Montessori toys?
Montessori encourages an exploratory, child-driven way of engaging with the world.
Montessori school of education is a child-focused approach to learning that was founded over a century ago by the Italian physician, Dr. Maria Montessori. This school encourages an exploratory, child-driven way of engaging with the world. It aims to raise children who are self-reliant, driven, curious, and independent thinkers.
In a typical Montessori setup, you will find children working on their own or in small groups. A child is encouraged to interact with a toy at their own pace and to stay with it until they’ve gained everything it has to offer them.
While there are no official Montessori toys, there are a number of toys used by Montessori schools, playschools, and parents who follow the approach. These are marked by several common features.
1. Montessori toys are simple and made of natural materials - Toys like blocks or a triangle with a bell reduce distractions and help children get familiar with basic shapes in the world. Wooden and metal toys also provide the reality-based feel that Montessori is all about. The varied temperatures, textures, and weights of natural materials make way for an intuitive sensory learning.
2. They are based in reality - Electronic and battery-operated toys might be attractive, but they do not help children understand cause-and-effect in the real world. When a child plays with a Montessori toy like a spinner, they learn concepts like movement and momentum.
Even in the field of pretend play and story-telling, Montessori materials have a strong connection with reality. For example, a Montessori-approved book will have a wild animal in the jungle and not in a backyard. This is to help children tether themselves to what’s real before exploring what is possible.
3. They encourage exploration with limited choices - a Montessori toy is designed to push a child to experiment and interact with it in their own way. This also means that fewer toys will be present in a playroom to avoid distractions and allow a child to take the time they need with each toy.
shumee’s Montessori-inspired toys
At shumee, we believe that play is 90% child and 10% toy. Similar to Montessori, our philosophy is that a toy should never overpower or guide the child but instead, the child should be the driver of the play experience and learning.
In place of electronic toys that “tell” a child how to think, we make engaging toys from natural materials like wood. While most of our toys complement the Montessori philosophy in several ways, there are a few that will fit perfectly into a Montessori playroom!
1. Rainbow Spinner - This spinner is a great Montessori toy for a baby learning to move their hands and see in colours. The easy operation, fun motion, and bright colours are sure to make it an instant hit with any little one!
2. Wooden Rainbow Arch - This set of 7 smooth handcrafted wooden arches is a wonderful toy that a toddler can enjoy in different ways. Stack, sort, or use in pretend play — it will keep a child engaged for hours.
3. Wooden Stacker - The stacker is a timeless classic that has been enjoyed across generations! This simple game will develop a child’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and hone their problem-solving abilities.
What are Waldorf toys?
The main aim of this approach is developing a child’s intellectual, artistic, and practical skills with holistic, experiential education.
Waldorf education is a learning approach based on the ideas of the German philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. The main aim of this approach is developing a child’s intellectual, artistic, and practical skills with holistic, experiential education.
A typical Waldorf preschool or kindergarten will have slots for free play, artistic work, practical tasks, and outdoor time. These classrooms resemble a home-like setting and use toys made of natural materials. These toys soothe and stimulate a child’s senses, focus on their imagination, and enrich their emotional life. In Waldorf schools, there is a definite emphasis on imaginative and pretend play. Some specific features of Waldorf toys include:
1. They are made of natural material - Waldorf toys are created to nourish a child’s senses. While mass-manufactured plastic toys can feel cold and impersonal, a handcrafted wooden toy or hand-woven doll can be soothing, comforting, and will make a child feel loved.
2. Waldorf toys are beautiful - Waldorf philosophy believes that aesthetically pleasing toys will enrich a child’s sense of life. So these toys have lovely, thoughtful designs and rich, organic colours.
3. They are minimally designed - Waldorf toys are simple and open-ended so that there is room for children to use their imagination and explore. For example, the facial features on our Waldorf doll are kept minimal to encourage children to think of it in different scenarios, use their own experiences, and design their play.
4. Waldorf toys bring consciousness to play - Be it a kitchen set or a Waldorf doll, these toys are created to help a child understand the world around them by engaging in pretend play with purpose, care, and empathy.
shumee’s Waldorf-inspired toys
We at shumee believe that children thrive in free, open environments where rules and instructions have a minimal role and there are no expected outcomes to play. Every shumee toy is handmade by a local artisan using natural materials and non-toxic colours.
While all our toys are open-ended and designed to spark the imagination, we have a few Waldorf toys that the little ones love!
1. Waldorf Balance Board - Inspired by the Waldorf rocking board, this toy is fun, safe, and designed minimally to stimulate a child's imagination. A child can play and hone their balance on this handcrafted curvy balance board!
2. Waldorf Star Doll - This is a handmade soft and star-shaped doll that any child will love to cuddle and play with. This doll will nourish their senses, tickle their imagination, and keep their head, heart, and fingers engaged in play!
Montessori and Waldorf: the best of both worlds
At shumee, our focus has always been creating toys that add joy and value to a child’s playtime. While designing our toys, we make sure to ask 3 questions: Can a child play with this multiple times, in many ways? Does it allow them to be creative and imaginative? Can it encourage independent and collaborative play?
Answering this repeatedly over the years has shown us that like any toy we create, both Montessori and Waldorf toys have their own strengths and uses. At the end of the day, what matters most is how your child connects with a toy and is able to use it. Which is why we have toys and games inspired by these very different schools of thought.
Remember, toys are tools for your child to explore this world and playtime is about staying curious and using creativity and resourcefulness to learn and grow each day!
Do you follow any particular early years education philosophy for your child? We'd love to hear your perspectives.