6 Montessori Must-Have Toys For 1-Year-Olds
And how to tell if it’s a true Montessori toy or not.
While your child may be out of the infant and baby phase by the time they reach 12 months old, they still have a lot of development ahead of them. You can’t force a child to meet their milestones before they’re ready, but Montessori toys can definitely help by encouraging their natural curiosity and desire for exploration.
As a caregiver, you’ve probably heard the word “Montessori” tossed around at some point, but what is Montessori exactly? And, why is it so special? Montessori is a type of curriculum for students that is focused on child-led learning. Unlike in a traditional school, where teachers stand in front of the classroom and walk students through their lessons, Montessori classrooms are filled with toys and activities that teach kids through exploration and independent play. While teachers are present to help guide students, children in Montessori classrooms are encouraged to grow through curiosity and making mistakes until they master a skill.
Even before they’re old enough to enroll in school, Montessori or otherwise, little ones can get a similar experience at home simply by playing with Montessori toys. Unfortunately, the number of toy options for this age group can be extremely overwhelming. However, Montessori toys for 1-year-olds are a lot easier to spot when you have some expert insight to help you.
Dr. Varleisha D. Gibbs is an occupational therapist with a focus on patients with neurological and developmental conditions. She is also the Vice President of Practice Engagement and Capacity Building at the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
Stacy Keane, is a certified Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) teacher and Head of Learning at Monti Kids, an organization that specializes in all things Montessori for young children. She has more than 15 years of experience teaching students from birth to 6 years old and is a key contributor to Monti Kids’s curriculum.
What to consider before buying
Is it age-appropriate?
First and foremost, always make sure the toys you’re purchasing are age-appropriate, as Gibbs points out; 1-year-olds love to put everything in their mouths. Next, consider both where the child currently is developmentally as well as the next milestones they’re working towards before purchasing a toy for them. “Do not underestimate the ability of your 1-year-old or their potential,” says Gibbs, “Some toys may seem too advanced when they could actually be a great option for learning and growth.” If you need a little guidance, check the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)’s milestone tracker for 12-month-old children.
How to tell it’s a Montessori toy
It’s also helpful to know how to identify Montessori toys for 1-year-olds because there are a lot of toys out there that have a similar aesthetic or are marketed as “Montessori,” but actually aren’t. “When looking for Montessori-aligned toys the easiest distinction to consider is if the toy is child-powered or battery-powered,” says Keane. “Child-powered toys require little ones to activate the toy, they offer opportunities for growth, problem-solving, challenge, achieving goals, and create an attitude of, ‘I did this. I made an impact and a change. With my own hard work.’” Another trick for spotting Montessori toys is by considering whether or not they are “grounded in reality,” according to Keane. “Before the age of 6, children’s brains are still learning how to distinguish between fantasy and reality,” she explains, “Montessori toys focus on teaching real world consequences like cause and effect and the different characteristics of objects like large and small or heavy and light.”
Keane also notes that Montessori toys are often made from wood, which is great for sensory exploration. According to Gibbs, stimulating all of a child’s senses is especially important for this age group and she recommends toys that “involve touching different textures,” and different types of wood can definitely do the trick.
One more important thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping for Montessori toys is that, despite their simplicity, they’re often a bit pricier than plastic and electronic toys. This is often because of the materials used to make them, like high-quality woods and paint, as well as the general construction of the toys. Montessori toys are made to last — not just through the general wear and tear of one child, but for years to come as they’re passed down from one kid to the next (and beyond). Basically, Montessori toys should be viewed more as investments than as short-term play items.
So, what are some of the best Montessori toys for 1-year-olds? Here are a few to add to your cart.
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1. Best Montessori pull toy
Age Recommendation: 12M+
Pros: Can be played with as a traditional pull toy on a string, or on the floor for little ones who haven’t mastered walking yet.
Cons: At 5.7” x 2.4” x 4.5”, this toy is somewhat small.
With the Hape Push & Pull Elephant, young kids have two ways to strengthen their grasp — either by holding onto the elephant’s handle along its back or by pulling it by the string. It’s made from wood and non-toxic paint and features wheels for feet and a small string that’s securely attached to the toy for safe pulling.
Review: “We got this for our son for his first birthday. He was just learning to walk, so at first only used it on the floor to push it, but now he can walk and pull it. He loves it. And it's adorable! And he likes that the cats compete with him for it (they love the string) - for him this is a win-win.”
2. Best Montessori musical toy
Age recommendation: 12M - 3Y
Pros: Teaches cause and effect and is made from quality materials.
Cons: Some 1-year-olds may have a hard time hitting the balls hard enough with the mallet for them to go through the holes.
Keane says musical toys are great for this age group, and the Hape Pound & Tap Bench with Slide Out Xylophone is an excellent choice. It features three large round balls that can be pounded through holes with the use of a wood mallet (included); when the balls fall through the holes they land on a xylophone to make music. The xylophone can also slide out from under the balls to be played with independently.
Review: “This toy actually does a lot and can keep your soon-to-be toddler happy for quite a while. There is the hammer and ball top. The balls either fall down to make noise on the xylophone or you can pull out the xylophone and play with it separately. The wood is good quality and seems to be handling the wear and tear from my 1-year-old pretty well.”
2. Best Montessori toy for tracking
Age recommendation: 18M - 15Y
Pros: Toy cars are sized just right for small toddler hands.
Cons: There’s no storage spot for the cars, so they could get easily misplaced.
One type of toy Gibbs recommends for 1-year-olds is a tracking toy, such as this Wooden Race Track Car Ramp that allows kids to follow wooden cars as they zig-zag down ramps. It comes with four brightly-colored cars and measures 12"x4"x10". In addition to tracking, this toy is also great for teaching cause and effect (what happens when the car gets pushed?).
Review: “Best toy for my one-year-old boy! He LOVES this toy and will sit for long periods of time just playing with it. He quickly figured out how to put the car on the top to make it go down. The placement of the car doesn’t have to be perfect for the car to go down, which is helpful for toddlers. The cars are small enough to fit in his little hand, and he loves to carry them all over the house. They do offer replacement packs of cars, FYI. I have a feeling we will be buying one of those down the road since my son loves the cars so much. Overall a great buy!”
4. Best Montessori toy for object permanence
Age recommendation: 8M+
Pros: In addition to object permanence, this toy is also good for fine motor skill development.
Cons: Some kids may tire of this toy quickly once they grasp the concept.
The Elite Montessori Object Permanence Box helps teach kids that just because something is out of sight, it does not mean it has disappeared. Toddlers face the closed side of the box (with the tray facing opposite) and put the ball through the hole on the top of the box. The ball will roll out onto the tray for your child to peek around and see that it’s still there.
Review: “My 11-month-old daughter is absolutely fascinated by this toy and my 3-year-old loves coming to help her with it too. It’s very very sturdy and well made. Impressed with the quality and it’s worth the money.”
5. Best Montessori stacking toy
Age recommendation: 18M+
Pros: Good for executive functioning and fine motor skill development.
Cons: Rings can get easily misplaced.
Another good Montessori toy for 1-year-olds, according to Gibbs, is a stacker, like the Melissa & Doug Rainbow Stacker. It comes with seven wooden rings in different sizes and colors and a red ball for the top of the stack. The toy is made entirely out of wood, including the rocking base and post for the rings.
Review: “Love love love this toy! It's perfect for my 18-month-old. I love that the rings are made of wood, so they're durable. The rings can go on in any order, which is fun for my toddler. The only thing that matters about the order is that the red ball goes on top. Once the ball is on, the top of the stick is inaccessible, so no more rings can go on. When my toddler puts the ball on prematurely, it's fun to watch her problem-solve to figure out how to get the rest of the rings on. She also uses problem-solving when she wants to pick up the whole toy. She used to try to carry it by the rings, but that obviously doesn't work; they slide right off the top. She's learned by herself to carry it by the base. It's fun for her to play with it by herself and to play with it with me.”
6. Best Montessori walker/push toy
Age recommendation: 12M - 2Y
Pros: Wheels feature a rubber ring to help protect floors from getting scratched.
Cons: The alligators make noise when their mouths shut, which may bother kids and adults with sensitivities.
Since 1-year-olds are usually pulling up and/or walking, a walker is a good way to encourage them and help them strengthen their skills. The Melissa & Doug Deluxe Chomp and Clack Alligator Push Toy is made from high-quality wood and features little alligators that open and shut their mouths as the toy is pushed along.
Review: “I bought this as a Christmas gift for my 11-month-old grandson who is not yet walking. I told his mom and dad that they would probably want to carry it home unopened because it was a toy for after he begins walking. Well, what a surprise when he took hold and took his first steps with this lovely toy. He loved it so much and immediately began cruising all around the house, with just a little help steering around corners. The wheels are designed to not push too quickly, and the toy is very sturdy. I was very excited to have given him his very favorite Christmas present this year.”
Montessori toys for 1-year-olds are perfect for development and fostering toddlers’ love for exploration. Just remember, when shopping for these toys, focus on the materials used to make them, their design, and whether or not they are child-led.
Varleisha D. Gibbs, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, ASDCS, Vice President, Practice Engagement and Capacity Building at the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
Stacy Keane, Certified Montessori teacher and Head of Learning at Monti Kids