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When it comes to toys, my style is kind of Montessori Plus. I’m not into electronic toys or basically any kind of toy that just yells (or sings) information at a child. But I can’t quite go as simple as the most traditional Montessori parents. I like a lot of the modern, more complex toys… just ones that require minds to figure out instead of just fingers to push buttons.
The following is a list of a few of the toys that best helped my kiddo learn when he was 1!
1. Melissa & Doug Shopping Cart
This adorable shopping cart was a beloved favorite from the grandparents. Pushing it around the house? Great for gross motor skills and developing those walking skills. Picking up little things to put inside? Perfect for developing fine motor skills. Crouching down to get them? Another gross motor skill!
Plus it developed so much imaginative and symbolic play! Maybe a 3-4 year old with a shopping cart might be locked into putting a teddy bear in the little kid seat and grocery shopping around the house, but a 1 year old? SO MANY MORE IDEAS. In addition to grocery shopping, my son used his as a fishing hole, a foundation for a super duper tall tower on wheels, a schoolbus filled with ABC puzzle pieces (such a cute idea), and a car to drive all his animals from room to room.
2. Mega Bloks
I have an entire toy bin filled with these. A bunch of regular Mega Bloks, a train set, and an ABC set. They’re all amazing. At every age.
Fine and gross motor skills. Sharing and taking turns. Colors. Mathematical and spatial reasoning skills. Creativity. The possibilities are endless. I truly enjoy playing with these and coming up with weird designs. It’s even more fun now that my son is older and collaborates more than just immediately knocking over whatever I build!
3. Bead Maze
Raise your hand if you never knew what these were called.
My son got this colorful ocean-themed one as a first birthday present, and it’s been one of his favorites ever since. It’s great for building focus—few quiet toys can hold a child’s attention for such long periods of time. It’s also one of the best ways to develop fine motor control… you have to put your hands in so many odd positions and angles to get the beads to move how you want them to. It really works every single hand and wrist muscle.
You can definitely use it to talk to your kids about colors, but honestly, I prefer to have this activity just be more of a quiet, contemplative one. We all need a little bit of that… even toddlers!
4. Crayola Color Wonder Markers and Paper
Green squiggles on the walls?
Purple squiggles all over the clothes?
Red squiggles on your new couch?
Blue squiggles on the dog?
Never again! These markers (and the paper that goes with them) are AMAZING. The markers only color on the paper. Nothing else.
Let me say that again. The Color Wonder markers WON’T make a mark on anything except the special Color Wonder paper. And it’s all really cheap too! This was a lifesaver for when I just needed to get some dishes done or run to the bathroom or seriously accomplish anything without having eyes on my son every second. He could color all day, and I never had a mess to clean up!
5. Color Matching Egg Set
This set is so cute and such a fun way to learn colors, practice fine motor skills, AND work on some important cognitive skills. Kids naturally want to figure things out, and a toy like this is the perfect set up for them to use their own problem solving skills to sort the eggs until they find the ones that match.
This skill is called “inductive reasoning.” And yes, toddlers can practice it (without enrolling in a college philosophy class!) by using toys that get them to observe data and then try to figure out what the pattern is. In this case, they might notice the data about the number of dots first, or that some eggs have holes and others have “button” shaped pieces, and later they might look at the colors. Kiddos take in all this information and try to figure out what the pattern is so that they can solve the problem. Toddlers’ brains are pretty neat!