When I first started researching homeschool, I came across Waldorf and Montessori philosophies of education. At that early time in my homeschool career, I dismissed their ideas as too hippie or too abstract/imaginative for my son who is very much a concrete and logical learner.
I’ve always been drawn to the style of Peaceful Preschool and Simply Learning Kids (they use literature units) but it was so much prep work when the twins were small that I couldn’t do it all. I have followed SLK mom for a long time, and even bought some wood tracing boards and Grimm toys per her recommendation. We used them for a while but then it was time for more learning and less play so I closed the extremely short chapter of Montessori-inspired and Waldorf-inspired style. Or so I thought.
Interestingly, we had settled on Charlotte Mason inspired language arts work because of our curriculum TGTB. It has been awesome to use. It uses short lessons, copy work, appreciation for nature and above all else, love for God and family. So I was pretty settled in my ways. Short lessons were perfect for D because he really thrived on short small successes which helped lengthen his attention span. He is very focused when he puts some effort in.
Now that my twins are older, I feel like we are back to the Montessori and Waldorf. I don’t know why but this is a little revelation re-revealed to me, that early childhood education should be open-ended and imaginative.
It’s a little ridiculous, but I’ve been once again decluttering my house to be even more minimalist and more focused on open play.
You may be siding with my husband who thinks getting rid of perfectly good toys and books is a waste of time and money.
But if you side with me, my/our aspiration is to have “living” books of the highest quality per Charlotte Mason’s philosophy paired with open ended, durable toys that promote imagination and free style play inspired by Montessori and Waldorf.
These babies are only so small and sweet for a short period of time and you really do want to nurture their natural abilities. Legos and superheroes, while good, can come later. (I still love Legos, but I want them to have other creative options too.)
I would LOVE to rid myself of all plastic toys but I really cannot do that as I would get so much heat from SimpleGuy. So I am merely storing them away, telling my husband our kids have “outgrown” the toys with batteries and fluff books with dumb uninspired drawings. We do still have Qiaohu toys that use a lot of batteries and a LeapFrog ice cream cart, a recent Christmas present to the twins but I only bring them out once in a while. They are no longer readily accessible. The ice cream cart is so cute but I kick myself in the pants thinking, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”
After cleaning out the dining room to become a more functioning homeschool room (see school room reveal post) , I started to realize that cleaning up after all the little pieces and random toys was exhausting. Three kids make a ton of mess. If we put a single activity or toy on each section of the lower shelves, the kids knew exactly where things were supposed to do. One of the benefits of this style is that it promotes order which I really need.
Secondly, I have found that my oldest (D) is now more imaginative and creative that he was as a 3 or 4 year old and I want to encourage him to continue to be creative. Another benefit of Waldorf inspired toys is imagination.
I have also seen my twins and preschooler play in a variety of ways. Yes, D has the imagination and ideas but the twins have natural curiosity and willingness to explore that I wish I had nurtured more in D when he was younger. I feel I have missed a window of opportunity but I am trying my best to make it up to him by introducing it into our homeschool play area. The open ended nature of the toys creates a lot of possibilities and playtime and playthings both have longevity.
I think the reason why homeschoolers are so drawn to Montessori and Waldorf is because this type of creative thinking is no longer promoted in the public schools. You have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay tuition to send your kid to a Montessori school in order to have this style of learning environment. With a few basic toys and games, you can easily replicate the style in your own home.
I will probably still gift friends and family brands like Melissa and Doug, Hape, Haba and Janod but I feel your money’s worth goes into Grimm toys. There are two online stores in the US that have a good selection of Grimm toys. One is The Wooden Wagon and the other is Bella Luna Toys. (Land of Nod and others have some but not a lot.) Both sent me coupon codes for a first purchase over x$ and they ship free for orders over $99/$100 respectively. These options are both much better than Amazon; Amazon’s selection of Grimm is sparse.
Plain Wood Building Blocks
I just got a block set for my son’s 5th birthday. I admit, I bought way too many blocks but it will be fun when the three kids can construct together. I did extensive online research. I know there are local and artisan brands that charge $200+ for hardwood blocks and that was out of my budget.
The Melissa and Doug set is a good option but I really wanted the larger pieces too. I wanted to use Plan Toys (50 piece) because our library has a set or two but their newer version available doesn’t have the large pieces or the variety as the old version at the library.
A reviewer on Amazon also mentioned that ECR4Kids makes school and kid furniture so their wood is GREENGUARD certified so there are no chemical pollutants whereas all other brands (Guidecraft, HABA, Constructive Playthings) said nothing about how they treated their wood. I chose their 170 piece set which is available on Amazon for $99. They also carry a 64 piece set for $70 that is probably more realistic for those of you who don’t want three boxes of blocks lying around your house (like mine) and has a storage bin which is fantastic. Now I’m wishing that I had bought that set.
Technically you can use any craft supplies around the house including pom poms and buttons but I really wanted nice quality of stuff but not a huge quantity. In my experience you have to buy craft supplies in bulk making it a bit of a problem when it comes to storage. I have bought a few of my supplies via Amazon but I have also done a lot of Etsy shopping. My favorite Etsy store for sensorial is Montessori ReStore but it’s not a full hearted recommendation because the shop owner didn’t respond to my messages while I was shopping around and had questions. I had to place an order, trusting my gut. She did respond after the order was paid for. It took a month to ship my order so any seasonal themed materials were no longer in season. But there is no question, her materials are really nice. She has wood acorns, wood figures, wool balls, wood buttons—to collect these things would have cost the same plus the time to browse the web to find similar items.
I bought a couple of wood trays and plan to rotate them in the toy rotation. Her material comes in wood trays which are nice to store them Montessori style. I find that locating containers for me is the hardest part of organizing these toys or work.
Other Etsy shops have Montessori or Reggio toys and activities too so shop around. I am not a purist enough to say everything has to be wood but I can tell you that Q (twin a) loves the feeling of wood and glass in the sensory bin pictures above. He really loves texture and holding (gripping tightly) onto things and I think that is pretty common in toddlers.
Wood Monkeypod Bowls
I recommend wood bowls to store or sort these small items and I found a lot of good wood bowls made of monkeypod from the Philippines or Hawaii avaialble on eBay or Etsy. They also come in beautiful shapes like flowers, seeds and fruit so they are functional and aesthetic.
Lastly of the more purist Montessori style, I recommend getting puzzles of traditional Montessori “work or materials.” I wanted jigsaw puzzles or lockboxes for my twins to play with and yes, there are Melissa and Doug options which are definitely nice options, however, the Montessori sensorial blocks are focused on developing one concept in a child’s mind without the distractions of cartoon animals, fancy colors, or random pieces. Also there is always a control of error so your child can correct their work themselves fostering independence that I can even see in my twin 2-year olds. My favorite options are the cylinder blocks, the knobless cylinders, sound cylinders and binomial cube. We bought the value line and they are adequate in quality for homeschool use. (Please, however, note my value line ones are already chipped with light use.)
Hope this is helpful for you!
P.S I need help too. Please can anyone send me advice on how you’ve gotten your husbands or partners to back the idea of transitioning to Montessori? How do they handle the news of getting rid of plastic toys that still could be used? And have you told your family and friends to not buy your kids plastic or battery operated gifts? Or do you graciously accept all gifts and then regift them or return them? I’d love to hear your insights.