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Simple, Natural Materials for School and Play

by Directress Nancy Wu

“Play is the work of the child.”“He does with his hands, by experience, first in play then through work.  The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.”                                                                                 – Maria Montessori

I remember once seeing a commercial on television showing a doctor’s prescription for a child that reads, “play.” I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.  Playing is as essential in a child’s life and growth as food or medicine.   Dr. Maria Montessori had a deep understanding of how important this is, and she said, “play is the work of the child.”   Since “play” is so important to a child, as parents, we need to give them time and space to play, and provide appropriate things they can play with – toys.

The first six years in a child’s life are so crucial because that is the sensitive period for sensorial learning, which includes sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste.  A child’s learning and development is mainly done through these five senses.  As a result, the things provided to the children during that period will have a huge impact on their development.  

One of Dr. Montessori’s major contributions to the field of education and childhood development was her theory defining sensitive periods in children.  She also developed the materials to help children’s development of these senses. 

In the Montessori classrooms you will find these colorful, beautiful and simple materials that appeal to each of the senses:

Sight/Visual: Cylinder Blocks; Pink Tower; Brown Stair; Red Rods, Color tablets; Constructive Triangles; Binomial Cube; Trinomial Cube; Geometric Cabinet

Touch/Tactile: Touch Boards, Touch Tablets, Touch Fabrics; Thermic Tablet; Mystery Bag

Hearing/Auditory: Sound Cylinders; Montessori Bells

Smell/Olfactory: Smelling Bottles

Taste/Gustatory: Tasting Bottles

Many parents may be like me. Twenty-some years ago, I was so impressed when I first walked into a Montessori classroom. Not only did I find the room nicely arranged, but there were no toy trucks, dolls, nor any electronic toys that made noises on the shelves.  I saw small spoons, tongs, child-size pitchers, glasses filled with beans, rice or other little objects, and many other materials.  The materials on the shelves were colorful and made from natural materials.  I remember seeing my three year old son’s eyes light up, caught by the materials on the shelves.  I didn’t know what those materials were called nor the purpose of them as I do now, but my instincts told me that they would be beneficial to my child. 

Children today are fortunate to have a sufficient supply of the things they need for their growth like food, clothing, and toys for entertainment and learning.  After a while you may find that there are too many toys in your house, many of which your child has forgotten about.  For young children, playing doesn’t need to be complicated, or a race too see how many toys they can collect. Happiness doesn’t require much; satisfaction comes from within when they use their hands to touch, to feel, and to work.  Toys or things for playtime can be simple and made with natural materials. 

If we remember what Dr. Montessori taught us about the sensitive period of learning, that will help us choose and find the right materials and toys for our children.  Maybe just take a look around your kitchen—you may be surprised at how many things you have that your child can enjoy playing with.