Most of us will agree that early childhood education is about more than learning letters and numbers. During these formative years, children are also in a great position to develop essential life skills, build beneficial traits and grow their emotional intelligence—and new research shows that Montessori schools are particularly successful at fostering students’ long-term psychological health and wellbeing. 

There’s no need to wait until preschool, either: Parents can jumpstart Montessori learning at home by offering open-ended Montessori toys, practical life experiences and child-directed play opportunities.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in November 2021, children who attend some amount of Montessori school go on to enjoy more general wellbeing throughout their lives. As the study’s authors said in their report, “Wellbeing, or how people think and feel about their lives, predicts important life outcomes from happiness to health to longevity.” 

For the study, researchers worked with 1,905 U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 81. Approximately half of the group attended Montessori school during childhood while the other half had conventional schooling. The study participants then completed a large set of scales designed to assess their wellbeing in adulthood. Across the board, even holding for demographic variables, the researchers found that adults who had Montessori schooling reported more general wellbeing, engagement, social trust and self-confidence. 

“What surprised us is that pretty much everything in the sink turned out significant—on almost every survey, people who had spent at least two years in Montessori had higher wellbeing than people who never went to Montessori,” Angeline Lillard, one of the study’s authors, told Forbes. “This was true even among the sub-sample who attended private schools for their entire pre-college lives. We also found that the longer one had attended a Montessori school, the higher their level of wellbeing.”

What are the benefits of Montessori methods?

The researchers hypothesize the link between Montessori learning during childhood and adult wellbeing may be credited to the Montessori principles that promote self-determination, engagement in meaningful activities and social stability among groups of students. 

For example, in the typical Montessori classroom, children select what they want to work on during the day, which allows them to explore their interests and feel a clear sense of meaning with their work. Older students are also encouraged to help younger students while the social bond in the classroom is reinforced.

Although the researchers say further studies would be beneficial, this report is strong evidence for the benefits of Montessori learning—which can be incorporated into the home well before children hit preschool age.

How can parents practice Montessori at home?

Whether your child will go to a Montessori school or not, there are many ways to practice the fundamentals of the Montessori philosophy at home. By thoughtfully preparing a learning environment in which your child can engage in interesting and developmentally appropriate play, you can help them build their independence and confidence. 

When it comes to Montessori toys, simple toys that promote open-ended play are ideal. As Montessori expert Stacy Keane said for Motherly, a flashy, battery-operated toy might catch your child’s attention and provide entertainment. However, “The more children are able to use their hands to engage with child-operated toys, the [more able] they will be to solve problems and experience their environment and the more they will discover.”

By placing toys on low shelves, your child will feel encouraged to select what they want to do and play independently. Likewise, inviting them to work on age-appropriate practical life skills—like sweeping, cleaning dishes, folding clothes—will help them feel proud of their role within the family. 

12 wooden Montessori toys for play and learning at home

Shoppable

Natural Wood Block Set

Motherly

$60

1. Natural Wood Block Set

A simple yet creative first block set to spark imagination. This set of 25 cube blocks will have your little engineer exploring balance and gravity through play. There are a host of benefits to be gained from this activity including development of imagination, self-expression, problem solving, math and even self esteem.

Hollow Blocks Set

Motherly

$80

2. Hollow Blocks Set

Child development professionals all agree that the power of open-ended play drives imagination and helps get kids off to a healthy intellectual start. Nothing sets the stage for hours of open ended play like a gorgeous set of simple blocks. We love this natural wood set that includes 40 hollow blocks, wooden blocks and a wooden rainbow.

Bamboo Counting Set

Motherly

$60

3. Bamboo Counting Set

Hands-on learning helps make a concept like math much easier to grasp—no pun intended! Introduce your child to math and counting skills with this gorgeous bamboo cup and counting sticks set.

Natural Wood Letter Puzzle

Motherly

$45

4. Natural Wood Letter Puzzle

Before children can learn the content and meaning of words, they must first learn the visual structure of letters. We love this natural wood puzzle that will help introduce children to the lower case alphabet in a fun and easy way—not to mention that puzzles  are great for encouraging children to develop sorting skills, fine motor, problem solving skills and categorizing during play.

100-Piece Bamboo Balancing Blocks

Motherly

$60

5. 100-Piece Bamboo Balancing Blocks

Ready to unlock hours of open ended and imagination-rich play? This bamboo balancing set of 100 unique pieces is the perfect addition to your playroom. Made with naturally treated bamboo, this set encourages concentration and fun. (You might want to get in on the action, too!)

Learn to Spell Puzzle Set

Motherly

$50

6. Learn to Spell Puzzle Set

This simple and beautiful wooden puzzle tray is designed to help children learn how to blend and segment letters to create CVC (Consonant, Vowel, Consonant) words. A practical and pretty toy, this is fit for any playroom—or living room.

Two-Sided Sorting Board

Motherly

$50

7. Two-Sided Sorting Board

Research suggest that toddlers as young as 12 months have some sense of numbers and sizing of groups of things. Counting is learned when the toddler starts making the connection between this innate sense of “how many there are” and the language we use to count “one, two, three…” This reversible counting board is designed to encourage and enhance those skills!

Shape Sorting Puzzle

Motherly

$50

8. Shape Sorting Puzzle

Puzzle play is so much more than fun and games! Research shows it develops spatial skills, facilitates hand-eye coordination, increases creativity, enhances problem solving skills, accelerates fine motor development, boosts confidence and self-esteem and advances social skills.

Sorting Puzzle Box

Motherly

$35

9. Sorting Puzzle Box

This fruit box puzzle is a versatile toy that offers cognitive development, hand eye coordination, fine motor skill development and more. Fit the sides together to form the box and then find the right spot for the wooden cut-outs to fit through.

Natural Wood Shape Sorter Toy

Motherly

$45

10. Natural Wood Shape Sorter

Most experts say that 2 years old is a great age for teaching shapes. Start by identifying the shapes you see in the world around you. Then, reinforce that learning with toys and puzzles where you can repeat and reinforce the language. That’s why we love this simple natural wood shape sorter.

Natural Wood Stacking Bowls

Motherly

$36

11. Natural Wood Stacking Bowls

We love these simple wooden bowls for so many reasons. Children can explore stacking, building, nesting, sorting and balancing with these bowls. Fill them with toys, or imagination, this set of nesting bowls are gorgeous and practical.

Tree ring wooden stacking toy

Motherly

$32

12. Tree Ring Stacking Toy

his beautiful stacking ring is a great first toy to help develop gross motor skills, and eventually concepts of size, balance and sorting. Made from recycled branch of Acacia and lychee trees and finished with child-safe, non-toxic oils, this toy makes for pretty home decor, too.