Are Montessori Toys Open-Ended?

Montessori toys are close-ended in nature. The Montessori method is founded on Maria Montessori’s philosophy that play is the work of the child, which means each Montessori toy aims to develop a specific skill.   

Montessori toys are not open-ended but instead are close-ended. Montessori toys have a specific purpose and desired outcome. There is only one way to play with the toy. The child performs a specific task or must solve a problem. The toys have a clear starting point and a clear ending point.

Montessori materials or toys are designed to foster learning and are close-ended. Read on to find out why Montessori uses close-ended rather than open-ended materials. 

Are Montessori Toys Open Ended?

Montessori toys are the opposite of open-ended; they are close-ended. In other words, Montessori toys and materials are constructed with a specific purpose in mind, such as solving a problem or completing a task. Children in a Montessori environment engage in structured play, called work, using close-ended toys or materials.

The Montessori method teaches through play that is grounded in reality. Close-ended materials are the cornerstone of the Montessori method. Each Montessori toy, or material as they are referred to, aims to develop a specific skill or achieve a specific outcome. Close-ended Montessori toys are puzzles, books, and shape-sorters.

Open-ended toys, on the other hand, are designed to be played with in many ways, have no expectations, and are often only used for pretend play. Open-ended toys have no beginning or end points, and there are no rules about how to play with an open-ended toy. Examples of open-ended toys are building blocks, balls, and dolls.

Close-ended toys have a singular purpose and outcome. Montessori materials are functional, and mimic real-life experiences. Montessori materials allow children to explore their environment in a meaningful way. 

Close-ended Montessori materials support children’s development and provides them with a sense of satisfaction once the problem has been solved.

“… the entire Montessori method is based on the spontaneous activity of the child which is aroused precisely by the interest the child takes in the material.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

What are the Benefits of Close-Ended Montessori Toys?

Montessori materials are close-ended because they are designed as learning tools rather than toys. Montessori materials align with Dr. Maria Montessori’s teaching philosophy, meaning they teach children about the world they live in by engaging the senses.

Closed-ended materials are designed around mastering one specific skill. Giving a child the opportunity to focus on one specific skill at a time sets them up for success and allows them to master the skill in their own time.

There are many benefits to close-ended materials:

  • Concentration: Dr. Montessori believed that when a child is concentrating, they are happy. Close-ended materials require children to be focused as they work through the task or problem.
  • Sense of Purpose: Close-ended materials give children a sense of purpose because they provide a sense of achievement and importance.
  • Independence: Close-ended materials allow for children to self-correct, which in turn helps to foster a sense of independence. Close-ended materials have a set way of completing the task, and if a step is performed the wrong way or done out of sequence, the desired outcome will not be achieved. The child will have to correct the process if done incorrectly.
  • Sense of Achievement: Close-ended materials have a beginning and an end. When a child reaches the end of a closed-ended activity or material, they feel a sense of achievement which, in turn, boosts their confidence.
  • Problem Solving: Closed-ended materials often follow a sequence. This means there are multiple steps a child must follow to achieve the desired outcome. This helps develop problem-solving skills through sequential thinking.
  • Develop Motor Skills: Close-ended Montessori toys help children to develop fine motor skills. Toys such as puzzles, and shape-sorters require children to fit the pieces into the correct slot in different ways.

Close-ended toys or materials teach children to tidy up when they have finished with them. In a prepared environment, children choose the activity from the shelf, carry it to their work mat or table, and work through the activity. Once they have completed the task, they tidy up.

What are Close-Ended Montessori Toys?

So, what exactly are close-ended Montessori toys or materials? They are materials that have an end goal or a specific endpoint. Close-ended materials are structured materials with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Close-ended Montessori toys allow children to focus on developing one skill at a time until they master it. Montessori toys are intended to help children understand the world around them and to help them master their environment.

Some examples of close-ended Montessori toys are:

  • Object Permanence Box: This is a classic Montessori toy that can be introduced when an infant can sit unassisted. The object permanence box helps children understand that when an object disappears, it still exists. 
  • Lacing Cards and Beads: Lacing cards and beads are a material used to develop hand-eye coordination and improve children’s pincer grip. Children manipulate a shoelace into the holes in a shaped wooden board. For the lacing beads material, children thread shaped, colorful beads onto string or shoelaces.
  • Pegboards: There are different types of pegboards available. Pegboards for younger children focus on stacking colorful pegs onto a board. For older children, Pegboards are a Montessori mathematical material.
  • Knobbed Cylinders: Knobbed Cylinders are a Montessori Sensorial material that consists of ten different knobbed cylinders which fit into a different hole on a wooden block. This material helps children to develop their pincer grip and helps children learn how to make distinctions in their environment.

Close-ended materials become more challenging in design as children master the first level. For example, once an infant has mastered the first Object Permanence Box, you can switch to a Coin Box. Adding the door makes the activity more challenging as the child needs to open the door to see the ball or object again.

Close-ended toys or materials allow children to develop skills and master activities independently. Close-ended toys give children a sense of purpose and achievement. Montessori materials are designed in such a way that they essentially set children up for success.

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