The best Montessori toys for 3-year-olds, according to an expert

Your little one is growing into an opinionated, expressive “threenager” filled with determination and a drive toward increasing independence. Three is a time of transition developmentally, as your child is moving into a season of greater consciousness. By the time your child turns four, you’ll have witnessed an incredible transformation as they emerge more articulate, self-controlled, socially aware and self-sufficient.

There are countless toys on the market today, but many only serve to entertain or even overstimulate little minds. While every child can benefit from a home filled with books and rich language, providing a thoughtfully-cultivated shelf of developmentally-appropriate toys is essential in keeping your preschooler engaged and learning at home. Montessori toys for 3-year-olds center around your child’s developmental tasks, inspiring and challenging their brains and bodies in just the right way. 

Learn more about the best Montessori toys for 3-year-olds and find the perfect activities to transform your preschooler’s playroom.

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Related: Activities for a 3-year-old: Fostering your child’s development

What makes a toy Montessori?

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator whose philosophy centered around child development. She founded the first Montessori school in Italy in the early 1900’s, which she called Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House.” Her observations of children led her to believe that people under the age of six go through what she called sensitive periods, during which they are biologically predisposed to learning certain skills. You’ll notice your child exhibiting an intense focus or interest in a certain activity or concept, indicating that they may be in a sensitive period for that skill. 

While three-year-olds continue to grow in fine and gross motor control, they are now moving into a sensitive period for language, specifically reading and writing, in addition to social and emotional learning. Providing Montessori toys for 3-year-olds that foster these skills will feed your child’s natural interests in learning at this stage in their development. While traditional Montessori works that are found in the classroom are especially beautiful additions to any toddler’s playroom, there are other high-quality toys that align well with Montessori’s philosophy. 

Montessori toys are:

  1. Reality-based. According to Maria Montessori, until children enter the second plane of development, usually around the age of six, they tend to prefer reality to fantasy. Young children need a strong foundation in reality-based concepts before they are developmentally ready for imaginative play. Introducing fantasy toys, based on television characters or creatures that don’t exist in real life, can be confusing to young children who are trying to make sense of the world around them.
  1. Foster independence. Toys that align with the Montessori philosophy can be utilized by the child on their own, and often aim to increase the child’s independence by building valuable skills like fastening buttons, cleaning up a mess or preparing food. Montessori toys for 3-year-olds are most often presented on a wooden tray displayed on a shelf that is easily accessible to the child, so they can independently remove the tray to play and place it back on the shelf when they’re done.
  1. Focused on building one skill at a time. The best Montessori toys for your three-year-old will be those that focus on building one skill at a time. Many toys you find at the store will promise to teach your child letters, numbers, colors and more, but a Montessori toy will offer an opportunity for your child to learn one skill well, whether it be refining their pincer grasp, color matching or beginning letter sounds. 

Montessori toys for 3-year-olds are valuable because they:

  • Support their development
  • Offer opportunities to follow their natural interests
  • Provide the “just right” challenge for their developing brains
  • Increase their self-esteem
  • Foster independence
  • Encourage focus and concentration
  • Instill a sense of order

Here are the best Montessori toys for 3-year-olds:



Animals Memo

This simple wooden game is a lovely addition to your child’s shelf of Montessori toys for 3-year-olds. When played together, like the classic game Memory, your child can work on building valuable social skills. It can also be played individually as a simple matching exercise, while naming all of the animals pictured builds vocabulary.

Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Puzzle Board

Melissa and Doug


Basic Skills Puzzle Board

Every Montessori Primary (3-6 year old) classroom has dressing frames that provide an opportunity for children to practice skills like buttoning buttons, zipping zippers and tying laces. This wooden puzzle board by Mellisa and Doug is the perfect home edition of this classic Montessori work, providing an opportunity for your three-year-old to gain valuable practical life skills and ultimately increase their independence.

Orchard Toys Shopping List Game

Orchard Toys


Shopping List Game

Three is just the right age to introduce a first board game to your child, as they begin to move away from parallel play (playing alone in the presence of other children) toward playing together. A simple board game like the Shopping List Game encourages turn-taking and following simple directions without requiring any reading.

Plan Toys Construction Set



Construction Set

Nuts and bolts are one of the more surprising activities often found in a Montessori classroom, aiming to help the child refine their fine motor skills, strengthen hand muscles, increase focus and patience. This wood construction set can be offered a few pieces at a time to allow your child the opportunity to focus on gaining mastery of fastening the nuts and bolts. Then, the whole set can provide a chance for fun, creative play as they use their imagination to build!

Melissa & Doug Animals 4-in-1 Wooden Puzzle Set

Melissa and Doug


Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Set

No collection of Montessori toys for 3-year-olds would be complete without at least one wooden puzzle. Your preschooler will enjoy these realistic wooden animal jigsaw puzzles, which can be offered a few adjoining pieces at a time as their skill level progresses. Children at this age will often assemble the puzzle from the inside out, rather than starting with the corners and borders like adults do!

FIggy Play Couch



The Figgy Play Couch

Play couches are popular, and for good reason. They provide a valuable indoor outlet for a young child’s gross motor development, offering a safe place to redirect climbing, jumping and other movement activities that your child is naturally drawn to. There are also endless possibilities for imaginative play as your child moves into the second plane of development in a few years, when forts, castles and mountains can be built from your family’s play couch. There are plenty of Nugget alternatives to choose from, including the Figgy, so you’re sure to find an option that fits your family’s needs.

Montessorily Sound Cabinet



Sound Cabinet with Objects

This is one of the best Montessori toys for 3-year-olds because it provides a sensory-based first experience with letter sounds. As children at this age move into the second half of the first plane of development, the conscious absorbent mind, they are often excited to begin learning about letters and the sounds they represent. Your child will have fun exploring the tiny objects found in these drawers, with beginning letter sounds that correspond with each letter of the alphabet. Because the Montessori approach to reading is phonetic, children learn letter sounds before they learn the letters’ names. Hold off on the ABC song for now!

Plan Toys Natural Wooden Blocks



Natural Wooden Blocks

No child’s playroom is complete without building blocks, and these natural wood blocks are the perfect choice for a Montessori environment. Natural wood is not only visually appealing, but also provides an enriching sensory experience for the young child as they feel the weight and texture of the wooden blocks in their hands, and the unique sound they make as they fall. This open-ended toy offers your child the opportunity to get creative for years to come.

HarVow Montessori Busy Book



Busy Board Book

This busy book is incredibly versatile, with matching activities that introduce numbers and letters, in addition to practical life tasks, like buckling and zipping. Busy books like this are the perfect on-the-go Montessori material to keep your child engaged and learning. What makes this book unique is that the pages are removable and can be placed on your child’s shelf one at a time to encourage focus and concentration.

Plan Toys Build A Face



Build a Face

While your child is becoming more socially aware and motivated to connect with peers, learning about emotions and how our faces express feelings becomes an important developmental task. This “build a face” toy from PlanToys is made of natural materials and can provide an outlet for your child’s emotional expression and exploration as they make sense of the feelings inside of them, and the people around them.

Montessori Number Work Board Book

Abrams Appleseed


“Number Work”

The sandpaper numbers are an important tool in the Montessori Primary classroom. Children not only take in the number visually, but they interact with the number, tracing the rough sandpaper outline with their finger, which prepares them for handwriting later on. This book, Montessori: Number Work, is great for the home environment, providing the same sensory, hands-on experience of numbers in your child’s play space.

Adena Montessori Mini Cylinder Block Set

Adena Montessori


Mini-Cylinder Block

This classic Montessori work in a smaller size is suitable for the home environment. The Montessori cylinder block work gives young children experience with ordering by size, and further refines their fine motor coordination.

Montessori Nesting Boxes



Wooden Stacking Boxes

No list of the best Montessori toys for 3-year-olds would be complete without mentioning the pink tower, the most iconic Montessori material. While this set of wooden stacking boxes isn’t pink, it is an ideal home alternative to the pink tower work, providing a hands-on experience in visual discrimination, and laying the foundation for later mathematical concepts.

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