Building Blocks in Montessori: What Are the Best Ones?

Growing up, you probably had a set of blocks, whether they were wooden, cardboard, or plastic LEGO. In fact, a set of building blocks is probably considered one of the most common and classic childhood toys. But are building blocks considered Montessori? And if so, how do you use blocks in Montessori?

The “official” types of blocks used in Montessori are The Pink Tower, The Brown Stairs, Knobbed Cylinder Blocks, and The Red Rods. Other types of building blocks, including LEGO, are not strictly a Montessori item, BUT they can be used in alignment with Montessori principles.

Regular wooden building blocks and other building materials are commonly found in Montessori classrooms and by parents who use Montessori teachings. More information about the best building blocks for Montessori and what skills they teach to children is below.

Which Montessori Building Blocks are the Best?

Montessori Block Materials

There are some common wooden block materials used in the Montessori Method that you might want to try. These first four materials are blocks that should be found in every Montessori classroom.

The Pink Tower: The Montessori Pink Tower is made up of 10 blocks of wood that are painted pink. They range in size from 1cm to 10cm, and the child can stack these pink wood blocks to create a tower. The main purpose of the pink tower is to teach children about size. It helps to refine a child’s visual sense by discriminating differences in dimension and weight. It also helps refine movements and hand-eye coordination.

Check out our full article for more information on the Pink Tower and its benefits.

The Brown Stairs: The Montessori Brown Stairs introduce the concepts of thick and thin and how they relate spacially in a 3-dimensional world. They consist of 10 brown prisms that vary in height, each ascending by 1 cm, but are the same length. When assembled in order, the prisms create what resembles a staircase. 

This exercise not only visually demonstrates depth, but it helps to prepare a child’s mind for more advanced mathematical concepts. Because the smallest prism is 1cm in thickness, adding the smallest prism to the top of another will match its height to the prism next to it.

Knobbed Cylinder Blocks: The Montessori Cylinder Blocks are four long blocks containing 5-10 cylinders with knobs on the top. Each cylinder fits into its respective hole on the block. The child is supposed to remove the cylinders from their holes and be able to replace them again in the correct one. (Source) This cultivates visual sensitivity by helping children learn to distinguish between the size and height of the cylinders. It also develops fine motor skills necessary for removing and replacing the knobs in their appropriate positions.

The Red Rods: The Montessori Red Rods are similar to the Pink Tower and the Brown Stairs, but focus more on the concept of length. There are 10 red-painted rods that vary in length from 10 cm to 100 cm. Children can put them in order from shortest to longest, arranging them in ascending or descending order.

Best Montessori Building Blocks

Though the following are not “official” Montessori materials such as The Pink Tower, these building blocks can still be found in many Montessori schools and homes as they help improve various skills in children. Almost any type of building block will help your child learn through the Montessori Method, which teaches children various motor and social skills through play.

“When a child is tirelessly trying to make patterns with his blocks simply because he is interested, there is no need for outside discipline, the child is disciplining himself.”

-Maria Montessori [Source]

However, some building blocks are better than others. The Melissa and Doug building blocks are considered some of the best building blocks by parents and are consistently the highest-rated. There are sets available in unpainted natural wood as well as colorfully painted ones.

Another popular type of building blocks used by many Montessori parents are stacking and balancing stones. The irregular shapes of these stones make stacking them more challenging. Like building blocks, they are available in unpainted, natural wood, or in painted colors.

Also popular in the Montessori community are these colorful wooden and acrylic blocks. Each block has a wooden frame with a transparent colored acrylic window. These blocks allow sensory, light and color exploration.

There is some debate whether or not a wooden rainbow stacker is considered a Montessori material. In fact, we have a full article discussing why we believe they’re a great addition to any Montessori home or classroom. Though rainbow stacking toys are not “blocks”, they are great building materials.

LEGO blocks have been popular for years. Many people might write them off from their Montessori home simply because they are plastic and not wooden. However, many Montessori parents and professionals encourage the use of LEGO in a Montessori home.

Building with LEGO helps strengthen fine motor skills, such as children’s pincer grasp, and also helps develop problem-solving skills.

What Skills Do Montessori Building Blocks Improve?

The reason why teachers and parents who use the Montessori Method use blocks and building materials is because they teach children various skills, including:

  • Social Skills
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Creative Skills
  • Spacial Reasoning Skills
  • Literacy and Language Skills
  • Concentration Skills

Social Skills

Building blocks teach children social skills because when playing with building blocks, children can play with others. Although Montessori children play by themselves, they are encouraged to play with other children. When playing with building blocks with other children, kids learn how to solve problems as a team and share blocks. (Source)

Oftentimes, children want their parents to play with building blocks with them. However, they often don’t know how to ask and don’t know how to play with others. This leads to blocks being thrown at faces and tantrums. Over time, if children use building blocks, they will get better at sharing and asking for you to play with them.

Fine Motor Skills

Montessori building blocks help children improve their fine motor skills. To pick up and stack building blocks takes skills when it is done by a child. The building blocks also help children improve their grip strength and learn how to balance items on top of other items. Building blocks are easily stackable and large enough that they are easy to grab and hold.

Creative Skills

Building blocks help children improve their creative skills. Many building blocks make the shape of a house when stacked together correctly. Even when the building blocks are square, they promote children to use and improve their creativity. They often don’t have a template or instructions to follow when using building blocks, so they can do whatever their imagination thinks of.

Spatial Reasoning and Language Skills

Montessori building blocks improve a child’s spatial reasoning skills because they have to think of how the blocks will fit together. If the blocks are placed in a way that is not balanced, they will fall. The child has to figure out what placements will cause the blocks to fall and which ones will stay balanced.

When it comes to Language and Literacy skills, building blocks help children learn because they often want to describe what they have built. They often describe the buildings in great detail. However, if they don’t have the language skills, they can’t describe what they have built and get frustrated. As they learn more language skills and use building blocks, they will become better at describing what they have built and become frustrated less often.

Concentration Skills

When children use building blocks, they have to concentrate so the blocks don’t fall over. If they play with building blocks repeatedly, they build their concentration skills. The longer they play with building blocks without a break, the longer they will be able to concentrate. However, it takes time to build their concentration skills, so don’t be surprised if your child loses interest in their building blocks after a few minutes.

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Stacy Jones

When I became a foster mother, I started researching different parenting and education ideas. Learning about the Montessori Method has been intriguing and fascinating, and I have enjoyed watching the little ones in my life learn and grow from incorporating Montessori elements into our family's lifestyle. Montessori For Today was started to provide answers to my own questions, which will hopefully become a great resource for others to learn about the Montessori Method, Montessori Schools, and how you can incorporate elements of Montessori into your own home and lifestyle.

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