Quiet Books and Busy Boards: Are They Montessori?

So, you’re getting into the Montessori method, and you’re looking for some materials to use for it. Maybe you have some busy boards or quiet books in mind, and you want to make sure they fit? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Quiet books and busy boards have Montessori elements, regardless of whether they’re specifically trying to be so. Montessori toys isolate a specific skill to work on, so quiet books and busy boards that focus on developing one skill (instead of several) can be considered Montessori.

Let’s dive deeper and see how you can learn to distinguish between busy boards and quiet books that are and aren’t Montessori aligned.

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Montessori Busy Boards

A busy board is a sensory activity board made to provide fun learning to babies and toddlers. Sensory play is an important part of a child’s development, and a Montessori busy board helps guide that development by offering play in specific areas. They help build up the child’s visual and tactile skills while letting them control how they learn.

If you do any kind of search for “busy board”, you will find a large number of options with multiple activities on each board. In general, these are pretty overwhelming for a child and are not Montessori aligned.

Also, be aware that even if the busy board or book in question says “Montessori”, it does not mean that it is actually Montessori aligned. The name “Montessori” isn’t trademarked, so any manufacturer who wants to cater their toys and busy boards to people interested in the Montessori method can label their product as such, even if it isn’t actually a Montessori oriented product.

That’s why it’s important to understand what Montessori means, and to know what you want from the method: so you can decide for yourself whether the busy board you’re considering will serve your purpose.

The busy boards that are the most Montessori aligned are those that are the simplest and focus on one skill, such as lacing, latching, buckling, etc.

For example, this wooden lockbox from IFITMontessori focuses exclusively on latches.

Montessori Busy Board Wooden Lock Box
Lock Box from IFITMontessori on Etsy

This wooden lacing board from MontessoriServices.com includes 2 laces and 9 wooden shapes that can be used to make patterns and designs while focusing on the skill of lacing.

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Lacing Board from MontessoriServices

This wooden Montessori screwdriver board (one of my son’s favorites!) has child-sized tools and provides a simple, focused activity.

Wooden Screwdriver Board - Busy Board for Montessori
Montessori Screwdriver Board from Amazon

This shoe lacing board from IFITMontessori focuses on show lacing and tying skills.

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Shoe Lacing Board from IFITMontessori on Etsy

This Montessori lock and key board focuses on a single skill and can be a good choice for preschoolers.

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Montessori Lock and Key Board from Amazon

This Montessori Busy Board actually focuses on two skills as it can conceal a shape behind each door that your child can unlatch. Then the shape can be placed in the correct location on the board. However, we like the overall simplicity of the board and believe it to be a pretty good option.

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Montessori Busy Board from Amazon

Are all of these Montessori? Maybe not strictly. If a given board offers more than one activity, it departs from the Montessori method. Montessori materials offer one activity specifically for the child to focus on and learn from. While this might seem like it railroads the child’s learning instead of giving them control, there could still be the option of giving them multiple boards to choose from.

But not being exactly Montessori doesn’t mean it’s bad. A board that isn’t “perfectly” Montessori may still have some valuable aspects, so don’t dismiss it right away. One thing to be careful of, though, is that if it has so many things on it that it’s overstimulating—that may end up overwhelming your child.

Are Sensory Boards Montessori?

When people think of sensory boards or look up examples, they tend to come up with a board that’s really busy, with a whole lot of things going on and overloading the board. Therefore, no, sensory boards are generally not Montessori. But some people might disagree and say they’re the same as busy boards.

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Sensory Board = Sensory Overload

The problem here might be the definition of sensory boards versus busy boards. Some people might say that the two terms are one and the same, but there’s a subtle, yet distinguishing difference:

  • Sensory boards are “sensory,” meaning that they’re made to let the child explore the board with their senses: see it, feel it, hear it, and all these in comparison to other elements on the board. There might be velcro, a slider, and gears all on the same board, colorful and contrasting.
  • Busy boards, on the other hand, are “busy” in that they’re made to give the child something to do. A single busy board might still end up containing a lot of different tasks (and thereby won’t be Montessori), but this subtle difference makes it easier for a busy board to lean towards the Montessori method than a sensory board might.

You might be able to find some sensory boards that are simple and focus on just one thing. In that case, you might consider it more Montessori aligned. After all, it’s up to you to decide whether the sensory board in question fits your vision of the Montessori method.

Another thing to consider here is that Montessori materials are usually made of natural materials, like wood, and they’re simple. If there are ever any pictures of people or animals on Montessori materials, they’re realistic, not cartoonish.

Montessori Quiet Books

Quiet books, sometimes called busy books, are the same, in essence, as busy boards. You might make the distinction that a quiet book is a “book” and not a “board,” and maybe it’s easier to tote around, but the purpose is the same.

“Quiet” or “busy” books might be better known to parents as a way to keep children “quiet” or “busy,” but they can be even more useful if the right ones are used to apply the Montessori method.

Just like a busy board, quiet books that work for the Montessori method will focus on one skill. Not only does this help your child learn and build on that skill, but it will also help them maintain that concentration longer because there aren’t many inherent distractions (at least, not in the quiet book itself). (Source)

My son and daughter both enjoy this busy book that focuses on different types of buckles. We enjoy keeping this one in the car because it’s easy to lay out on their laps.

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Busy Board for Travel from Amazon

A popular Montessori material that can be found in many classrooms is dressing frames. These are perhaps the most Montessori-aligned alternative to a quiet book or busy book. Each dressing frame focuses on a single practical life skill, such as zipping, buttoning, snapping, etc.

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Wooden Dressing Frames from Etsy

A less expensive option than dressing frames would be something like these dressing boards from Amazon. The materials are not as nice as your typical dressing frames, BUT each board does focus on one dressing skill.

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Dressing Boards from Amazon

Conclusion – The Simpler the Better

Most busy boards, sensory boards, and busy books that you will see are generally a little too overwhelming and are therefore not Montessori aligned. However, there are some good options out there for busy boards and books that CAN work well for your child in your Montessori home.

Look for items that are simple and focus on as few tasks or skills as possible, ideally one type of skill per toy.

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