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Passive-vs-Active toys

There is a massive amount of toys out there for your little one to enjoy, but do you know what the difference is between passive toys and active toys? Do you know which are better for children to play with? No worries I'm going to tell you all about it in this post!




What are active/passive toys?

Active toys are...well they're active. They are battery operated, with sounds and flashy lights. They do not require much input for the child to be entertained. The child can press a button and the toy does something to amuse them momentarily. A bear singing songs, a toy with needless flashing lights or sounds. They are all active toys. The TOY is active. The CHILD is passive.


Passive toys are the opposite. They do no have music, sounds and lights and randomly do things on their own. They are what they are. They are a material for the child to use their imagination with and use to entertain themselves or to learn. Not to BE entertained. A wooden car, a ball or blocks are all passive toys. They enable the child to get creative, be constructive and teach a child how to not be bored. The TOY is passive. The CHILD is active.

Ever wonder why children LOVE LOVE LOVE water play? Water is passive. It sits still, its clear it does nothing. Until they touch it. They can make it ripple, splash, blow bubbles, throw it. So many things with it because it is a passive material than requires the child to explore it. It does not flash at them and invite them to watch it passively. It invites the child to actively seek to understand it and explore it.



So now you know the difference. Which is better for children to play with? The short answer is passive toys. But let me tell you why!


A huge thing all parents and caregivers seem to focus on is language. You might be thinking that a talking pig who sings the ABC's is better for your childs language development than say, some play dough. Understandably it makes sense, but what often goes unspoken of is the countless studies which show children learn language much easier, and quicker, in a two way real conversation with a human being, than from a toy or screen. You could use play dough to make the letters, this would be a hands on sensorial experience that would solidify the letter sounds and shape much more effectively than a toy simply singing it. Or they could build whatever they want and you talking to them and providing them that key language would serve them better than a singing toy would.


It's important to remember that babies, toddlers, children and even a lot of adults are not passive learners. By nature we just aren't, kids especially. If you want your child to learn to count to 10, let them count their toys, or cutlery or pillows. ANYTHING. Do not buy a toy which tells them the number sounds, that they don't usually focus on because its flashing at them or something else. This won't help them learn to say the numbers, but it also will hinder their understanding of quantity. In Montessori we do not teach the number symbols until the child has a firm grasp of its quantity. Because what use is being able to read 4+4=? If you don't know what 4 is?




Another thing to take into the consideration is the activeness of the child. A young child needs to run around, use their gross motor and fine motor muscles in order to learn how their body works, stay healthy and accomplish many day to day things. With a passive toy the child can zoom their car around on the floor learning about their equilibrium, how to hold the car, where their feet need to be to move forward or backward etc. As well as making noises and strengthening most muscles in their body at the same time. Now say it's an electric car on a track or something. Suddenly the child is sitting, watching this car zoom on a track and all they have to do is put it back to the start, then sit and watch it again. That is removing so much of the development and skills they would learn if they just had a passive car. They might even make their own tracks and ramps from something else!


We've all seen the videos or even our own children where they get this big flashing toy that does lots of cool entertaining things and then...they play with the box. Because that toy is simply, that toy. The box, can be the toy, a boat, a car, a house, anything they want it to be. And that kind of imaginative play is so important for childrens brain development. Imagination is a beautiful thing in children that active toys take away. Passive toys allow this to develop and grow. Their is research, although limited, that childhood imagination is a precursor to adult intelligence.




A lot of the time adults tend to focus on a passive toy being too "boring" for the child and not holding their attention, and it is a valid point. A child does need time to explore a passive toy and make sense of it and a battery operated toy will just do its thing. But look a little into the future when you need your child to entertain themselves and you have no active toys around simply to entertain and keep them quiet. A child who has been allowed to fully explore passive toys, be creative, use their imagination, received the language and communication skills an adult gives to them, is going to be able to find a way to amuse themselves with very little, if anything. A child who is accustomed to loud, flashing lights and sounds will not have acquired the skills to do that. They will seek electronics to entertain them rather than finding ways to entertain themselves.


You will not find active toys and materials in a Montessori classroom. You may find limited amounts of them in a Montessori home, but they will still be very few, for some people they do still go for absolutely no active toys in their Montessori home too. That's down to personal preference and where you sit with this information to decide how you want to approach your current toy library.


This does not mean you need to go and find every toy with a battery in it and throw it away. But I do think we should all try our best to go back to children playing, being active, having an imagination and just being children. And try to step away from the screen heavy, flashing toys that only entertain child and has become the norm. Some kids cherish their active toys, you don't need to take this away. But maybe try to encourage more play with passive toys, put some of the active toys away in storage, buy more passive toys in the future, encourage their imagination, allow them to explore that box and ignore the active toy. It's going to give them so much more.


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I believe Montessori is for everyone, I want to help everyone bring a little more Montessori into their homes and lives.


Montessoraus Mama. x




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