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Category Archives: Montessori

10 best toys for babies & toddlers Children learn through play and, as parents, we want to make sure that they have the very best toys and environment for learning.  We don’t care for “hot” toys or fleeting fads.  We look for high quality, well-made toys that will have staying power for your child. There are so many options so we’ve put together our Very Best Toys guides to help you choose the very best for your child.

Our 10 Very Best Toys for Babies & Toddlers

We love natural materials like wood which is a sensory treat for your child.   It looks great, feels great, sounds great when rattled, stacked and knocked over and sometimes even smells great! As long as it is natural or colored with non-toxic stains/paints, it will be safe for your little one to chew or suck on.  It’s not an accident that all of our picks are either made in the USA or in Germany!

Rattles & Clutching Toys

At this age, rattles and clutching toys help improve grasping skills and eye-hand coordination.

1.  Our Haba clutching toys such as the adorable Flapsi Rattle and the Magica clutching toy are made in Germany of sustainable wood and non-toxic water-based stains.  My Very Own Rattle is a classic rattle made in Vermont of a single piece of maple.  Generations of parents have chosen this as their favorite.

Wooden Blocks

Educators and child development experts agree that if you are going to get one toy for your child it should be a wooden block set.  It’s the perfect open-ended, creative activity for kids of any age – it also helps with spatial, eye-hand and motor skills.  It promotes problem-solving, social and verbal skills and is a great way to learn architectural and engineering principles.  Kids can create, share and tell stories using wooden blocks.  Here are our favorites:

2. Haba Patience Blocks & Discovery Blocks  (ages 1+)

When is a block not a block?  When it has bells, mirrors, rattling balls and buttons!  Each set comes with six colored wooden blocks.  The Patience Blocks have wooden balls and track behind a plexiglass window and the Discovery Blocks have cubes with a bell, kaleidoscope lens, push button, mirror, yellow lens, and rattling ball. These first stacking toys encourage sensory observation and fine motor skills.

3. Haba Baby’s First Blocks  (ages 6 months+)

The perfect first set of simple blocks for your baby!   These 12 simple cubes are in 6 basic colors that your child can hold and stack.  Blocks are a wonderful way for your baby to develop fine motor skills and learn about stacking and cause and effect.   Use them to teach colors and matching.  Like these other Haba toys, they are made in Germany of beechwood from sustainably grown forests. The blocks are colored with non-toxic water-based stains.

4.  Alphabet Blocks from Uncle Goose (ages 24 months+)

Uncle Goose’s  28-piece English Wooden Alphabet Block Set is patterned after blocks from the turn-of-the-century and printed in the safest inks available.  Each block features a unique animal picture, a number or math symbol, and four upper case letters (two embossed), for a total of four complete alphabets.The blocks are made of basswood that is sustainably grown in the USA.

5. Haba Fantasy Blocks  (ages 1-5)

This is one of the most beautiful block sets that I’ve ever seen. This unique 26-piece block set adds a new twist to block play with vivid colors, patterns and designs. The Fantasy Block set includes different shapes and features – including staircases, roof tops, hidden bells, holograms – even the sun!  Great for stacking, building and story-telling. Winner of Dr. Toy’s Best Classic Toy Award  Made in Germany of sustainably-grown beechwood and colored with non-toxic water-based stains. Some blocks are embellished with high quality acrylic or foil.

6. Haba Stick Together Blocks (Ages 1+)

These are one of the most popular block sets.  The colorful blocks have pegs on top and recesses on bottom so stacked blocks stay in place. Great for eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Perfect for the young architect in your household. 13 pieces. Made in Germany.

Building Toys

7. Haba My First Ball Track (Ages 18 months+)

We’re big fans of ball track and marble runs and this is a great introduction to the world of ball track for your toddler. Get an early start on developing spatial sense, fine motor skills and patience.  The colorful connecting blocks come with pivots that easily lock into place on the bottom of the ball track pieces. This makes constructing easy and keeps the track in place even if your little one bumps against it!  Your child will love the ding of the bell on the finishing block and the special effects ball that glitters, rings or rattles when it rolls.  As you child gets older, this set will nicely complement any of Haba’s ball track sets. Made in Germany. Ages 1-1/2 – 5.

8. Lighthouse Stacking Toy (Ages 1+)

Stacking toys are a staple of childhood. Haba’s Lighthouse Stacking Game stacks easily and is stable as the pieces have lugs on the top and sockets on the bottom.  Your child will have hours of fun stacking the blocks in different order.  Made in Germany of beechwood and non-toxic water-based stains.

9. Haba Noah’s Ark Building Block Set (Ages 3+)

This HABA Noah’s Ark wooden block set has unlimited play value. Your child can act out the story of Noah and the Flood, of course. Or – how about settlers in a new land, or an expedition searching for rare animals? Made in Germany.  Recipient of Dr. Toy Best Classic Toy award and Spiel Gut Toy award.

10. Roy Toy 250-piece Deluxe Log Cabin Building Set  (Ages 3+)

These are the original log cabin logs and they’re still made in the USA!  This deluxe set is made of 100% pine from Maine.  The wooden pieces even smell great!   The set comes with enough parts to build many structures:  farmhouse, forts, barn with silo & corral, treehouse, and any structure that young minds and hands can devise. I love that the set comes in a large, sturdy canvas bag with rope tie.

Any of these are great toys for your child.  What are your favorites?




This Christmas, before you buy toys, consider this:  What makes a good kid’s toy?  In a nutshell, one that your children will want to play with over and over again and that you can feel good about.  How to tell if it’s a good toy?  We’ve rounded up the best advice out there!

what makes a good kids toy


Uncle Goose Blocks & Wagon

Uncle Goose Blocks & Wagon

Great craftsmanship means the toys will last forever.  Think about the wooden trains or blocks that you had as a kid. You might even still have them!  Even years after you purchased them, parts will still fit together nicely and won’t warp.  If they are quality toys, they won’t break and won’t harm your child.  Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the best and safest toys out there are made in the USA or Europe, are made from environmentally friendly materials and are classic toys – no batteries or cheap plastic parts that will break.

What are some quality toy brands?  We like Haba, Uncle Goose, Maple Landmark, Mindware, Artterro, Guidecraft, Citiblocs, BeginAgain, Roy Toy, among others.


Is the toy safe?  Is it age appropriate?  If you need help figuring out what toy is appropriate by age, check out this toy guide from NAEYC.  Keep little ones away from small parts. Make sure that your toys are lead-free.  Toys that were made years ago may have been manufactured with lead paint. You can get a lead paint test kit just to be sure.

You won’t have any problems with natural wooden toys like these from Haba.  Any fabric toys need to be labeled as flame-resistant or flame-retardant. Art materials should be non-toxic. Look for water-based stains and dyes.  Sign up to receive product recalls with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What are they made of?

  • Plastic is easy to clean, but it can break.
  • Wood lasts forever and can be wiped down.
  • Wooden toys are aesthetically pleasing to many senses:  visual and tactile (sometimes they even smell good like Roy Toy’s log cabin pine building sets!).
  • Batteries die – usually when you most need them!  Plus, battery-powered toys aren’t recommended for kids younger than 8 years.
  • Are the materials environmentally or socially-responsible?
  • Where are the toys made? Look for wooden toys made from sustainably-grown trees.


The best toys are simple, classic and nurture open-ended play.   Some of these you can buy; others are lying around the house or outside.  Think: wooden blocks, boxes, twigs, clothes or fabric to play dress-up, art materials.  You can get wooden unit blocks from Guidecraft or plank blocks from CitiblocsWooden train sets are always great. Kids of all ages can play with these.

Fun Factor & Play Value

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff.

  • Does the toy promote creative thinking, skill development, or a new concept?
  • Can you play with the toy in different ways?
  • Is the toy developmentally appropriate for your child?
  • Will your child want to play with it over and over again?
  • Is it easy for kids to figure out and/or are there clear directions on the packaging so you can help them, if needed?

Parent’s Choice Foundation also has a nice list of things to look for in a good toy.

We’re biased at Turner Toys & Hobbies because we specialize in great toys that your children will love to play with over and over again.  Toys that are high quality, safe, well-made, basic, educational and fun!

What do you think makes a good toy?


Spotlight on Guidecraft’s Texture Dominos

Guidecraft texture dominos tactile toyEvery now and then, I like to feature a particular toy that provides fun and multiple educational benefits.  One of my favorites is Guidecraft’s Texture Dominos, a wonderful preschool manipulative and tactile toy.  The toy has also won an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award.

Dominos are a great classic game that help children with math skills including combining and partitioning numbers.  Guidecraft’s Texture Dominos are a twist on traditional dominos.  They have two colored and textured dots for matching. 

Texture Dominos help children: Guidecraft Texture Dominos

  • Develop tactile discrimination
  • Develop visual perception.
  • Develop sorting & sequencing skills
  • Exercise fine motor skills
  • Think and problem solve
  • Learn to take turns when playing them as a game

Children can play a dominos game, they can match and sort (with eyes open or closed!), they can stack and build.  So many ways to play with them!

The set comes with 28 wooden dominos in a sturdy wooden tray.  For children ages 3+.

For more information on other great manipulative toys that are wonderful fine motor skill builders, check out my earlier posts Best Toys to Build Children’s Fine Motor Abilities and Lacing Toys.

Do your children play dominos?  What are their favorite domino games?

Made in USA Toy SaleTo honor American workers this Labor Day, we’re offering one of our best sales ever:

20% off Made in USA toys

I noticed that some big toy makers and toy stores are having sales this weekend but I noticed that they didn’t mention anything about American-made products.  Then it dawned on me – it’s because they don’t sell anything that’s made in USA!

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According to the US Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

So let’s celebrate the wonderful craftsmanship of US toymakers!   Use code LABORDAY at checkout. Choose from among:


Sale through September 3rd. We carry other fine made in USA toys and furniture but are unable to include them in this sale.  Sale excludes Vermont Dory, Mountain Boy Sleds, Little Colorado Furniture.

Remember that when you buy American made toys you are supporting your neighbors and contributing to a strong US economy!

Please check out these groups support Made in USA:

Made in USA Challenge

Buy Direct USA

For more information on the value of buying made in USA, please read my earlier posts:  Toys Made in USA, Made in America Toys – At What Price? and Made in USA Still Matters according to Businessweek.

Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Montessori Learning Activity

Children learn by doing.  One key aspect of Montessori philosophy is: “Help me to do it myself.”  (See my earlier post on Montessori Philosophy.) Montessori activities use multiple senses to learn, internalize and prepare for the next steps such as writing, all in a developmentally-appropriate way.   One of the activities I loved when my daughter was in Montessori preschool was the “feel & find” activity. When I saw Guidecraft’s 3D Feel & Find, I knew that we had to carry it.

Guidecraft 3D Feel & Find Montessori Guidecraft Feel & Find Fine Motor children

What is it? The set includes 20 wooden tiles, 20 matching wooden shapes and a cloth bag. Children put their hands into a bag and identify the shape through touch alone.  Is it a letter shape, a geometric shape, an animal shape?  Fit it into the matching puzzle tile.  The child can also sort the pieces by color and/or type of shape.

Fine Motor Skills

Recent posts have focused on different toys that help children build fine motor skills such as lacing toys and manipulatives.  The Feel & Find uses several senses to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills:

  • Tactile
  • Spacial
  • Visual

Depending on how the game is used, children also learn:

  • Sorting & classification skills
  • Social skills when played as a game with other children.

How to play with the Feel & Find?

  1. Hand out the puzzle tiles to the players and then have them take turns reaching into the bag (no peeking!)
  2. Children find the matching shape and insert into their puzzle tile.
  3. Based on which tiles are used the learning activity can focus on geometric shapes (10), real world object shapes (10), colors or a mix.

The shapes are colored with safe non-toxic paint and are safe for ages 3 and up. 

What  a great way to nurture your child’s sensory exploration.  Isn’t it nice when children incorporate multiple senses in their learning since we frequently rely on our visual sense.  Plus, the bag lends an air of secrecy & mystery!

What other multidimensional learning activities do your children like?


fine motor abilitiesAcquiring fine motor skills is a major developmental milestone for children which is why it’s so important to create an environment that fosters this kind of learning.  How?  Appropriate toys and activities.  Remember – children learn through play and “doing.”

Guidecraft colored geo forms toy

Guidecraft Colored Geo Forms

What kinds of toys help build children’s fine motor abilities?

Toys and activities that can help your child build fine motor skills include:

  • sorting
  • stacking
  • lacing
  • weaving
  • coloring, and a lot more!

Manipulative skills allow little fingers to develop hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, visual perception, critical thinking skills and more.  Children explore the sensory properties of objects (size, shape, color, texture, weight, sound) when they play with manipulative toys.

Here are some great manipulative toys to help your child develop their fine motor abilities.   They are great toys that teach learning skills and would be equally happy as an in-home toy or at a Montessori school.

Sorting, Stacking & Shape Recognition Toys to Build Fine Motor Abilities

Guidecraft 3D Feel & Find  GuidecraftFind&Feel

A classic Montessori activity!  Children are given wooden tiles and they put their hand into the bag (no peeking!) to find the matching shape.



Guidecraft Nest & Stack Cubes & Guidecraft Nest & Stack Cylinders

Rubberwood cubes or cylinders that nest together so kids can explore spatial relations, they also stack promoting fine motor and shape recognition tools. Also as each of the shapes decrease in size the colors go from bold to pastel teaching kids color differences.

Guidecraft Colored Geo Forms

Helps develop shape recognition, size progression and color matching. Twenty shaped pieces fit into an extra wide base. Shaped pieces are the same color but are five different sizes to they can be sorted by size and color.

Guidecraft Barnyard Activity Boxes

A great toy for in-home play or classroom.  Perfect for color, counting, sorting and imaginative play. Includes six different color barns with opening door and plexi windows, 6 purple chickens, 5 blue geese, 4 green pigs, 3 yellow sheep, two orange cows and one red horse. Each barn has an animal shaped opening so kids can put the orange cows back in the orange barn. Activity guide included.

Guidecraft One to Four Sorter Toy

A classic toy to help build early counting and sorting skills. Kids can sort shapes and place them on the pegs. Each shape comes in 4 colors to help develop hand-eye coordination.

Guidecraft Texture Dominos

One of my favorites – 28 wooden dominoes have textured circles for matching. Great for developing tactile discrimination and visual perception. When played as a game it’s a good way for kids to learn to take turns and improve sorting sequencing activities.

Stay tuned for more posts about fine motor skill toys. Next up:  Lacing Toys!

Photo credit: Gurumustuk Singh / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

G98049-art-table and chairsThe other day, I was looking through some of my daughter’s old journals and artwork from her Montessori preschool.  She’s 11 now and it seems like forever since she was at her Montessori school.  I drive by the school nearly every day and am reminded of how wonderful her experience was there and how it helped her to become the capable and confident person she is.  So, what is Montessori education?  Here’s some background.

Montessori Learning in a nutshell

Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician (among Italy’s first female doctors!) and educator. In 1907 she opened a childcare center for inner-city children in Rome and was struck by their natural desire to learn.  At first the kids were unruly (imagine that!!!) but then she saw that they liked working with puzzles and manipulatives that taught math lessons and learning to do everyday tasks such as preparing meals.  She observed how they absorbed knowledge from their surroundings, essentially teaching themselves.  Another reason why it’s so important to set a good example for children and to watch what you say!

With MontEnglish: Portrait of Maria Montessoriessori’s theory, the child leads (in Montessori lingo – Follow the Child).  The teacher is there to guide the child and to prepare the learning environment so that there are appropriate materials and activities to choose from.  The curriculum fosters independence but a Montessori classroom is far from chaotic and the children are not abandoned or ignored in any way.  I was always struck by how calm a Montessori classroom of preschoolers was and how all the learning materials were laid out in such an aesthetically pleasing way.  I felt calmer when I spent time in the school.

The Montessori educational philosophy seems obvious but it’s so different from what my daughter experiences in public school.  At a very young age, she practiced activities such as pouring water from one glass pitcher to another.  What she learned from this was how to handle fragile objects carefully, to use motor skills to lift and pour, to focus and to be mindful about her activity. She learned to carefully cut vegetables and she cooked vegetable soup at home.  She learned woodworking and made tables at home using extra wood and our drill – and she was 5!!!

Here’s a popular quote from Maria Montessori. It will resonate for all parents of young children.

“The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age six; for that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. . . . Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.”

More Montessori Info

For more information about Montessori education, see the websites below.

American Montessori Society

Association Montessori Internationale

There are many sites and blogs about Montessori out there.  Here is just a sampling:

Living Montessori Now 

Carrots are Orange 

Counting Coconuts

Lisa Nolan’s Confessions of a Montessori Mom Blog

What about you?

Have you had experience with Montessori education?  What do like about it?  Can you recommend other Montessori-related sites?

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