When their children approach 2 years of age, most city parents begin to wonder about pre-school options. (Some start earlier. I remember being on a school tour with a pregnant mom who was doing research for her unborn child). Schooling choices generally boil down to two philosophies: the open ended Reggio Emilia approach or the more structured methods of Maria Montessori. As enrollment deadlines approach, wonder usually gives way to panic, and it is easy to forget that school is supposed to be a fun, learning experience. Luckily, the proprietors of Kid O, a small children’s store in Manhattan, have not forgotten this, and they offer a search tool that groups toys designed with these two schools of thought in mind.

The items that caught my eye were the Montessori Line Exercise Cubes (above), and the Reggio Emilia Arcobaleno Puzzle (below). The Line Exercise Cubes, designed by Nienhuis for Education, give interested kids the opportunity to sort through a series of three-dimensional cubes in order to complete a two-dimensional pattern (to solve the puzzle currently in your mind, 6 separate faces on 16 cubes with 18 card variations equals endless fun). The set encourages kids to hone the important skill of pattern recognition, plus “in addition to the educational benefits, Line Exercise Cubes are also a great sculptural object for design lovers.”

The Arcobaleno Puzzle, which falls in line with the Reggio Emilia philosophy, allows users to “nest the asymmetrical arches into a round tray; solve structural problems as they build an inverted cone or a double tunnel; and tap their imaginations to create bridges, domes, towers, spiral houses, tigers with red tails, and fascinating forms.” The Arcobaleno Puzzle, “rainbow in Italian,” is not without its own intrinsic beauty, and it comes in a set of 12 arch forms nestled into a hardwood tray.

The functionality of these two puzzles speaks worlds about the differences between the two educational philosophies. While the Montessori Line Exercise Cubes have only one possible solution for each of the 18 possibilities, (teaching kids to use “didactic materials with a control for error”), the Reggio Emilia Arcobaleno Puzzle allows kids the flexibility to create varying options, test fledgling theories and come away with imperfect ideas, (“children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves”).

Review the other education based toys available at Kid O here.