Our New Montessori Corner….

We have a 16-cubby shelving unit in our pretty conventional play room.  Our goal is to replace the toys in each cubby with Montessori-inspired activity trays to create a Montessori Corner.  This goal will help us clear out toys and will also house inexpensive hands-on learning activities.

This is a BEFORE picture.  I don’t have an AFTER picture yet.  We have only filled 3 of the cubbies with Montessori sensory trays so far.  You’ll see the breakdown of the 3 activity trays below.  Pretty much everything was purchased at a Dollar Store or came from our pantry or craft box.

I should clarify that we aren’t a full-blown Montessori family.  We incorporate a lot of the principles, or try to, but our kids also have a lot of traditional toys and do a lot of imaginative play (kind of what you might find in a Waldorf-style learning system and some other play and learning philosophies).  The biggest thing is we try to create an environment for child-led exploration.

A fascinating and short run-down of different pre-school learning techniques and philosophies to include some found in cooperative pre-schools, homeschools, church-based schools, Montessori, Waldorf, Bank-Street and High-Scope approaches can be found in this article.)

And an excellent blog about how to incorporate Montessori activities in your home is:

Living Montessori Now

The Top 10 Montessori Principles For Natural Learning  is a great post from this wonderful blog that helps to describe basic principles of the Montessori Method which focuses on individualized attention, allowing the child to guide their own learning through their interests with an emphasis on hands-on activities, and the maintenance of an attractive and orderly environment. ( This is a way over-simplified explanation-  definitely check out the links above for a more comprehensive run-down of the method!)

Here are the first three Montessori-inspired activities that we’ve added to our play room shelves.

Montessori Activity #1:  Bean Counting

A local Montessori Mom totally gave me this idea!  This is a basic tray to teach numbers up to 6.  Another tray can be made to go up to 12.  Our almost-3 year old is using this one and I’ll up the numbers in this tray as he gets proficient with the activity.


  • 1 cookie tray ($1 each at the Dollar Store)
  • 2 x 6-Cupcake Tins ($1 each at Dollar Store)
  • Number stickers or Small Number Magnets up to 6
  • Beans (21 for 6 cupcake tin)

The child transfers the beans into the tin that corresponds with the number.  At first, it takes some practice and may actually take some work to develop patience to complete the activity.  At first, our son was only interested in going up to 3.  🙂  I also plan to order some kid-sized tongs so that he can practice using the tongs to develop fine motor skills.

Montessori Activity #2:  Letter And Number Rice-Writing


  • cookie tray ($1 at Dollar Store)
  • a medium to large covered bowl (can use medium to large covered tortilla holder, salsa bowl or pie pans from the dollar store- one to cover the other, possibly).
  • rice or sand to fill the bowl
  • alphabet and/or number stickers

This is one of the first activities I saw years ago when we first started to research the Montessori Method.  It was such an unorthodox approach to writing for young children that incorporated a sensory aspect to the activity.

I believe the concept behind it is that small kids sometimes have a tough time manipulating writing implements but that they can actually draw with their fingers and hands readily.  I saw this activity done with sand in a covered wooden box.  I’m using brown rice in a large pewter covered salsa bowl I found on sale.

Letter images are much harder to view in photos than they are in person.  The kids love this activity.

Montessori Activity #3:  Shapes and Patterns Tray


  • cookie tray ($1 at the Dollar Store)
  • Popsicle Sticks or Lollipop Sticks (painted in different colors according to shapes:  3,4,5,6,8,9,10, etc…)
  • A foot long piece of string
  • Index cards with shapes or a book about shapes (We use Eric Carle’s)

I also got this idea from a Montessori Mom who uses painted lollipop sticks to do the same activity with her daughter.  We started this tray with basic shapes:  triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon and octagon.

Here is the shape template she made that she has attached to her activity tray that her daughter uses for reference when making shapes with the colored lollipop sticks.

There are exactly the number of sticks in a particular color to create a particular shape.  I labeled each colored stick with a number denoting the number of sides in the shape to be formed.  For instance, there are four red sticks that form a square so each stick has a 4 on it.  I labeled the top stick with the name of the shape.  (This shape can be modified for the rectangle with the addition of more red sticks, too!).

The string is to form non-linear shapes like circles, semi-circles, crescents, etc…

As our children gain proficiency in these, I hope to add more sticks in more colors and move on to complex pattern making and will enjoy seeing what shapes they come up with on their own.

Here, we’re making a simple triangle.  Not too tough for the 4-year old, but a pretty cool feat for our 2 and a half-year old!

Starting the hexagon…..

And she did it!  At first, the Octagon was actually a little intimidating for her, but she kept with it and did it.  It was a real confidence booster for her.  We’ll start adding more sticks to build shapes with more sides, stars, and other patterns soon.

So there they are! Our first 3 Montessori-inspired activities!

Do you have any ideas we can add to our Montessori corner?

I would love to hear them!  We still have 13 cubbies to fill!

26 Responses to Our New Montessori Corner….

  1. Wow – thanks for the letter writing (in brown rice) activity. Zuki (the 2nd grade Air Head) is still having penmanship problems. I’ve tried EVERYTHING conventional – I gotta try this!

    By the way, I know a parent who teaches at Montessori. Her children still go to public school because even with 50% off, she can’t afford their tuition. Crazy, right?

  2. Nami- I hope he likes the activity! I cannot lie, though. My son tipped the salsa jar carrying it to the table and all the rice fell out. But, once it spilled, we just went with it. We played with rice on the rug for awhile- and just vacuumed it up later. haha! This was the first activity (sand in a wood box) a Montessori guide showed me at an orientation. There was a long waiting list (over a year) to get our daughter in when I was working full time. It really hit me hard that it was such a different approach to learning. It seemed so simple and brilliant. I hope it works! Also, I think Montessori where we live is much more affordable than NYC. I have a friend who priced it in Miami and another who priced it in Houston and Montessori pre-school was close to a grand a month per kid. That’s a pretty high bill. Thanks for the comment, Nami!

  3. I really, really like the stick shapes activity. My three year olds love the independence of Montessori based play, but sometimes struggle with the step-by-step aspect. They want to do it all at once! The coloured sticks could be used for shape-making, for pattern making, for structure building, depending on what direction the kids want to go in that day. I could supplement with four-image “instruction” sheets to help reinforce the left-to-right pre-reading process, shape recognition, and pattern play. And so on 🙂 Simple and elegant, and easy to build on. Love it!

    • We did the sticks again today- The article I link to in the post about all the different concepts did a good job of explaining what type of child would maybe prosper in each system. Our daughter thrives in a Montessori environment. I’m not quite sure if our son will. Their temperaments and interests and attention spans are so different. I hope the stick activity works for your classes, Desi! 🙂

  4. Now, I really know why Bridget hates you. *wink* You think of the coolest ways of mixing serious learning stuffs with the fun artsy stuff. 🙂 Seriously though, these activities are great! I’ll try the one with the popsticles per Mikaela. 🙂

    • What’s exciting is to know someone might try something I put out there. But, I can’t take credit for the idea. My Montessori Mom friend totally hooked me up with the idea! 🙂

  5. Bless you for all you do with your kids and for passing it on to other parents. Our youngest (22 yrs) is about to move out of the house this weekend – mama’s pretty sad! He would have loved some of the activities you post. Keep doing what you do. You are special! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

    • Oh, Michael- You always say the sweetest things. I’m so sorry that your son is moving out of the house. It’s funny- our society expects kids to leave so I know I will come to terms with the idea of not having the kids with me forever- but I really just cannot imagine it. It pains me now to think of that day. Hugs to you and your wife. I think you’re pretty special, too, Mike! 🙂

  6. This totally has nothing whatsoever to do with Montessori. And I know it’s a smidge cheesy (or is it just me that thinks that?). But I’m passing The Sunshine Award on to you because you left such a beautiful comment on my Happy Being Trevy blog that I was sappy for days. I may never forgive you for giving me puffy eyes ;). Thank you for taking the time to not just read my backstory…but to offer words of support too. It really meant the world to me that day…


    • Oh my goodness! How honored am I? Your blog is so full of hope and honesty- It almost made me feel bad about blogging about cake pops so often. I can’t wait to pass the award on- Thank you!!!

  7. These look like really great activities. I have no idea what educational approaches we should take or what even exists out there. Seems like too much reading and research to be done by me 🙂 I just know a good idea when I see one and yours are awesome, whatever they are labelled.

    • It is confusing- and I don’t follow any one in particular. I tend to think each kid might be more suited for different approaches. I like to combine the ideas myself. I can’t imagine a play room without a puppet theater. Some approaches wouldn’t have such a thing. 🙂 Glad you like the activities!

  8. I love the approach you are taking to transition over to Montessori materials. I think the Montessori method of learning is so incredible. Thank you for linking up to AfterSchool. Hope you will link up again with us tomorrow.

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    • Oh, Thanks! I’d seen similar ideas out there- but wanted to incorporate a way to replicate non-linear shapes in a hands-on/non-writing way- so the string seemed to be the best option- The only problem is one of our cats ate the string the next week and that cost us quite a bit in xrays (but not as much as the ridiculous surgery the vets recommended)…. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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