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:
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!