12 Toddler & Preschooler Montessori Activities - Using What You've Already Have!
Today I want to share with you twelve really easy Montessori activities that use materials you may already have at home. Most of these activities are best suited to toddlers and preschoolers. Many of these activities I do with my toddler but an older child may like to do them independently. It's great to take time to set them up but don't worry, you are a busy parent at home, they don't need to be presented the same way they would be in a Montessori classroom. If you find your child/ren really like some of these activities, many of them can be reused and refreshed with different materials for example add new items to the mystery bag!
1. Magnetic/NonMagnetic. In the tray I put various magnetic and nonmagnetic items. I give my toddler a magnet (he uses a magnetic wand) and essentially allow him to explore the tray. An older child can make prediction (form and then test a hypothesis) as to what is magnetic and nonmagnetic and then sort them. In this tray we have a pencil, rock, metal bulldog clip, toy digger, wooden block, key, plastic bag clip, metal measuring cup, metal spoon, coin, a peg and a plastic model butterfly.
For an older child the activity could look like this:
2. Sink/Float. This is another traditional Montessori activity that I have really simplified for the home. Again I put the materials on a tray and allow my toddler to explore. An older child may like to do one item at a time and form a hypothesis first. My toddler here is just learning that some things sink and some things float an older child will try and work out why, what materials sink and float. In our basket we have a toy bus, a feather, rock, shell, wooden spoon, a leaf, a peg and a seed pod.
For an older child the activity could look like this:
3. Open/Close. This is a great activity for coordination and developing hand strength. Above I've used interesting tins but many other containers will work well, think purses with a simple zip, containers with twist lids, small boxes with simple closures or latches. Have a look around your home and use what you can find. My toddlers have always loved an open/close basket or tray, you can also put a little treasure inside a container and ask the child to find it.
4. Stereognostic or Mystery Bag. Simply put some everyday household items in a bag (a cloth opaque bag works best) as ask the child to identify each item using touch only. This helps to refine the child's stereognostic sense and usually it's a lot of fun too.
6. Colour Sorting/Finding. Use some coloured card, coloured bowls or coloured felt and find objects around your home that match that colour. If you don't have coloured card or felt, you can paint some paper. You can present this in a basket or tray for your child to use or you can go on a colour scavenger hunt and find the items to colour match with the child. "Let's go find some red things", "Let's see if we can find anything green.".
7. Sort Small to Big. - This can be fun if you can find different sizes of the same item like sports balls (golf, tennis, soccer, basketball) and line them up from small to big. We can also use sticks from the garden, fruit (peach, kiwi, apple, orange, melon), wooden spoons, whatever you can find. I do this activity with my toddler, siblings can also do this together.
8. Pegging Work. Many children like to do pegging work. Above I've put some easy-to-use pegs in a small bucket and the child puts the pegs on the edge of the bucket. Children can also use pegs to peg washing on a low or child size clothes hanger or peg their art work on a hanging art line/wire.
10. Nature Tray. Collect items from nature to study and to use for language work, on a tray or in a basket. See if you can find interesting things like feathers, leaves, seedpods. If you have a magnifying glass you can add that too. Sit with your child, feel and discuss them items or allow the child to touch and explore them independently. Make sure to wash your and the child's hands after touching.
11. Matching Pairs. Put out pairs for your child to match. For example matching socks from the washing. Or matching shoes in the closet.
12. Sorting. There are many items around the house children can help sort. They can sort by colour or by type. I'm thinking hair scrunchies, different types of pasta, art supplies like craft sticks, cutlery, buttons. The child can sort them into different bowls or containers.
Ok, that's twelve, perhaps there are more!
13. Washing. There are tons of things children can help and may enjoy washing. If it's warm outside the child can wash their bike, trike/balance bike or large toys like dump trucks. Just provide a sponge and some soapy water, then later perhaps another bucket of fresh water for rinsing. The child can wash vegetables or salad for dinner in a colander or in the sink. Or perhaps wash toys like model animals in the bath or in a bucket of soapy water.
14. Folding. We can start to teach folding with easy items like napkins, placemats, tea towels, cleaning clothes, pillow cases and later move to folding clothes. Teach your child to bring the edges together and smooth the folds. Show the child to do this carefully and precisely and they might just enjoy the process.
15. Play Dough Tray. Play dough isn't necessarily a Montessori activity but I would encourage all families to give it a go to help build hand strength and coordination. Use ingredients you may already have to make the play dough add some tools like household objects including a small butter knife, crinkle cutter, children's scissors, blunt fork, a potato masher or garlic crusher. We can also add some simple things from nature like sticks, leaves seedpods for the child to work with.
16. Play Pretend Shops or Pretend Library/Role Play. This also isn't specifically Montessori but can be used for role play and using real life skills. Use clean and empty food containers/boxes from your recycling and set up a little store. My toddler looves to play shop. Bonus if you already have a toy cash register! Using real containers/packets can be good for language development. If you have lots of books you can also play library, some children like to pretend to scan books or pretend to be a librarian.
17. Land/Air/Water. - We've use a special mat for this but you can make your own with felt on paint a scene on paper or card. You need a scene that includes some land (rolling hills are nice), air (sky) and water (sea/lake/stream/pond). Then add some animals (dog/bird/fish) or vehicles (digger/helicopter/ship) whatever you have. The idea is to place the models on the mat/scene where they would go or live. So the child puts the dogs on the land, fish in the water.
If you have a printer there are a ton of fun printables for this age, you can see some of our most recent ones here. I tend to print a lot in one go and then I am set for a good month or so!