Preschool at my house – large family homeschooling (with toddlers!)

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Fingerpainting – 5 minutes of actual finger painting (in the bottom of the tubs) then 45 minutes of cleaning up! First the tubs, then the kids. They did seem to have fun though.

I have been asked a few times recently what I am doing for preschool with my 4-year-old children. There have been no major changes to how we have always done things; we just take the sitting and focussing skills they have already been learning during mat time, playpen time, room time, highchair time and other periods of focussed play and apply them to the next level of hands-on learning.

We have been focussing on basic counting skills, learning our letter namessounds and identifying initial sounds (moving on to 3 letter words) and other hands on activities that promote fine motor skills. (Plus some other kindergarten style activities that are pretty much just for fun.) I work with just the twins for 20 minutes each morning, which gives them some focussed time with Mummy before I go on to the older children while the twins do independent activities on their mats.

This short period of time I know by experience (coupled with the learning they receive during our daily flexible routine, reading times etc.) is enough to give them a strong start in all the learning areas as they get older. Preschool need not be particularly complicated, formal or arduous to be effective and it does not need to take all day. We do some more formalised work at this age because they are ready for it and enjoy doing “real school” like the big kids. If these two factors were not in place I would back off until they were ready.

Here is a snapshot of the activities we have been doing over the last 2 weeks.

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Our preschool activity cupboard for “school with Mummy” time.

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Mat time activities cupboard – Lego, counting button puzzle, pattern blocks and puzzle cards, button sorting, cutting and magnetic pompoms.

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Counting 1 to 10. Spice jar lids marked with metallic pens and some plastic tiles to count.

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Hair elastics and swizzle sticks marked 1 to 10. The number strip is to follow until they know the order of the numerals.

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Another number sequencing and counting to 10 activity, combined with some tong work for pincer grip strength.

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Counting golden rings to match numbered “glass” slippers (wedding favours.)

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Initial sounds activity sheets. Just a bunch of pictures to decide if they do (circle them) or don’t (cross them out) start with the correct sound. Large letter in centre of page to practise letter formation in. Doing some written work makes them feel like the big kids – they love it! Takes 5 minutes so not at all taxing for me or them.

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Addition tray. Now the twins can order numerals to 10 and display reasonable 1-to-1 correspondence we have started basic adding and subtracting activities.
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Ideally the plate for the total would be bigger than the other plates! The idea is that the two plates are tipped together into the last plate to find the total. I find however that having the blocks in a line makes it easier for them to count without re-counting the same block repeatedly.

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These school activities are definitely not independent as yet. The moment I left to take a couple of photos, my son started building trains with the blocks!

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The twins have developed their ability to hear the initial sound in words and we are now working on 3 letter consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words. The next sound most children hear is the last sound in the word, followed by the middle sound. These letter tiles are Coko bricks that are compatible with Duplo boards. Good for beginning activities for non-writers or those who find writing tedious.

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Art – 4 year old’s version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. We actually got around to doing a proper picture study. Forgot to take photos of the older children’s work, but some of them were better than mine!

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Who cares about sunflowers? I can mix all my colours into a great brown sludge!!

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Toddler version of sunflowers. He actually didn’t want to paint anything at all. I practically had to make him do it just for the photo :) Doesn’t like dirty hands!

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What do you do with a toddler while you homeschool? Heaps of things!! Here are just a few and if you follow my blog at all you know there are many more ideas to be had. Step one – train them to sit and focus. Step 2 – find some engaging activities. Step 3 – pop them in the playpen when they have had enough of highchair time, followed by a good session of running around outside to burn off energy. That’s just the current morning routine while the older children get the bulk of their work done. It has changed many times.

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Magnetic blocks in a metal box. Stroke of genius to store them this way – NOT!! This was the only container I had and when I put them in it occurred to me that it would make a great building platform. Pure luck!

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What has this got to do with school time? Nothing at all! Just another one of those great embarrassing photos we are storing up for our kid’s 21st birthdays. Plus, he’s so cute! For those who are worried about the girlie outfit, please note that he is carrying 2 trucks!

     

Toddler busy bag exchange

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A good friend of mine recently hosted an activity bag exchange for young children and toddlers. Each Mum involved made 13 copies of an activity of their choice. We all got together for a chat and to exchange our bags with each other, leaving us all with 13 different activities to use with our own children. Here are the wonderful bags the ladies made. (While none of these are original ideas, they can be found in so many places across the web that I haven’t tried to give credit to sources in most cases.)

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Pizza factory. The children follow the order cards to custom-make each pizza according to their customer’s preferences. (Links to free printable order cards and other busy bag swap ideas here.)

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Popstick pattern match. Use the coloured popsticks to copy the picture patterns. Several of the cards have plain colours on the back to convert  the activity to a colour match instead.

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Button snake. Great for learning how to do up buttons; excellent for fine motor control. The felt pieces are pushed on and off the “snake” using the button head.

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Pipecleaner bracelets. Thread the cut straws onto the pipecleaners to make patterns and jewellery. You could do this as a colour matching activity if you have the right straws and pipe cleaner colours

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Sandpaper and wool pictures. Again with patterns to follow and copy, placing the pieces of wool onto the sandpaper to make pictures.

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Paper clip feet. Slide the paper clips onto the toes by colour or write a number on each foot for counting practise as well as fine motor skills. Young children can just pile the paperclips on top if it is too difficult to push them on.

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Tissue paper pictures. Tear pieces of tissue or crumple into balls to decorate the pictures or make you own with the blank paper and glue. Stickers and crayons are added for extra fun as well.

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Paint swatch pegging. Pincer grip (necessary for writing later) is exercised by opening the pegs to match them to the correct colour swatch.

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Shape puzzle. A simple make-your-own puzzle with foam sheet cut into geometric shapes

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Pop-pom push jar. Push the pompoms through 2 sizes of holes into the plastic container. (Tip: Use a drill to make the holes.)

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My youngest enjoyed the pompom posting and soon figured out that he could shake the small ones back out again – saving me the trouble of taking the lid on and off for him!

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Felt chains. Perfect timing for Christmas! While the rest of the family are producing reams of paper chain to decorate the entire house (or is that just my children?) the youngest can be practising with felt and velcro, to be made and re-made over and over again.

The last 2 bags were mine and I made sewing and threading activities and a basic gluing bag. Sorry, no photos, but check here and here for some gluing and fine-motor ideas.)

Other posts you may find helpful:

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Toddler busy boxes 

Sensory tub ideas

Toddler busy boxes

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Toddler busy boxes are part of our flexible daily routine. They help me to homeschool  older children or get some chores done while my toddlers and preschoolers are well occupied on a worthwhile task.

busy box cupboard IMG_8556Our busy boxes (and ziploc bag activities, tot school, workjobs, shoebox tasks, preschool or Montessori style tray activities) are only available at certain times in the day to keep them fresh and interesting and to stop them getting spread throughout the house. We use them during school time in the morning and for table activities while I am getting dinner on the table in the evening. That way I do not need to change them too often because the children’s interest stays high and I can also keep some degree of supervision over the messier trays to avoid major pack up sessions afterwards.

They are also excellent to use for buddy time when an older child is assigned to play with a younger sibling. This is useful for example when the younger children have already finished playpen or room time and I just need an extra 20 minutes or so to finish working with one of the older children to complete their school activities. Turning toddlers loose to wander unattended throughout the house is bound to end in trouble, so some time with an older sister or brother gives the older children a break from their school work and builds good sibling relationships at the same time. The older children enjoy the responsibility because they do not get asked to do it all the time or for very long periods of time. It also gives them an excuse to play with all those attractive tubs as well!

This set of busy boxes is for my 3 year old twins, but many could be adapted to suit toddlers and older babies too. There are heaps of ideas on my other posts for the younger age group.blocks and animals IMG_8554Plastic animals and wooden blocks for building corals, zoos, farms and houses. Jenga blocks work well too.

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The 3 year olds have been learning how to recognise the numerals 1 to 5 and count small items. Combining building with Duplo as well makes this counting tray attractive, particularly to boys.geoboards IMG_8547Geoboards are a commercially produced mathematics tool. Great for exploring geometric shapes, perimeter, fractions or just for making pictures with elastic bands.dry erase board IMG_8546Personal dry erase boards (whiteboards) with pens and an eraser. sewing cards IMG_8543Sewing and lacing cards. These have a shape drawn for the children to copy. There are plenty of sewing and lacing shapes around to buy or make your own by punching holes around a cardboard picture using a hole punch.button sorting IMG_8542Sorting buttons into muffin trays is a hit with all ages. There is just something about handling all those different shapes and textures. The twins haven’t even gotten their hands on these yet – the 6, 8 and 10 year olds have been monopolizing them! cutting box IMG_8540Teaching toddlers to cut provides them with an absorbing activity that is great for their fine motor skills. The twins have had experience with all the materials in this box so this is just an assortment to chop up any old way they like. Paper streamers, card strips, beads, straws and other oddments such as tinsel or curling ribbon could be included. We let the bits fall back into the box and they can eventually be used for collage later on. The cutting box with free printable patterns I prepared a little while back was too advanced for them so I have put it away to use later on. wood puzzle IMG_8536A collection of good quality wooden puzzles is a good investment. This one came with a variety of patterns for the children to copy, making it much more  long-lasting.gluing IMG_8534Teaching toddlers to glue is another open-ended activity that they will love. Using a glue stick makes it a lot less messy to begin with. A selection of coloured card pieces and diecut shapes from a Kmart scrapbooking assortment pack made this very easy to prepare.rice box IMG_8531Sensory tubs have so many applications. Finding puzzles pieces hidden in rice is pictured above. See here for many more ideas.do a dot IMG_8530Do-a-dot pictures are great for fine motor skills. Bingo dot markers can be used to dot inside the circles or provide small stickers to peel and stick into the dots.  There are tonnes of free printable do-a-dot pictures around if you do a quick google search. teddies IMG_8528Imaginative cooking and doll/teddy play is always a hit. Small teddies, mini pillows, sheets and blankets, along with marbles, jewels and wooden button food makes an interesting selection. Bottle top plates and an old polly pocket toy as well as some screw-top jars finish it off.beads IMG_8526Pony beads and pipecleaners are great for threading and can be made into bracelets or tipped off and re-used next time. dinosaurs IMG_8523Our dinosaur tub includes play dough, plastic dinosaurs, popsicle sticks and popstick fences, a rolling-pin and plastic knife and some artificial leaves for plants and trees. The green bowl has been used to make a pond, cave and home for them as well.

Make sure you choose activities that are age appropriate, can be used independently, include attractive materials, are easily accessible, and easy to pack away. Being able to throw everything back into a robust plastic tub makes it easy for children to keep the activities together and tidy up after themselves.

The key to using these kinds of activities with your young children successfully though is training. No amount of pretty materials will keep a fidgety toddler with the attention span of a flea sitting in one spot for any length of time on a day-to-day basis. As soon as the novelty wears off they will be up and off again.

Take the time to train your children to stay in a designated area. (See mat time/blanket time and highchair time.) Introducing young babies to playpen time that transitions to room time later on is an excellent way to begin (see starting late) and the highchair and table make excellent places to sit a child with an engaging activity while you are nearby. Some children will naturally sit still for longer than others, but all can be trained to do so for a reasonable length of time.

If you are too busy to train your children to sit and concentrate then you are too busy!! Give up some of those good things you do and take on the better thing of training your children. They will need these focussing and concentrating skills in later life, especially at school and your home and others will be blessed by a self-controlled toddler.

Montessori addition trays: hands-on mathematics

add tray C using IMG_8374A strong foundation in basic mathematical skills will set children up for later success. Too many children learn how to complete math problems by following a formula or method that they simply do not understand. They pass the tests, but when the difficulty of the problems increases, or they are presented in a different format than the one they are used to, the child flounders.

Teaching children using concrete materials (items that can be seen and handled) before moving to abstract concepts (problems worked out on paper) is absolutely vital to make sure they understand the connection between the methods they are using and how and why they work.

The Montessori method for mathematics is brilliant, especially for young children. It is very systematic and progresses from skill to skill in small steps, with each stage building on the one before to ensure understanding and mastery is gained before moving to the next step in the ladder. Concepts that are not covered in your standard state school math book are intentionally introduced and explained in a way that can easily be grasped by even very young children.

Many children seem to simply absorb these small skills along the way, almost accidentally, but the children who struggle with maths are usually the ones who never intuitively grasped the shortcuts, mental methods and other little tricks and understandings that their more successful peers just seemed to somehow “get” without direct instruction.

One of the foundational skills that later math problems build on is adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing small numbers. Many children will make mistakes when solving a more advanced problem, simply because they make a basic error with one of these simple calculations. Spending time in the early years ensuring that children master their basic maths facts is a must for success and speed later on.

Here is a Montessori addition tray and some other Montessori inspired ideas for teaching young children to add small numbers, mastering their addition facts as they complete them.adding tray jewels IMG_8361This is how our addition tray looks on the shelf. Only one child at a time is using it, so it is set up in such a way as to mark their individual progress. Every week or so I “test” their mastery of the addition facts and those problems that they are able to solve mentally (without thinking time) are placed into the screw-top container. They are pulled out for occasional review, but no longer need daily practise. This provides some intrinsic motivation as they see the pile in the dish growing smaller and smaller and the container getting fuller and fuller. They love it when we exclaim over how many they know now.

Initially, I split the facts into sets; plus 1, plus 2, plus 3  and so on and only have 1 set out at a time.  Once they know the sets fairly well individually, we combine the lot, taking out the ones they have mastered and working on what is left. Obviously, learning all the plus 0, plus, 1 plus 2 and plus 10 facts is very easy, so starting with these gives the child a boost of confidence as they quickly plow through the first sets, filling that jar almost immediately.

adding tray set out IMG_8362The activity is set out in the child’s workspace like this. The correct number of jewels are counted into the first and second dish, before both sets are scooped together into the final dish for them to find the answer by counting. It provides a very clear visual display of what happens when you add two numbers together.

Because some children will take a long time to recall all of the addition facts, I give them lots of different kinds of materials to count and present the problems in different ways. Here are some of the Montessori inspired, hands-on workjobs  that I have used with both my own children as we homeschool and in a classroom situation when I was a teacher.

peg & pompom paper plate addition to 10These pegs are labelled with the addition facts and the pompoms serve as the counting material. Once the child has found the answer, the peg is clipped onto the correct segment of the paper plate. It is self-checking as there is only one peg for each segment – any double-ups means that they need to redo those pegs to discover the correct answer. The holder for the pegs is the centre from a used roll of masking tape.cutlery noodle additionThis was a favourite with my children. As always, making up a funny story to go with the activity turned it into something really fun. Those greedy restaurant patrons were at it again and the children had to figure out who’s cutlery was whose and put it into the correct cup. Only one knife, spoon and fork should be in each cup, so again, any double-up means that the child needs to redo the problem. The noodles serve as the counting material.sticker addition red sort trayThis activity is very quick to make. The sticker cards are the manipulatives with problems written onto card strips. Once solved, each strip is placed into the segmented dip tray in top of it’s answer. peg addition black 4 hole trayNumber stickers on the base of the 4 segment tray determine where each problem card is placed. The pegs are slipped onto the sides to count and solve the problem.gold & silver start additionThe silver stars have the problem and the gold stars hold the answers. The child counts the jewels to solve the addition sum and matches the silver star to it’s mate.

Presenting attractive materials and a variety of experiences will make learning these basic skills enjoyable for your child and set them up for success in the future.

Other posts you may find useful:

Montessori tray activities for toddlers

Montessori counting trays 1 to 5

Homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers

Teaching children to read – where to begin?

 

 

 

Montessori style practical life tray activities for toddlers

Today’s post is a potpourri of Montessori tray activity ideas. They cover a range of skills and fall into a number of practical life categories, but all are great for teaching your toddler to sit and concentrate for an extended period. I have spoken to a number of Mums recently about the difficulty they have in getting their toddlers to sit for any length of time at the one activity. One method that has helped me to achieve this with my toddlers is to include highchair time, table time, and mat or blanket time in our flexible routine. These are times when Mum chooses what the toddler will play with and where they will play. (See choices.)

I use my Montessori style tray activities for highchair time with my young toddlers or during table time for my older children. For those little ones who are “done” with an activity after only a minute or two, I have used a timer to extend them. I put it on for 5 minutes and let them know that I will give them a new activity to play with when the timer is done. They may choose to be finished with their current activity and just sit and wait for the next one or (and this is what usually happens very quickly) they will realise that since there will be nothing else to do until the timer finishes, they will choose to go back to the activity they have been given and work on it for a little longer. The timer I use is a visual timer so they can see how much time is left as it counts down. It also has an option to turn off the beeper so that if they have become engaged in a task the beep of the timer does not disturb their concentration. As they become more able to concentrate for an extended period, the time is lengthened accordingly and eventually the timer is no longer necessary.

The older preschoolers who have developed sufficient self control and concentration are given the freedom to choose their own tray activity, take it to a designated space, work on the task, pack it up and return it to the cupboard before choosing another activity.

If you are getting started for the first time with an 18 month to 2 year old, 5 minutes for each activity is reasonable and the entire session may only last for 15 to 20 minutes to begin with. A two year old will quickly work up to a 30 minute session, but still may need a change of activity after 5 minutes. If I was planning a half hour session of highchair time (long enough to cook dinner) I will organise the 6 activities I need to be on hand before I start. (It may be a good idea to keep them out of view to begin with to prevent their attention being diverted by another activity that looks more interesting!) As the child gets older, the complexity of the activities increases and their ability to concentrate without needing to change improves and therefore the number of activities I need to have ready becomes less. My 3 year olds will need only 1 or 2 different activities for a half hour period depending on what I have provided them with. They are also given some choice over which activity they work on.

The other benefit of having toddlers sit in a confined area to complete these tray tasks is that I can give them breakable and delicate equipment without fear that they will be accidentally damaged and also keep an eye on them with small attractive materials like coloured beads that little children are quite likely to want to pop in their mouths.

Now for some activities! Tweezer transfer activities are great for fine motor skills and require a similar grip to that used for pencil grip when writing. Transfer activities can easily lead into other beginning math skills such as sorting by colour. This duck container holds 4 colours of beads to be sorted into the 4 bowls. Younger children will have fun simply transferring them randomly and very young children may need a small spoon to transfer with, rather than the tweezers.

Great for even the youngest toddler, poking toothpicks into floristry oasis encourages pincer grip development. I found that the green oasis crumbled very easily so I would recommend covering it in open weave fabric to contain any dust. I have since been told that the grey oasis is much tougher and shouldn’t crumble or create dust. Foam blocks also work well. (See shape, cat and assorted pictures below.)

The follow-on activity was to place the toothpicks into marked holes to form simple shapes and then on to pictures.

Keep the number of dots on each picture to a minimum for little ones. Too many make it difficult to get their hand in for the next toothpick.

These pictures are drawn onto card and pinned onto styrofoam pieces cut to fit into the wooden box.

Posting coins through money-box slots. I left the bottom open so that the children can simply shake the coins out the bottom and do it again.

Posting wooden shapes is a good intro to shape recognition . Start with cylinders because it doesn’t matter which way the child puts it into the hole. Squares are next as they must line up but will still go in no matter which way up they are. The open slot at the front of the box allows the child to reach in and/or tip the shapes back out and for the little ones is very much part of the attraction.

Add other shapes such as triangles or a combination of shapes to increase the level of difficulty.

This magnet activity is fun. Hide lots of little items in a bowl of rice. The child moves a strong magnet around in the rice to find which items will stick. The number of spots on the tray designates how many magnetic items they need to find.

Sorting objects according to attributes is another basic mathematical concept. This beginning sorting activity has a large bowl for the large/big objects and a small bowl for the small objects. My just turned 2 year olds can usually handle this one.

Learning to set the table is a household chore for us and learned very easily by actually doing it! Little ones however find it lots of fun to practise this skill with a couple of teddies and some play food. Provide 2 place mats (plastic, fabric or just a sheet of paper) with the outline of the items on them for little ones to match each item to so that they know when they have done it “properly.”

This one is for the very young. Babies do love to put things in and out of containers and if you keep changing the items and type of container, this style of activity is good for months. It is great for fine motor skills and concentration and pretty much free to make. Whip one up in just a minute or two and watch the intense concentration as they use that all important pincer grip (necessary for writing later) to grasp the end of the pasta and carefully post it into the holes. Use this activity for mat time, highchair time, table time or with straws (so they don’t eat the pasta when you are not closely supervising them) for playpen time or room time.

With all of these activities, if your child finds them too difficult and is still frustrated after you have shown them how to do it and given them some time to practice, put it away and reintroduce it in a couple of weeks or months. Many of the Montessori style activities are very developmentally based and when introduced at the right time will be stimulating and extending to a toddler, not frustrating and overly difficult.

Teaching young children to sit and concentrate for extended periods is a vital foundation for later learning and helps you as Mum to keep the house and family running as you can get your own tasks finished knowing that your little ones are happily and safely occupied with a valuable learning experience.

Teaching toddlers to count: 1 to 5 workjobs and Montessori style tray activities

Here are some more counting activities for toddlers and preschoolers who are learning to count from 1 to 5. If your child has learnt the number order by rote (ie. can count out loud to 5) and is beginning to develop one-to-one correspondence (matching one verbal number to each object being counted) then they are ready to start simple hands-on counting activities like these. You may even like to set out only the numbers 1 to 3 to begin with. If you are new to teaching toddlers how to count, it might be helpful to read this post first.

I ask the children to order the pie tins from 1 to 5 and sort out the golf tees by colour before counting each group and placing them into the correct pie tin. Use a number strip for young children to follow until they know the number order without help.

Kinesthetic learners (and all young children) love the hands-on style of these activities and despite the fact that  this group is far from my favourite set of tray activities, I included them to show you how a quick search around the house will furnish you with plenty of materials to set up your own.

This is one of the first counting activities I introduce. The shapes are sorted by type, matched to the example at the start of the row and counted into the bottle tops. Beginners will often just fill up the bottle tops without having any idea of the numbers, but I simply have them read the number and count the objects as we take them out and pack them away.

Unfortunately this workjob doesn’t photograph well but the shiny silver contact paper and blue jewels are very attractive to little ones. The box comes from a packet of plastic food wrap. The jewels are placed into plastic shot glasses which are numbered from 1 to 5.

I bought these secondhand metal goblets for our pretend play home corner because they are unbreakable. Pegs of many varieties slide nicely over the thin sides. Placing dots under the numerals means that children who do not recognise their numbers can count how many dots there are until they can recall the numeral name.

All my young ones have enjoyed hammering golf tees and other items into these polystyrene foam blocks covered with loose weave hessian-like fabric. The red washers come from a set of many shapes and sizes raided from Grandad’s shed with the numerals marked on them in permanent marker.

Chip and dip trays are handy for many different activities.These wooden numbers came from a baby puzzle toy and the items are an eclectic assortment from my Montessori materials drawers.

Pegging is good for fine motor development. The child counts the number of feathers on each peg and matches the peg to the correct number of dots on the card circles left from used sticky tape rolls. The box is just the storage for the feathers and rolls.

These beads and frame are a commercially produced toy that I picked up secondhand for a couple of dollars. Keep an eye out for this kind of material at op shops and swap-meets. The tiles are from an old game I bought for $2 at a secondhand store. I threw out the game and just kept the tiles.

Another commercially produced toy picked up for a couple of dollars with baby food jar lids for the numbers.

Scooping tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Scooping is one of the easiest Montessori style tray activities for toddlers and can be introduced at the same time as they are perfecting their spooning skills during meal times – giving them a little extra practise when spills are not so difficult to clean up!

Start with large, non-slippery objects that fit easily into a scoop (see mega marbles) and move to more fiddly materials like the popcorn or rice examples below. All you need is two containers (one to  to scoop from and one to scoop into), something to scoop with (spoon, scoop, ladle, etc.) and something to scoop (pompoms, noodles, rice, jewels, marbles, beads, dried beans, pasta etc.)

Have a look through your art and craft supplies, kitchen cupboards and junk drawers and you will be surprised at what you can put together in just a few minutes.

These pompoms are scooped into a plastic chocolate container insert with depressions in it. The scoop comes from a washing powder container.

This is a piece of packing foam that has indentations all over it; perfect for filling with marbles. The scoop is a pasta spoon from a child’s cooking set.

Dry popcorn kernels in espresso coffee cups with a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon.

Montessori trays are traditionally presented with the material to be scooped on the left hand side to help with left to right directionality for later reading and writing skills.

Green split peas are scooped from bowl to bowl.

Coloured rice is a very attractive scooping material.

When my toddlers were older and no longer finding simple scooping activities very interesting, I gave them this tray with a variety of containers to scoop, pour and tip with. They loved it.

Developing Fine-Motor Skills in Toddlers and Young Children

Self-control, concentration, following instructions and fine motor skills are very important foundational skills for all children. Teaching your young child to sit and focus on an activity and see it through until completion will go a long way towards preparing them for later learning – whether that be in the homeschool or traditional school environment. Some children seem to be naturally better able to do this, others need training and practise to do it. Children who do not develop these skills early will find it much harder to learn and you will find it more difficult to teach them!

Here are several Montessori style tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers that will help to develop their fine motor skills. Many parents of young children say that their children will not sit still long enough to attempt, let alone complete an activity like these and that may be the case right now. It is however most certainly possible to train them in this skill so that sitting and focussing becomes something they readily cope with, both at home and when out.

Putting a flexible routine into place and teaching your child to stay where you want them to stay will be an important first step. Introducing playpen or room time, highchair time or table time, mat time and other periods of planned activity to your child’s day will reap the rewards of a child who is able to sit and focus and learn from the materials available to them. Self-control will begin to grow and the benefit will spill over into all parts of their lives. Time for some free play with age-appropriate choice making is also important, however if a toddler’s whole day is unstructured and contains many choices you will be seeing many “sticky patches” as Mel Hayde terms them in her book “Terrific Toddlers.”

Start with very basic activities like the first couple below that do not take very long to do and are not too challenging to complete. Help the child to learn the process first: take the tray out, sit in the designated place, complete the activity in the same way you have demonstrated it, place everything in the same place on the tray as it was found before returning the tray to where it belongs.

You may like to attempt only one tray to begin with so as to finish on a positive note. Praise your child for their attentiveness, perseverance etc. Five minutes for a toddler who is not used to this kind of task is a beginning. Work up from there until they can sit for an extended block of time. My twins at 2 1/2 years can sit for 20-30 minutes with activities that change every 5 to 10 minutes, depending on what it is. My other three children would have spent 30 to 45 minutes working on these at the same age and even up to an hour at times.

Threading and removing large wooden beads from these giant pipecleaners can be extended to pattern making for an older child. (Yes they are giant {about 40cms long} you just can’t tell from the photo!)

The chopstick is placed into the neck of the spice jar and large beads threaded onto the end.

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Toothpick flags are stabbed into the oasis. (Florist’s foam.)
Small beads are threaded onto the pipecleaners which are then put into the holes in the lid of the spice bottle. (These smaller beads require a higher level of fine motor control and accuracy to thread.)
It takes quite a bit of coordination to operate an eyedropper. Transferring liquid from one small container to another is a challenge for many toddlers. Perhaps use uncoloured water to begin with and provide a sponge for spills.
Yes, they will probably taste the angel hair pasta as they feed it into the small holes in this spice bottle but it’s only pasta after all!
This is a piece of polystyrene packaging with a loose weave hessian cover. You could include a set of numbers and have an older child set out the correct number of birthday candles.
Another spice jar with toothpicks – don’t throw out those old spice shakers!
Stretching hair elastics over a jar is surprisingly difficult for young children but they enjoy it anyway.

Teaching toddlers and preschoolers to glue


There is a lot to be said for a beautifully organised and sorted collage tray. All those colourful pieces just waiting to be used in so many creative ways are so attractive to toddlers and preschoolers; in fact children of all ages.
One of the easiest ways to keep collage materials sorted and ready for gluing  is a party dip platter like the one in the photo above. The compartments hold a number of different materials for children to choose from and the lid slots on over the top and seals with a turn to stop all those bits and pieces ending up on the floor.

This tray was $4 at a recycled boutique  (Good Sammy’s) so keep your eye out in second-hand stores and swap-meets or perhaps even Grandma’s plastics cupboard. I use the centre space for a jar that is filled with glue and re-sealed with it’s own lid once the activity is finished. If you include items like pasta, fabric and shells, make sure you include white glue (PVA) or children will be continually frustrated with pieces falling off their craft. Glue sticks are less messy but really only useful with paper and cardboard.
I personally am attracted to the organised collage style, however after an activity day at our local park a couple of years ago I had my eyes opened to the world of what I like to think of as “bargain bin” style gluing. You know the clearance bins they have in the shopping centres with a jumble of odds and ends for bargain basement prices? The ones that scream at you to have a search through because you just might find the bargain of the century lurking underneath the pile. The collage they put out at the park day worked just like this for the children. It was simply a box of assorted stuff in one giant jumble. You should have seen them hunting through it like treasure seekers. They scrabbled happily through, exclaiming with delight when something new and sparkly was discovered.

They seemed to have a bizzare attraction to the jumbled assortment of goodies and enjoyed the gluing just as much as when presented with my neatly sorted dip tray. Consequently, we now have both. When the dip tray gets jumbled and messy, I simply tip it all into a small crate with a lid and re-fill the compartments in the dip tray with new materials. That way both collections are continually changing.

For toddlers who are just beginning to learn how to glue (see cutting, gluing and stickers here), try adding a small drop of paint to the glue to colour it and make it easier for them to see where they have spread the glue. Focus on training them how to use the materials, as well as how to:

  • put a plastic tablecloth, gluing mat, placemat or newspaper on the table before they begin.
  • wear a painting shirt, smock or apron.
  • wash the brushes after use and return to their place to dry.
  • sort unused materials back into the correct compartments (a skill in itself.)
  • place wet pictures and crafts in an appropriate place to dry.
  • return the tray to the cupboard or shelf.
  • spray and wipe their workspace (Provide a spray bottle and cloth or sponge for this purpose.)
  • wash themselves up before removing their painting shirt.
  • hang their painting shirt up to dry.

Montessori style toddler activities: transferring and one to one correspondence

Egg cartons are a cheap and readily accessible option with clear depressions for each object. A large object to transfer such as these stones or wooden eggs will keep a toddler well occupied.

One-to-one correspondence is an important foundational maths skill. Here are some ideas I have used with my older babies, toddlers and into preschool years.

What is it?

  • Saying one number to one object as you count (therefore the “one to one” correspondence.)
  • Children often begin learning to count by saying numbers out loud while pointing or touching objects, without those numbers actually matching up with the objects being counted.
  • Children also count the same object more than once or skip objects entirely.

    These super sized marbles are a favourite material in our house, even for the older children. They fit perfectly into this mini-muffin tray.

    Making activities:
  • One to one correspondence activities should be self-correcting; there are exactly the correct number of objects for the receptacle. Any left over or running out before all the spaces are filled signals to the child that there has been an error.
  • Start with large, non-slippery objects that fit easily into a scoop or are transferred by hand and move on to activities that require greater fine motor control.
  • Even older babies can experiment with one-to-one correspondence. Babies love to put things in containers and tip them out again. A freezer popsicle tray is fabulously enthralling for a child at this stage. They work especially well if no more than one object can fit in each segment, but this is not essential.

Popsicle tray and wooden dolly pegs. It’s surprising how something this simple can hold a young child’s attention.

A basic activity for babies.

Extending activities:

  • Keep interest by changing the way objects are transferred; by hand, with  spoons, scoops, tongs then tweezers.
  • Change the material to be transferred; stones, pompoms, pegs, jewels, plastic animals or anything else you can think of. Keep in mind the age of the child and be wary of choking hazards.
  • Change the receptacle used; bowls, baskets, tins, containers, iceblock trays, egg cartons, jars or any other container with a definite number of depressions.

Pompoms come in many different shapes and sizes and are a safe material for little ones. The worst mine have ever done is suck on them or pull them apart.

Using their hands to transfer large, easily grasped objects is a great beginning for babies.

This tray came out of our fridge. It is meant to hold eggs but to my knowledge has never actually done so!

Be careful with jewels. They are very attractive but also feel nice to suck and babies and toddlers do tend to out them in their mouths.

For older children using small objects that require greater fine motor control adds a little more challenge. Combining one-to-one practice with beginning counting is the next step.

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