Montessori inspired practical life: dry pouring tray activities for toddlers

If you are looking for inspiration for toddler tray activities, dry pouring is a great place to start. It is a practical life skill that is easily introduced in a simplified form and can be gradually made more challenging as your toddler progresses. Learning to pour liquids carefully and accurately is difficult for young children, so starting with a dry material is a more forgiving and easily mastered beginning. Giving children cups and containers to pour water in the bath develops the skill in a non-messy environment and dry pouring activities are great for mat time, highchair time or table time.

This is the first dry pouring experience I give my toddlers. Tipping the jewels out of the cup into a baking tin and collecting them up again is surprisingly absorbing and makes a satisfying racket as they do it. If you prefer a quieter option, try pompoms (see below), however I can guarantee the children will enjoy the jewels, beads, rocks or other noisy versions more!

Pouring from one container to another is the next step. Choose 2 containers of the same size, without handles. A set of straight-sided small tumbler type cups is best; something that is easily gripped in a toddler’s hand. Add small objects such as dried beans to pour from one to the other and change the containers and material to pour every so often to keep interest high.

Rice is one of the last materials to introduce. If you colour it, it is very attractive but it is almost guaranteed to spill and is not quite as easy to clean up. Toddlers need to be taught how to collect the spilt rice in one corner of the tray and carefully pour it back into the container.

I was able to find a cute mini dustpan and broom which I include with my rice pouring activities to clean up the spills which is a practical life skill in itself. Tape a square shape with masking tape in the centre of the tray and teach the children how to first sweep the rice into a little pile within the tape boundary before sweeping it into the dustpan.

Adding funnels to a dry pouring activity adds yet another dimension and when I have had simple pouring activities available for quite a while, I set up a combined scooping, pouring and funnelling tray for a  more complicated experience. After I have changed this around for a while, I then add teddies and other small animals or toys and turn it into more of a pretend play type activity. This allows a broader scope of play and promotes longer engagement by older toddlers and preschoolers.

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