Montessori inspired practical life tray activities for toddlers: Tong transfer

With a general category in mind such as “tong transfer” and a drawer full of useful bits and pieces I have collected over time, I now find it very easy to come up with new tray activities for table time, highchair time or mat time that will keep my toddlers developing new skills while they learn to focus and concentrate at the same time. (See here for a list of materials and equipment that might be useful for creating Montessori style tray activities.)

Simple two container transferring is a good starting point.

Using tongs is great preparation for writing and other skills that require fine motor control, helping to develop the hand muscles necessary for successful manipulation of writing implements.  All you need are tongs of some sort, 2 containers and something to transfer. Keep in mind that toddlers find it very difficult to manipulate tongs so look for small pairs that are not too stiff to close. Avoid those with a metal closing ring that slips down all the time – very frustrating! The best pair I have for beginners is a small set of ice tongs (see top photo) that I picked up at an op shop for 50 cents. Tea-bag tongs are also easy to squeeze and quite short. I found mine in a $2 shop.

Tonging activities link in well with other skills such as one-to-one correspondence. Plastic iceblock trays, egg cartons, chocolate trays or any other container with an obvious number of holes are ideal for this. Simply put, the child has to place one item in one hole. If there are any left over, or they run out before all the holes are filled, they are prompted by the empty space or left-over pieces to self-correct their work.

Flexible ice-block trays are an attractive material for children to work with. My girls LOVE this pink tray. (I should mention that it is the 6 and 4 year olds who clamour to do this one even though it is set out for the toddlers!)

Tea-bag tongs are easy for toddlers to manipulate.

Tonging is easily adapted to many other concepts, particularly mathematical skills. Beginning sorting with two simple categories is an easy way to combine the skill of tonging with a more challenging task for older toddlers and preschoolers. In the photo above, children sort the hair elastics into 2 separate colour piles; the first step along in learning the concept of sorting by colour.

Here we move to a slighlty more challenging activity with items to tong that require greater dexterity, 3 colours to sort and 3 bowls to match them to.

Attribute beads can be sorted more than one way and are quite difficult to pick up. They are a good challenge after simple tonging has been mastered.

Linking tonging to counting is fun for the preschooler and provides valuable practice of fine motor skills. Here the child tongs the correct amount of jewels into each segment of the dip plate. My 3 year old is pictured doing this activity in the photo at the top of this post. The counting side of things wasn’t too difficult for her to do even early on, but it was a test of her endurance and concentration skills to persevere with the tongs to complete all 10 segments.


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