Montessori style hands-on tray activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Activities for young children are cheap and easy to put together and the peace they will bring to your daily routine is priceless! Teaching your little ones to sit and concentrate for extended periods is one of the key skills every parent should be working on in the early years and one that will pay dividends in the future. Choose a variety of attractive materials that will stimulate their interest and be prepared to change them fairly regularly. It is important that the activity is not too difficult nor too easy. A little bit of a challenge will keep them interested – too challenging and they will be unable to succeed. If you present a tray that is too difficult, simply remove it and put it away for the future. Chances are they will love it in just a few short months.

I have written several posts detailing how to train your children to sit in their highchair, mat or playpen and the practicalities of when and how to change activities. Getting started takes a little extra time, but once you have built “tray time” into your day, it will become something your child looks forward to. Place them somewhere near you so you can chat and interact while you are cooking or doing some other task that enables you to encourage them in what they are doing when they need it and keep an eye on those smaller objects that they may find tempting to put in their mouths. Here are several ideas for the 2 to 5 age-range (approximately) that I have used in the past with my own children.

Sliding oversized paperclips onto matching coloured cardboard squares.

Matching clips to coloured popsticks. Great pincer-grip training for later writing. Make sure the clips you get have long enough handles and are not too stiff to open. These clips have one short and one long side and the children were not able to grip them properly.

Sorting popsticks by colour.

Tong transfer combined with colour sorting. The flowers came from a cheap plastic Hawaiian lei.

Duplo colour sort.

Tong transfer combined with bead colour or shape sort.

Golf tee hammering by colour. A piece of foam salvaged from packaging and a light wooden hammer from a Tap Tap game.

Colour and shape match combined with pincer grip practise while pegging.

Shape puzzle. This is a commercial set of attribute blocks. I remove all bar one set of the same colour and thickness and use it as a simple shape puzzle. Once they master this, I add other colours and thicknesses back in.

Pattern blocks are lots of fun. Leave them out on a small table and even your older children will not be able to resist putting a bunch together to make a picture. Young children enjoy the matching cards you can purchase to go with them.

Geoboard matching. Little ones just experiment with elastic bands but older children can do a variety of extension activities. Matching and copying geometric shapes is one.

Shape matching cards. You could use them for basic card games as well.

Good quality wooden puzzles are always attractive for children.

Chunky, simple puzzles are a good start for younger kids.

The concepts of heavier, lighter, full, empty etc. can be developed while playing with a set of balance scales.

Stacking and nesting objects develops the concept of size seriation; in this case, measuring cups.

This is a cardboard stacking box set that does the same as the Montessori pink tower. Not as nice but a lot cheaper!

Graduated wooden rings.

Picture to picture matching.

Matching picture halves is a good introduction to puzzles for those who get overwhelmed with too many pieces. Start with just a few pairs and work up.

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Spinny Spellers

The twins are starting more of a preschool type programme this year. Lots of counting, letter sounds and recognition and the like and on to three-letter CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. A nifty little tool for teaching these three-letter words is the spinny speller. I have seen nuts and bolts versions and some very nice commercially produced Montessori products, but here is my home-made version. A little rickety perhaps but they will do the job!

spinny spellers

Often spinny spellers have a random assortment of consonants and vowels. The children spin the blocks and sound out the resulting combination to practise reading 3 letter words. I separated mine into one for each vowel so that every word will always have the same centre sound to make it simpler for beginners. The letter combinations I chose make as many real words as possible but occasionally nonsense word combinations will come up which is just part of the fun.

I used a small wooden craft dowel from Spotlight with 2 wooden beads glued to the ends to stop the blocks falling off. The cube blocks are cut from a length of wood and I hand-drilled the holes. (Thus the wonky alignment – couldn’t be bothered measuring the centres and just did it by eye – should have measured!) Just thread the blocks onto the dowel, leave a little space for them to spin around and glue the beads on the end. Write your chosen letters on with a permanent marker and you are done.

Mega list of table activities for school aged children

Here is the last post in a 3-part series of table activities for babies to school-aged children. Today’s chart of ideas is for the older group. By this age, my children are usually free to choose their own activity (within reason) as long as they display a good attitude on the few occasions I do choose for them. (See choices.) Much of what is on this list are items that are owned by individuals (birthday gifts etc.) so they are not out for public access, but having them on a list prompts them to get out items they may forget for a while.

As with the baby and toddler ideas and preschool children’s ideas, this is a large file and will take some time to download.

table activities for school age children – click here for free download

table activities for school aged children

Mega list of table activities for preschoolers

Following on from yesterday’s post (list of highchair and table activities for babies and toddlers), here is my collection of preschool ideas to use for any time a quiet, attention grabbing activity is needed. Please see yesterday’s post for links to articles on how to train your children to sit for an extended period of time, even at a young age. Even the most interesting activity will not stop a child from wandering about if that is what they are used to doing.

There were too many ideas to fit on the one page, so there are 2 pages to download. Please be aware that because of the large number of photographs on the posters, the downloads may take a long time to come through. Just walk away and have that cuppa!

I mentioned giving no choices for toddlers yesterday. My preschoolers are beginning to have some choice of activities. They are given a small selection to choose from and occasionally I choose for them. If they resist the choices I make, then they lose the freedom to choose for themselves until this attitude improves. (See choices post for a full explanation of why we do this.)

You’ll notice some activities are repeats from the toddler list. I have done that so those who do not have a toddler do not need to print out that chart as well as this one. Having said that though, you may find ideas from the older (coming next post) or younger category that I haven’t repeated may still be of interest to your child.

table activities for preschoolers master list download

table activities for spreschoolers p1

table activities for spreschoolers p1 1

table activities master list for preschoolers download

For older posts with heaps more activity ideas, please follow this link; Workjobs & Montessori activities for highchair, mat or table time(mathematics, language, practical life & others)

Mega list of highchair and table activity ideas for babies and toddlers

How do you keep toddlers and preschoolers well occupied while you homeschool older children, cook dinner or make an important phone call? In the interest of getting organised and answering this question for myself, I have created charts of activities for 3 different age groups; babies and toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children.

Every item on these lists is not necessarily a toy or activity that I would have chosen to purchase, or recommend that you do, they are simply what we already have. With 6 children in the house there are many birthday and Christmas gifts coming in and our collection of table activities is quite extensive. I have purchased some and do have my favourites, but it is very nice to be able to rotate constantly so that there is always something “new” and fresh to do.

The toddlers and very young children do not have a choice of activities. I set out what they will be working on and decide how long it will be before they are able to change. See choices, highchair activities for babies, routines & highchair time and Montessori style practical life tray activities for toddlers for practical explanations of how to get started and manage highchair time for little ones.

table activities for spreschoolers p1 2   

Click here to download a free printable PDF of the activities for babies and toddlers poster

It is a large download so it take some time to come through (lots of photos!) I had to leave it and walk away! The next two posts will include the charts of activities for preschoolers and school-aged children, so keep an eye out for those. If you would like an explanation of any of the activities, please feel free to ask. I didn’t want to clutter up the lists with too much information.

I would love to hear what activities you like to give your babies and toddlers.