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.

Montessori style tray activities for toddlers

These square jewels were so attractive to the twins that they spent a good deal of time examining each one and just moving them around by hand. Only once they had had their fill of touching and examining them were they ready to try transferring them which was the original purpose of this activity.

The twins are 2 years and 5 months old and were in need of some new highchair and table activities. These are the latest Montessori style trays that I made up for them in under an hour a couple of weeks ago. Once you have a good selection of materials and equipment to work with, it’s easy to mix and match and throw together some new ideas. Using a category for each tray type is helpful to me. (See Montessori tray activities for toddlers: starting out.)

I have done tray activities in the traditional Montessori style before (on a piece of carpet to designate a work space) but I find it easier at this age and with two at a time to keep them in their highchairs. This means I can use the time to prepare or clean up a meal or any other task and flit in and out of the room while they work on their activities without coming back in to find 5 trays up-ended on the floor at once! It also helps them to concentrate on the task at hand and learn to fully complete each activity before starting a new one. Concentration time is extended as they learn to stay focussed until I am ready to change the materials for them.

Pegging is excellent fine motor practice. Make sure the pegs you use are easy to press to begin with as toddlers do not have the finger strength to open very firm pegs. Dolly pegs or pegs that slide are a good option for those who cannot manage regular squeeze style pegs.

Providing a four sided container and pegs in four colours quickly turns this into a colour sorting activity. If you added some coloured sticky dots in the same colours as the pegs then younger children can begin to match the colours by pegging each peg onto the corresponding coloured dot.

This bead threading activity was the favourite of the lot and both twins want to do this again and again. They do enjoy chewing the straw though so I have had to replace it several times. Luckily this takes only a matter of seconds to do – see below.

All you need are some large beads, a container, a straw and a piece of masking tape. Bendy straws already bend over at the ends so I simply taped it over so that the beads will not fall off the end. That’s it! I will definitely be making some more threading activities soon. Beads on pipecleaners next.

A simple tong transfer practical life activity. I found a huge packet of large hair lackies at the $2 shop and they are great for beginning tong transfer because they are so easy to pick up.

One to one correspondence is an important pre-number mathematics skill. In this activity, preschoolers scoop one pompom into each depression in the iceblock tray.

Jewels, rocks and other decorations that are used for potplants and vases make excellent Montessori materials. They are very attractive to children of all ages and even my older children love to use these for maths manipulatives. This is a simple scooping transfer activity from one bowl to another.

Another transferring activity. I tried several kinds of tongs for transfer but my son was very frustrated by them, finding them too difficult to use. I decided to leave them for him for a while and let him enjoy transferring with spoons and scoops. His pencil grip is perfect so I am not too worried about his fine motor skills at this stage!

Other related posts you may like:

Montessori style tray activity for toddlers: Bucket of giant beads

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Pasta play

Getting dinner on the table: arsenic hour

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.

Materials and storage for workjobs and Montessori tray activities

Plastic Chinese food containers fit neatly into my drawers and are a cheap and easy storage system for the items I use to make home-made workjobs and Montessori tray activities.

If you are setting yourself up for workjobs  or Montessori style tray activities for the first time there are unlimited numbers of materials that you could buy. Commercial Montessori products are beautiful but very expensive and particularly for the toddler and preschool ages it is relatively easy to make your own activities  for a fraction of the cost.

I generally source my materials secondhand form op shops, swap-meets and markets and buy the rest cheaply from discount variety stores or gather them from around the house. Each tray activity or workjob usually costs no more than $4.00 and many of the items can be re-used and presented with a different combination to make other “new” and interesting activities.

Some useful items to collect include the following:

Materials to count, transfer or manipulate:

  • Feathers
  • Buttons
  • Spools & film canisters
  • Jar & milk bottle lids
  • Pasta, macaroni, dried beans & rice
  • Corks
  • Sea shells
  • Popsicle sticks (popsticks)
  • Jewels & beads
  • Rocks, stones & pebbles
  • Straws
  • Fancy toothpicks
  • Golf tees
  • Stirring or cocktail sticks
  • Costume jewelry, bangles & strings of beads
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Rubber bands
  • String, twine, yarn, wool,shoe laces & cottons
  • Oversized metal or plastic needles
  • Paper bags, plates & cups
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Ribbon & bows
  • Hair clips & lackies
  • Magnets
  • Pompoms
  • Wedding favours eg. fake rings, mini doves, glass slippers etc.
  • Plastic & wooden pegs & dolly pegs
  • Dog clips, over-sized paperclips & other fasteners
  • Cardboard shapes
  • Number and letter tiles, cards & pieces from old board games
Materials for storage or presentation of trays and workjobs:
  • Glass, metal, china, cane & wooden bowls, trays, baskets & containers
  • Plastic tubs & lids
  • Cardboard tubes, boxes, egg cartons & food containers
  • Plastic containers & lids
  • Material/fabric scraps
  • Wood scraps
  • Shoe boxes
  • Ice-cube trays, dip trays & other divided containers
  • Plastic & glass jars
Utensils & tools for manipulating materials:
  • small hammers
  • Tongs, scoops, spoons & ladles
  • Tweezers
  • Measuring cups & funnels
Stationery:
  • Pens, pencils, textas, scissors & crayons
  • Glue, staplers, masking tape, sticky tape
  • Rulers, stencils, fasteners
If you have other ideas, please let me know and I will add them to the list.

Other posts you may like:

Montessori style tray activities; starting out

Montessori overview

Workjobs & learning styles

Hands-on Montessori tray activities for toddlers: Length comparison

Following on from my last post, here is an example of one of my toddler activity tray categories. For one term I designated a tray to length comparison; sorting various materials into “long” and “short.”

The child first finds the two matching pieces (strings of coloured beads in the tray above) and places them together to make a pair (a matching activity in itself.) They then sort the pair into the “long” or “short” containers which are also long and short in themselves to reinforce the concept.

After a week or two, when they are losing interest in the material they are sorting, I simply change it for a new material, leaving the containers and tray set up the same. Interest is revived and the concept is practised and reinforced.

My daughter who last used these length activities was 2 years and 2 months of age when she started and easily grasped the the concept. I used the Montessori activities while I was breastfeeding because it allowed me to supervise, encourage and explain if necessary while she was well occupied with challenging, yet age and developmental appropriate and enjoyable activities.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured ribbons.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured pencils.

Matching, comparing and sorting strips of coloured paper.

More lace ribbons to sort and compare.

Ideally the popsticks should be the same thickness so as not to confuse a child with two changing attributes; length and width. I may have been better to use the large popsticks and cut some shorter rather than use the two different kinds. It didn't seem to worry my daughter though.

Matching, comparing and sorting more coloured ribbons.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured straws.

Matching, comparing and sorting coloured chenille sticks (tinsel pipe-cleaners.)

Montessori style tray activities for toddlers: starting out

Easter holidays are almost over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things. The twins are old enough to start Montessori tray activities so I thought I’d post today about some of the activities I’ve used for my beginners in the past.

The first thing you need to think about when you are setting out tray activities for the first time is how you will store and present them. They do take up a bit of space so a small bookshelf or shelved cupboard is ideal to place open trays, bowls and baskets in. If you don’t have enough space for this, perhaps you will need to use a system of shoe-boxes or similar so that they can be stacked away when not in use. They are not ideal as the toddler cannot see the contents easily, however they are better than nothing.

The tray or container itself is the next step. True Montessori style places a big emphasis on beautiful natural materials; everything being wood, metal, stone, glass etc and avoiding plastic and the like. While commercial Montessori materials are truly beautiful, the reality for me is that they are expensive and I am making my own, so I have to work with what I have. I initially visited a bunch of swap-meets, op shops, second-hand shops, discount variety stores and the like and bought a stack of wooden bowls, wooden trays, glass dishes, metal baskets and anything else that fitted into the natural and aesthetically pleasing category.

The trays were another matter. Wooden trays look great but cost too much and I couldn’t find any secondhand so I ended up using the flat plastic lids from small plastic storage crates I already had around the house. A roll of non-stick drawer liner cut to size for each tray stops the dishes and smaller items from slipping around.

The next step was to find a bunch of attractive materials to use for practical life activities. (See materials and storage ideas here)

To make it workable for me, I choose a selection of categories for my activities and have one tray for each kind. For example, one tray is for tong and spoon transfer, one tray for counting, one tray for colour matching and sorting, one for pegging and clipping, one for matching etc. Once I have my chosen categories set up, I use the same tray and containers for the whole term and only change the material that is presented.

This means that once my toddler is familiar with the tonging activity (I have presented it and demonstrated what to do) they are able to approach each new material without me having to re-explain what to do. They see a pair of tongs (different each week or two) with a new material to transfer but the same two containers to transfer back and forth from.  Eventually I change the containers too, but to begin with I keep it very similar so that they feel confidant in what they need to do.

On the first day the shelves are empty apart from 3 or 4 tray activities. I sit down and present each new activity which I demonstrate first before the toddler takes a turn. Depending on their attention span, I will introduce all 4 trays and stop for the day. Part of this process is showing them how to carry the tray to their work area (a carpet mat), complete the activity, place all materials back in their places and return the tray to the shelf.

The following day the child chooses which activities they would like to work on and completes them independently. If necessary, I will sit down and demonstrate the activities again. Once I can see that they understand what to do with the 4 that are already out I introduce just one new tray a day until I have built up to having all the categories in circulation.

Once they are confidently using one of each type of activity, I can change the materials without changing how it is presented (as explained above) and usually do not have to spend time explaining what to do as the concept is already familiar to them. (The next post will give you a photographic example of what I mean.)

Other posts you may like:

Mega marble transfer

An introduction to sorting

Teaching toddlers to cut

Highchair and mat activities: Montessori style practical life tong transfer activity for toddlers: Pom-poms, fruit and bugs

Over-sized pom-poms and tea bag tongs are a great starter set for tong transfer activities. The tongs are easy to manipulate and the pom-poms do not slip out.

As I have been tweaking my routine this week in readiness for our latest bundle of joy (now 3 days overdue!) I have been setting up some new tray activities for highchair time. Having toddlers on the loose while I breastfeed (especially when there are two of them) is a recipe for disaster. These activities can be used in a highchair, on a mat, for table time or for playpen time , however because I am introducing them to young toddlers and need to keep a close eye on them to begin with , I use highchair time.

Tonging is a simple practical life activity for toddlers and is excellent for fine motor control. Try to find small tongs that are not too stiff or your little ones may not have the dexterity to manage them. Tea bag tongs are easy to squeeze, as are ice tongs. Check your local opportunity shop (secondhand shops, $2 shops etc.) for supplies. Two containers and something to tong are your only other materials and usually with a bit of imagination you can find something around the house that fits the bill.

When I set up my trays I have a category for each kind of activity so that I can quickly change them over every couple of weeks without a lot of thought. Tong transfer is one category that I use and these are some of the examples I have set up in the past.

Slightly smaller pom-poms with the same easy to manipulate tea-bag tongs take the activity to the next level of difficulty.

The easiest first experiences are soft items like oversized pom-poms, cotton wool balls, balls of wool, or anything else that will not easily slip out of the tongs. Put only a few items in the container to begin with to encourage success as toddlers may quickly tire of the concentration and control needed to manage the tongs. Our “rule” with tray activities is that they should be completed before they are packed away so I want to ensure that the toddlers can be successful right from the beginning.

Larger and longer tongs are more difficult to use. These are still easy to squeeze but their length makes them more unwieldy to handle.The fruit are plastic iceblock shapes from the $2 shop.

A small set of salad tongs and a bag of plastic bugs were all that was needed for this tray.

The reality of young toddlers and tray activities is that they will have a limited concentration span and the interest shown for each activity will vary. I try to make each tray so that they can be easily completed in around 5 minutes. This means that if you want 30 minutes of highchair time to be well occupied, you will need around 6 activities. Some will be very absorbing for the child and they will complete and repeat them over and over. They will find some very challenging and perhaps even difficult and may want to spend less time on these. Reduce the amount of material on these trays accordingly. If you see that an activity is too difficult for the child to complete successfully, simply remove it and re-introduce at a later date. The perfect activity has a bit of a challenge but not so much that the child is frustrated by their inability to complete it.

Other posts you may like:

Mega marble transfer

An introduction to sorting

Bucket of giant beads transfer