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.

Sorting: Montessori Style Tray Activities

Here are some more Montessori style tray activities for sorting. These are a little more open-ended and follow on from sorting experiences already presented (Click here for an explanation of how to introduce and sequence sorting experiences and here for the follow-on with 4 and 5 category sorting ideas.)

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child uses the plates to sort the plastic cutlery according to their chosen attribute. There is more than one way to sort the cutlery and once children have sorted one way (usually by colour) I ask them to see if they can do it another way (by type; knives, forks, small and large spoons.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 4 plates
  • 4 sets of real or plastic cutlery

DESCRIPTION:

  • Children place the chopsticks into the egg carton holes then drop the beads onto each chopstick according to their colour.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • large beads (same shape) with 4 colours or
  • large beads of the same colour with 4 different shapes
  • 4 chopsticks
  • egg carton segment

DESCRIPTION:

  • Children sort the animals into the craft container according to their chosen attribute (type of animal, colour, number of legs, zoo or farm etc.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • plastic animals (these are called cocktail animals and came from the party section of a discount variety store.)
  • segmented container or collection of small containers to sort animals into.

DESCRIPTION:

  • Children place the chopsticks into the holes before sorting the beads onto each chopstick according to their chosen attribute. (This is a commercial set of attribute beads and can be sorted by several different attributes.)

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Mathematics

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Sorting, classifying, identifying attributes

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • attribute beads
  • 6 chopsticks
  • cardboard box with contacted top for strength and holes for chopsticks

Please see my pages titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more general information on Montessori and workjob activities.

Make your own baby and toddler toys: posting bottles

Babies and toddlers just love to put things inside small spaces and empty containers out. It is great fine motor practise and they will often concentrate for amazing lengths of time if the challenge level is just right. If a child is frustrated by their inability to do the task, simply change the activity for now and re-introduce it a little later. It should have an element of difficulty, but not so difficult that they cannot be successful. This is a great activity for highchair time, playpen timemat time or table time.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the dolly pegs into the lid of the bottle and pulls them back out the bottom.

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Large plastic bottle with hole cut into the front. (Tape hole to cover sharp edges)
  • Dolly pegs or any other suitable object to post into the top of the bottle (regular pegs, wooden peg halves, popsticks etc.)

In this example the solid bottle adds a different dimension and the pegs are shaken out once posted.

The posting bottle can be combined with other skills. Sliding the dolly pegs on and off the edge of a sturdy cardboard box is a complete activity in itself. My children usually enjoyed taking the pegs off the box but did not choose to put them back on again. When they were finished with the activity we slid them back on to the box together as part of the packing up process and they happily practised this skill.

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

5 Category Sorting: A Montessori style tray activity

(For a detailed introduction on how to introduce sorting to toddlers, it may be helpful to read this post first.)

4 colour metal patty-pan sorting.

After my toddlers have been introduced to sorting and have extended their skills to independently identifying 4 or 5 attributes or more, I continue to swap the materials that they sort, but keep the base tray or sorting containers the same. This means that I can change the material and present a “new” tray activity with little or no explanation. The children are immediately familiar with the type of activity and therefore already know what to do.

This is important for when I am teaching older children at the same time as a toddler is working on their Montessori style activities so that I am not constantly interupted. It also means that I am not having to demonstrate or “teach” every single new tray activity – once the format is familiar, I can change materials and off they go.

I set up each term’s worth of tray activities with chosen categories (transferring, sorting, matching, counting, pouring etc.) and simply update the materials as necessary without having to re-introduce each activity.

This wooden tray lends itself well to 4 or 5 attribute sorting and by simply changing the materials I can easily update it throughout a term with very little effort. I also add a pair of tongs, tweezers, scoop or spoon to incorporate fine motor skills and turn it into a transferring activity at the same time, which adds an extra level of challenge to the activity.

5 colour pony bead sorting. (The bowl needs to be moved off to the side to provide room for the 5th colour.)

5 colour jewel sorting. Most of these objects pose a choking hazard so take care with young children who still like to put things in their mouths. Jewels are so tempting for toddlers to suck on.

4 colour plastic flower sort.

5 types of dried beans.

5 kinds of buttons.

5 colours of Christmas craft bells.

5 kinds of pasta and dried beans.

5 coloured marble sort.

5 kinds of pasta.

5 kinds of shells.

5 kinds of farm animals.


An introduction to Sorting: A Montessori Style Tray Activity

Two colour bead sort with attribute or category already given. The first exposure to sorting for my toddlers.

Sorting is an important foundational skill requiring reasoning, logic and mathematical thinking. It enables children to be able to look at a group of objects and identify similarities and differences and to make logical decisions as to how to categorise the objects. Sorting skills will transfer into other academic subjects such as science and mathematics later in life.

Sorting frequently covers other basic skills such as colour recognition and counting and if combined with some kind of transfer tool such as tongs, spoons, tweezers or scoops, will develop fine motor skills at the same time.

I usually tape a peg to the top of each container to designate the attribute category until the child is able to determine a category independently.

I present sorting to my toddlers with only 2 categories to begin with, in the form of a Montessori style tray activity. In other words, only 2 attributes are present. These attributes could be the colour of the object, the shape, size, length or thickness etc. but whatever it is, there are only 2 possible ways to sort them. I also tape or glue one of each kind of object to the sorting container so it is essentially a matching activity as well as sorting for their first experience.

Once they are able to look at the objects (in this case beads) and identify the similarities (all beads of the same size and shape) and differences (colour) they are ready to sort according to the attribute they have identified without a pre-determined category to guide them.

We talk about the objects; what they are, what colour, size, shape etc and focus on what is the same and different about them. I then sort the first few objects (talking about their attributes) while the child watches and ask them to see if they can tell why I am separating them as I am. If they are able to tell me, I ask them to see if they can sort the rest or simply explain why I have sorted as I did and demonstrate further before asking them to have a go.

Once they are able to sort by the two attributes with a category already given (one of each object taped to the container) I present two attribute sorting again without the categories already chosen and help the child to identify the two attributes themselves and sort accordingly.

An example of 3 category/attribute sorting. Generally colour is an easy way for toddlers to sort as a beginning skill. More abstract attributes can be introduced later.

After they have mastered sorting 2 attributes with a variety of objects, I extend the possible attributes or categories to 3, 4, 5 or more attributes, until they are able to sort any objects set before them and justify their reasoning.

In this example the coloured bowls determine the category or attribute so it doubles as a matching activity also.

Teaching Toddlers to Cut

Thin card strips (about one inch) are a good first cutting experience. Parallel and diagonal lines can be added to the strips for a new challenge once random snipping has been mastered.

With older siblings to watch, the littlies are always very keen to cut. Rather than have them constantly nag me or try to grab those scissors and have a go on whatever is handy when I’m not looking, I prefer to spend some time and teach them to cut safely – under supervision! It is great for long stints of uninterrupted school time with older children while young ones are happily occupied on a purposeful and satisfying activity.

The stiffness of straws makes them easy to hold and cut. Cut straw pieces can be used for threading activities.

A good pair of child-sized scissors is important. Make sure that they have a larger hole in one side of the handle so the all of the child’s fingers can fit inside, rather than the kind that have two equal sized small handle holes. (See the pair in the photo.) I also buy proper scissors straight away, rather than safety scissors, simply because of the frustration children feel when scissors are not sharp enough to cut well. The initial paper based cutting experiences outlined here would be fine with safety scissors, but once they move on to the straws and other materials they may not be sharp enough.

Streamers are more difficult to cut because they do not stand stiffly out from the "holding hand."

Cutting strips should be about one inch wide so that the child can cut completely through the strip in one snip. Sliding scissors forward and making a second snip to cut through paper is a more difficult skill and should be introduced later. Show your child which hole is for the thumb and check that they continue to hold the scissors correctly with the blades facing away from them. Young children tend to turn their hands around, rather than the object they are cutting, which causes them to end up in all sorts of interesting and uncomfortable positions.

A new level of difficulty. Use cut beads for various craft projects later.

The first material to present is the easiest to cut – one inch strips of thin card stock. Regular paper is too thin and does not stand out stiffly from the child’s hand, flopping down and making it difficult to cut. Remind your child to keep moving their holding hand away from the scissors as they go.

Tinsel makes pretty off-cuts for craft projects. It is quite difficult to handle for beginner cutters though.

I usually set my cutting activities up in the same format (same tray with basket or two wooden bowls) so that once familiar with the task, there is no need to re-explain what to do when a new material is introduced. Scraps are caught in the empty bowl or basket and can be collected and used for art activities such as gluing or collage.

Curling ribbon is also quite difficult to cut because it curls! Add snippets to your collage or other crafty supplies.

When the first cutting experience is presented I demonstrate first, explain what they need to do, then supervise very closely for a time, until I am sure that the child has mastered holding the scissors correctly, points them away from their body, moves their holding hand while cutting, collects their scraps in the container provided and is generally using the scissors in a responsible manner. I am then able to relax my supervision a little and begin to vary the materials once interest in those already available is beginning to wane.

The photographs throughout this article are in a suggested order of difficulty. Stick with thin card strips until the skill is well mastered, moving to thin card strips with straight and diagonal lines to cut along, before introducing the other suggested materials. Moving too fast will simply result in frustration as the material proves too difficult for the child to manipulate and cut successfully. Other items (such as the animals pictured below) can be added to keep interest levels high. Following on from here, a variety of interesting papers, shapes and other materials can be presented, including those that require the child to slide the scissors along and make several cuts. Start with free cutting, straight lines, then curves and other shapes.

My toddlers love this activity. They focussed for an incredibly long time, cutting the streamers into food for the animals to eat. (The scissors should be presented on the tray with the blades facing away from the child.)

Toddler activities: Tissue box posting

 

This is a very quick and easy toddler activity to put together and all for free! All you need is an empty tissue box and something to post. Most of us have something lying around that will do; pegs, long Duplo blocks, cutlery, old credit cards, dominoes, popsticks or whatever you can find.

Make sure that the material does not pose a choking hazard, demonstrate what to do and let them at it! For the younger child, simply make the posting hole larger. An older toddler will enjoy the challenge of having to place the item in exactly the right position to get it in.

A great activity to use for mat time, playpen time, or even highchair time if the child is tall enough to be able to see the top of the box.

DESCRIPTION:

  • posting given object (in this case dominoes) through a slot in the top of a tissue box.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • practical life – posting

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • fine motor development; hand-eye coordination
  • concentration and focussing skills

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • tissue box
  • dominoes or alternative material to post (pegs, long Duplo blocks, cutlery, old credit cards, popsticks etc.)

Please see my pages titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.