toddler (Montessori) activities

Montessori is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori which is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. Although a range of practices exist, the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and the American Montessori Society (AMS) cite these elements as essential:

  • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old by far the most common
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • A Constructivism or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
  • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators

The first of these is particularly interesting in light of some older and newer research which suggests that interaction with children of different ages expands the cognitive boundaries of play for youngsters and reinforces leadership and empathetic qualities for older children. Providing uninterrupted (and unstructured, child-led) work (play) time is also in line with other philosophies, like RIE, which encourages minimal interruption and quiet, careful observation as a way of encouraging the growth and development of a child’s attention span and ability to learn how to learn.

Fundamentally, the Montessori educational approach is based on a model of human development which has two basic elements. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development and, when they are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared environment*,  will act spontaneously for optimal development.

I turned to some Montessori sites recently while looking for ideas about age-appropriate chores I could include on our family job chart, and came across this (amazing) list of Montessori inspired activities for preschoolers prepared by Elaine Ng Friis, which features many easy every-day routines like taking care of a baby and cutting. Regardless of how you feel about Montessori education, I think it is an excellent resource for all parents with young children; especially for those rainy days when you find yourself out of ideas about how to entertain the kiddos.

* Standing, E. M. (1957). Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Plume. pp. 263–280


14 thoughts on “toddler (Montessori) activities

  1. I love Montessori….we built our playroom according to Montessori concepts when we ended up on a wait list….and now our daughter is in the program. For small children, I think it is a wonderful way to foster innovative thought processes that will help them as adults.


    1. Critters and Crayons, Thanks for your comment. I’d love to see photos/hear how what you incorporated in your playroom…someday I’d like to have one at our house, when we have room for a playroom!


      1. I’ve considered doing a post on it- but I’m afraid it might come off boastful. It looks rather extravagant- but that’s because, when I was a working mom with considerably more expendable income, that was my answer to the fact that I couldn’t get my child into a Montessori school for nearly 2 years. I also wanted to foster a learning environment where the child could migrate to an area of interest and sit and “work” uninterrupted. I have it broken down into “stations” with a vast array of puzzles, books by theme throughout, geography, science, natural sciences, and motor skills development. Since staying home, more mainstream items have been incorporated. We have a garage of trucks now (you won’t find that at Montessori),a music section, a critter section, and a dramatic play area with puppet theater, doll houses, and dress-up (because my child became interested in those things). But, it is highly organized, and all toys and books are visible. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it now that I’m a SAHM, but in a city where it’s over a hundred degrees nearly four months of the year, it is a haven. We live simply in other areas of our life, but I know that everything in this play room will be donated to kids who can use them. If I do muster the courage to run a post about it, I’ll let you know. But, in the meantime, I love that my child will pull down a model of the human body and identify all the organs, then move to the map and label Africa with all the indigenous animals, and sit down and work on a floor puzzle because she just wants to. I didn’t push her into any of those things- I built a learning environment and waited for her to ask questions. 🙂


      2. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I welcome your tips- personal experience…if ever you are willing/wanting to share!


        Kiyah- I remembered your post! I finally posted on our play room layout since there was a call for photos by Imagine Toys and the reception has been great. You’ll see that our play room now has a lot of non-Montessori items in it- dramatic play, a truck motorcade, etc…but the concept is what is most important to me. An open, organized environment that stimulates learning and encourages child-led exploration. There are many sensory items (like the fossil/mineral/shell tray depicted) and plenty of hands-on activities. Alas, the kids developed opinions and love of superheroes and monster trucks appear to be in the dna of boys. 🙂
        I actually cited the link I learned about from YOUR site in this post now that I think about it! Thanks!


  2. I was a Montessori kid through second grade, and my mom was a Montessori teacher. Since becoming a parent, my husband and I have discussed with our other parent friends the value of paying for private education at the preschool and early elementary years. I always argue that it is so important, because those are the formative years when you are learning HOW to learn, how to be creative, how to independently explore something. My transition to public school in 3rd grade was tough, and I think there were a couple of years in there when I probably didn’t learn much in class, but I think having the Montessori foundation has served me well throughout my life. Thanks for the great post and link! Definitely something I want to incorporate into my daughter’s play/work time!


    1. I completely agree; my husband and I have been having the same discussions about the importance of early childhood education especially because, as you say, children are so impressionable at this age. These ARE the formative years when it comes to instilling a love of learning- for learning’s sake- which is something Tim and I really want to nurture within our children.
      Thanks for your comments!


    1. Monica-I was not aware of this site…thank you so much for posting it. There are many times I wish we had more space, but until we do I’ll find ways to make use of the room we do have to implement some of these ideas. thanks for another great resource!


  3. Critters & crayons-
    Thank you (!) for posting on your fantastic play room, and sharing links/photos to others who are willing to let us peak inside their family space. These rooms are all so inspirational!


    1. You’re welcome! I was so worried it would be perceived as boastful- but the reception has been great. Now that I’m a SAHM, we would never have been able to afford a toy room like this- but it has worked out. Thanks for your initial post- so glad I found it- I think it was via Salt & Nectar…. 🙂


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