Montessori-inspired tray work remains an integral part of our homeschool environment. While I wished I started Montessori from birth, I began putting out Montessori-inspired trays for my toddler at 18 months.
My toddler enjoyed the activities and I updated the trays at 22 months after rotating them for about 4 months. Now I'm pleased to update our Montessori shelf activities at 26 months.
At 26 months, my toddler has made leaps in fine motor skills, developed an interest in uppercase and lowercase letter differentiation, begun to challenge herself to puzzles of more pieces and incorporated one-to-one correspondence in many practical life aspects (counting everything and anything while climbing the stairs, washing strawberries and collecting rocks on hikes).
These Montessori-inspired tray activities will build on these growing interests and strengthen them.
10+ Montessori Inspired Toddler Tray Activities at 26 Months
Note: Unlike previous tray activities which were mostly handmade and DIY, there are a few store-bought toys in this selection of 26 months old tray activities.
1. Scissors Practice
Scissors work is something my toddler is really passionate about in the moment. I encourage plenty of scissors work as it builds many fine motor skills -- bilateral coordination, finger and hand strength, hand-eye coordination and precision of grip and release.
This setup is a simple one that trains scissors skills in cutting straight lines, zig-zag lines and cursive lines.
If your toddler loves scissors work too, here are 10+ other creative and fun scissors activities I've done with my toddler.
2. Uppercase/Lowercase Letter Matching
This idea originated from Happy Tot Shelf's Magnetic Tiles Letter Matching Houses. My toddler enjoys stacking her Magna-tiles so I seized the opportunity to try out this activity to reinforce her learning of uppercase and lowercase letters.
My execution is simplified and tailored to my toddler's stacking interest. I laid out the written Magna-tiles and invited her to group the uppercase and lowercase letters together by stacking one on top of the other.
This Magna-tile joining activity would be great for children to learn sight words and/or spell words.
3. Tweezer Fine Motor Activity
Object transfer using tweezers helps to develop a strong tripod grip for efficient handwriting in the later years.
Prior to this pair of wooden tweezers, my toddler had been practising with bigger pom pom balls combined with the Gator Grabber Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers from the Learning Resources Helping Hands Fine Motor Set.
Use of bigger pom pom balls and those tools were easier to manipulate compared to the wooden tweezers and mini pom pom balls. Therefore, this activity offered a higher level of fine motor challenge.
Tip: Start with a very small quantity of mini pom pom balls (<5) to encourage completion of the activity cycle. When your child has mastered the use of wooden tweezers, add more pom pom balls. Having too many pom pom balls at the first try might have a deterrent effect, and children might be inclined to pour the balls from one container to the other instead of tweezing them one by one.
4. Adult Baby Matching Puzzle
This Learning Journey Adult and Baby Animal Pairs Matching Puzzle was a great find for my toddler.
I love these about the puzzle:
- The puzzle pieces are self-correcting, promoting independent play and thinking.
- Many toddler puzzles use visuals that are cartoonish in nature. These use beautiful, realistic animal images against a clean white background.
- The names of both the adult and baby animals are printed in black and lowercase letters, which are easy to read and the use of lowercase is great as children come across lowercase more commonly, especially in books. This helps in building pre-reading literacy skills.
- The variety of animals featured in the puzzle is extensive! The learning wasn't for my toddler alone -- I refreshed my own knowledge of baby animal terms!
I would love to incorporate these puzzle pieces into rainbow rice sensory rice by getting my toddler to 'hunt' for the baby animal puzzle pieces and then reuniting them with their animal parents.
5. Dressing Board
Learning to dress/dress is an important aspect of practical life (self-care) activities and encourages independence in toddlers.
My toddler has been very active at learning to dress and undress herself. Thus far she's mastered zips, snap buttons, watch straps, velcro straps and threading shoelaces. Lately, I've found her working on buttoning/unbuttoning, an area she had very limited exposure to as she has very few outfits with buttons.
I believe this sensory dressing board would grow with my toddler and like that it allows my toddler to practise various dressing skills at one go, as it features 9 commonly encountered types of buckles, ties and buttons.
Note: It can be overwhelming to present all types at the first try. I recommend directing your child to the ones with least challenge (velcro and zip) first, before progressing to the others, so as to build gradual interest and not discourage children who might pick a challenging task and give up subsequently. It might help to sew pieces of fabrics to conceal the challenging tasks first and then unraveling them one at a time as your child grows. I suggested sewing and not taping over, because children might pick at the masking tape and attempt to unpeel, distracting them from the true intent of this activity.
6. Painter's Tape Art Tray
I introduced these rolls solid-colored painter's tape to my toddler three weeks ago and she's still obsessed with cutting and taping it. She's even emulated me by using painter's tape to stick artworks she's done onto the wall and windows.
Manipulation of painter's tape builds various fine motor skills and is a practical life skill to learn since we use tape in crafts and many aspects of household maintenance. Painter's tape also allows children to create a different kind of artwork on paper, promoting creativity and self-expression.
7. Water Pouring Tray
Recently my toddler spotted me using a metal funnel to transfer liquid refills and was really keen to try out it out. To leverage this interest, I set up a water pouring tray for her to explore, practise and use the funnel in liquid transfer.
I filled the pitcher to a level that's not-quite-half, a level I'm comfortable with that doesn't flow out of the edges of the tray. I also ensured my toddler had access to wipe cloths nearby so she could clean-up after any spills.
I used this opportunity to explain the purpose and uses for a funnel. I described the funnel as a tool that is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, generally used for directing liquid through a small opening from one container to another. Funnels are commonly found in science laboratories and at school, students use them in chemical experiments.
8. Nesting Doll Size Gradation
My toddler has been pointing out differences in sizes (for animals in picture books and stones on beaches) and started using richer vocabulary words to describe the sizes, "soooo big!", "big", "small" and "tiny".
To build on her developing visual discrimination and spatial awareness skills, I introduced a set of wooden nesting dolls to her shelf.
She joined the pieces back and explored putting them into one another to see if they fit. She hasn't nested all the dolls back into the largest doll yet, so I'll leave this nesting doll set out until she tries that out.
I chose unpainted and uncoated wooden nesting dolls for a reason, to grow with my child (other Montessori-inspired and open-ended toy recommendations for 2 years olds that will yield high mileage here).
At an older age when my daughter has mastered the nesting and becomes used to the surprise element of the dolls, I'll love to paint these nesting dolls with her to give them a new look.
The geoboard is such a useful learning tool -- apart from maths (shapes, fractions, symmetry and angles), my toddler uses it for letter, number and Chinese character learning.
A guide on how to craft this DIY geoboard (as well as other homemade Montessori-inspired toys) here.
10. Number Counting Board
This Corduroy-themed number counting board is inspired by Cardboard Kiddo's number matching cardboard toy. These are the ways I play it with my toddler:
- I count and place (one-by-one) a specific set of buttons on Corduroy's overalls and invite my toddler to find the matching numeral bottle cap
- I place a numeral bottle cap in the sentence and invite my toddler to count and place the corresponding buttons on Corduroy's overalls
- I name a number and invite my toddler to place both the buttons and corresponding numeral bottle cap
My numeral bottle caps are recycled from a previous activity -- egg crate number board which is a toddler-friendly simplified version of the Montessori Hundred Board.
I picked this theme as it's one of my toddler's favourite fictional characters. However, note that Montessori education is reality-based and does not encourage the introduction of fantasy to young children. Instead of basing this activity design on the Corduroy character, you could modify it to be a realistic-looking mother bear illustration and in place of buttons, baby bear cub illustration cut-outs. That way, children can count bear cubs in the litter and learn about the animal world.
11. Kindness Puzzle
My toddler enjoys the "Be Kind" book by Pat Zietlow Miller, and this puzzle extends our exploration of the kindness theme.
This Mudpuppy Kindness Puzzle Set comes with 4 puzzles -- 4-piece, 6-piece, 9-piece, and 12-piece, and this means it can grow with my child's developmental level.
The only drawback is that the scenes depict animals demonstrating acts of kindness, which is fiction-based. You could explain to your young child that some intelligent, sentient animals do show empathy and kindness to one another, though that does not apply to all animals (and clarify that animals don't use man-made tools like swings for entertainment to better differentiate reality from fantasy).
I hope your toddler enjoys these 10+ Montessori-inspired tray activities!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.