I'm not full Montessori but I aspire to leverage the principles of Montessori in the way I parent and interact with my toddler during play. There's so much merits to choosing Montessori, and I especially believe in (and can attest to) the value of 'The Prepared Environment'.
What's 'The Prepared Environment'?
'The Prepared Environment' is a place (be it a play space at home for homeschooled children, or Montessori classroom) that facilitates independent play, learning and exploration, meeting the child's developmental interests and needs. It is a safe, calm and orderly environment where the child knows what to expect, where things belong, and are even able to return toys to where they should be.
If you're interested, I wrote about how I managed to Montessori my home, a 500sqft tiny apartment), here.
And once I introduced Montessori into my way of life, I started creating Montessori-inspired learning and exploration play shelves.
The Montessori-inspired, hands-on activities on my toddler's play shelf gives her the ability to explore, play and learn independently. She gets to work on interests aligned to her sensitive periods by selecting her own activities from the shelf.
Planning the Tray Activities
My goals and thought process
I wanted the tray activities to be diverse in the learning benefits, challenge intensity and mental stimulation. It had to be diverse in fulfilling different developmental needs and skills to be learnt. These were the focus areas for my Montessori-inspired trays for my toddler at 18 months (around the time when children become developmentally aware of colors/shapes/print like letters and numbers):
- Fine motor
- Bilingualism/Exposure to my toddler's mother tongue (Mandarin Chinese, in addition to English)
- Extension of book interest (Bookish play)
Come 24 months, I would be extending the focus areas of my Montessori-inspired trays to STEAM learning, which requires higher-level thinking and reasoning abilities. I believe that one must master the basic concepts to move on to the next.
How to go about creating your own Montessori-inspired tray activities?
In true Montessori fashion (teach a man to fish rather than giving him a fish), I would encourage you to go through the following thought process to decide what's best for you and your child. That way, it would be easy for you to select tray activities that will be more well-received by your child, and you may even invent your tray ideas to suit your child's needs!
- Define the focus areas for your toddler based on developmental needs and interests (watch out for 'sensitive periods' whereby children show particular interest and repetition in certain tasks. This is the time when their brains are uniquely primed to efficiently learn skills associated to those interests).
- Select activities that achieve your desired focus areas from my list below. You have to use your best judgement in what you think will appeal to your child. My tip? At this age, novelty counts a lot!
- Try to use upcycled resources for your tray activities and feel free to improvise ALOT. It's great to signal to your child that "trash" can be recycled into something useful with just a little creativity and imagination!
Montessori Tips I'd Learnt
- Everything that belongs to the same activity, put them in a tray. Keeping them together will signal to your child that they are free to leverage all the resources on the tray for the activity. If you don't have a wooden tray, use any other you have at home! The beauty of learning comes not from the tray, but from what's on the tray!
- Arrange materials on the tray from Left to right. This follows the natural way of reading, which is left to right.
- Arrange trays on the shelf in this order: Left to right, top to bottom, concrete concepts to the abstract. More from Montessori Daoshi.
Are you ready to start creating your own Montessori-inspired trays and be inspired? Here goes!
15 Montessori Inspired Toddler Tray Activities at 18 Months!
1. Animal Rescue - Fine motor
All you need are animal figurines from your toddler's toy set and some hair ties/loom bands!
I set up this tray activity in the presence of my toddler and interestingly she was more keen in 'trapping' the animals (lol) than rescuing them at first!
2. Coin Drop - Fine motor
At 18 months, posting was a hot favorite with my toddler. She could repeat the same posting action many, many, many, many, many, many, many times.
A note about preparation: In today's cashless society, it can be hard to find coins for this activity lol. I'm a hoarder and this handful of coins are the pennies and quarters I'd kept for 2 YEARS from shopping at thrift stores. Good substitutes for the coins are: Poker chips, large buttons and even flash cards. For the piggy bank, use tins with soft rubber lids that are easy to cut a slit/slot in.
3. Wooden Peg Pull - Fine motor
4. Wooden Peg Push - Fine motor
5. Jewelry Tree Decoration - Fine motor
6. Object to Card Matching - Matching/Sorting
You might like to start with just 4-5 items. I laid out 10 because these were common items for my toddler. 10 unfamiliar items for a toddler would be way too overwhelming!
7. Skittles Color Sorting - Matching/Sorting
A fantastic way to use Halloween candies lol (beats letting your child eat all that sugar!)
8. Vehicle Color Sorting - Matching/Sorting
9. Chinese Character Recognition Activity - Bilingualism + Matching/Sorting
10. Weather Icon Matching - Matching/Sorting
11. Flash Card Activity - Puzzles
12. Pizza Activity - Puzzles
13. TP Roll Breast Pump Tube Activity - Threading
14. Penne Pasta Pipe Cleaner Activity - Threading
15. Corduroy - Bookish Play
Parental supervision is required for these tray activities, particularly the ones which utilise materials that are small (choking hazard risk). Stash the trays if you need to leave your child to play freely for a moment and put back the trays on the shelf only when you have eyes on your child.
To follow our play adventures, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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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.