Open-ended play is an understated piece of Montessori education because so many confuse “toys” with fantasy play (e.g. flying pink elephants). Fiction is not favored in Montessori education since small children cannot clearly distinguish between imaginary world and reality leading to much confusion. However, imaginative, child-led reality-based play is very much encouraged. So, in a Montessori classroom, elephants are not pink nor do they fly, and animals definitely do not talk since those characteristics are untrue concepts perpetuated by adults to children. However, horses, for example, most definitely nibble hay, gallop quickly, prance slowly and fall into the category of Mammals. This type of “small world” play (using animal figures for example) helps children understand their world and gives an adult endless opportunities for an age-appropriate conversation with children. For more on toys ~ read here, and for a little intro on Montessori Materials ~ here.
Below you will find some of the educational materials, books and toys we have been enjoying. Let me know in comments which one was your favorite!
🌈Rainbow🍚Rice M&D Word Boards
Today, we are upcycling an old toy! Is your little one losing interest in doing the same puzzle over and over again? Why not add a sensorial dimension to it with DIY Rainbow rice! (To make colored rice: add a little vinegar to dry raw rice in a ziplock along with the desired food coloring. Close the ziplock and shake it to color the rice throughout. Thereafter, pour colored rice into a flat dish and let dry.) Using, these word boards (buy less expensive here) Adrian would trace each letter of the word first, then read the word and lastly fill each letter with a rainbow rice. I offered him a scooper, but he preferred to use his fingers which is also an awesome fine motor exercise! For proper tracing directions guidance, we love referring to Montessori Letter Work book.
Another way to use your DIY rainbow rice is to make a sensory bin. Wrap each letter of a puzzle in an aluminum foil and hide letters in your sensory bin (you can use any other grain as a filler too). Then invite your child to seek and find each letter, unwrap it and match to the corresponding slot on the sound puzzle. This activity is perfect for toddlers and smaller children.
DIY CVC Picture Words & Clothespins
This is a variation on this CVC word cards matching clothespins activity. The original game is perfect for smaller children (3 yo +) since it is simply a letter matching activity, rather than reading or spelling. To increase the level of difficulty, I taped over the letters (using double tape) so that Adrian does not have visual assistance. So, in this case, he has to recall the word from memory based on the picture, and figure out how to spell it. Once finishes, he can remove the tape and see if he was correct (aka Montessori control of error). I did not use the clothespins that came with the set, but rather made them myself (buy pegs here, prime with clear nail polish and write letters with a Sharpe ~ in a Montessori language curriculum, vowels are blue and consonants are red.)
See here a video of Adrian matching these cards at 39 months ~ Montessori CVC Picture Words & Clothespins (💗Pink Series 🎥 Early 📖 Reading 101). I would not call this an official “reading” just yet since Adrian is seeing the pictures on the cards (recalling some names from memory) and then simply matches the letters.
HABA 🔨Tap &📌Tack Set
What child does not like 🔨hammering or 📌poking, and why not both? Adrian is loving the Tap & Tack Jr. Imaginative Design Play Set that comes with a corkboard (we intend to use as a DIY geoboard), a child-sized wooden 🔨hammer, a sheet of templates and 50 wooden tiles. And all this for $14! Please note that the set comes with tiny nails, which might be too small for a younger child (for sure for anyone younger than four), so I also bought these larger tacks to use in lieu of the tiny nails. Also, offer a toy to match the object your child is building for more hands-on play. Here, Adrian matched his favorite BRIO locomotive to the one he tapped onto the corkboard.
We are using tongs to lift the pieces off the board as it might be tricky since they are so small. Also, let your child use his/her creativity! When Adrian was making an excavator, he did not follow the exact template instructions but rather used larger tacks to resemble a caterpillar since the set had only two wheels. This toy is also a wonderful fine motor exercise as your little one taps away into the tiny holes. So, build, imagine (have your child come up with own designs) and work the muscles in those little hands to advance fine motor skills!
💜Purple Motion Kinetic Sand Sensory Play
This 💜purple motion sand is amazing! It is made from natural 🏖sand and polymers that make it stick to itself and never dry out! This sand is hypoallergenic and non-toxic and it will surely provide hours of fun hands-on sensory play.
This motion modeling sand is made with 98% natural sand and 2% polymers, making it a squeezable sand that sticks to itself allowing your children to express creativity through impressive creations! Its unique formula makes this type of sand soft and stretchy, affording your child an amazing sensorial experience by developing the tactile sense of touch. The sand flows through the fingers like a slow-moving liquid, still leaving the hand completely dry, which makes cleaning up super easy! With this motion sand, your child can build own sand castles at home and pretend that s/he is at the beach. Use it outdoors or bring it inside and let the play continue no matter what the weather is outside!
✂️Scissors •DIY 🚗Car Wash
Need a fun way to practice scissor skills! All you need is scissors, cardstock, ruler and a pencil, a ♻️recycled cardboard📦box, and a sprinkle of imagination. See here how Adrian and Daddy made this✂️Scissors •🎥DIY 🚗Car Wash.
Paint by Sticker Book 🦁🐦🚀Puppet Craft
See here Sticker 🚀Painting •Kids 🔢Math Puzzle Craft.
Assemble a puzzle (while learning 🔢) ~ bring 🎨art to ✨life ~ ✂️cut it out~ make a 🍡puppet for pretend play! And you get to have a cup of ☕️ and do yoga while your child is happily 🙌🏻engaged 😉
Today, 👦🏼Adrian was making a completely new craft: creating 🦁🐦🚀pictures one sticker at a time using this unbelievable puzzle craft 📚 with a 🔢math twist (buy here). Besides developing 🙌🏻fine motor control (some pieces are tiny), and brushing on 🔢teens and tens (there are generally around 💯 stickers to match), Adrian got to practice his ✂️scissor skills while he cut his assembled creations, bringing them to life as laminated Puppets on a 🍡pop-sickle stick!
☮️Peace Education •Have you Filled a Bucket Today? 📚 Book
See here a post “•☮️PEACE Education• Have you Filled a Bucket Today? 📚 Book.”
See & Spell Wooden Spelling Boards
Adrian has been enjoying these See & Spell Wooden boards (buy here) since he was two-years-old (see here a post him assembling these boards at 26 months), and now at almost four, he still enjoys them. Colorful wooden letters fit into the eight two-sided wooden cutout puzzle boards to spell three- and four-letter words. These puzzle boards feature bright and colorful illustrations of everyday objects like a cat, a pig, a bus, a boat, etc., as well as the name of the objects. This educational puzzle-toy develops sight-reading vocabulary, spelling and fine-motor skills. It is a fun way to put together a puzzle to spell a word! Also, these colorful wooden lower-case letters can be used on their own to spell various words. For example, Adrian used the letters to spell his name in a sensory tracing tray. We made ours with flour, but you can use either sand, salt, sugar, or any other tiny grain. (See here “How 🎥 to Make Montessori Sensorial ✍️Tracing Tray”).
p.s. To represent objects, we are using some of the Vehicles Wooden Chunky Puzzle pieces (buy here) such as a boat and a bus (see more here in a post “Vehicles Chunky Wooden Puzzle for 1.5-year-old”).
Adrian is obsessed with stamps recently. Yes, he ✍🏻️writes daily in his workbooks, but stamping adds such a 🤗fun dimension to a traditional writing. With this Wooden 🔠Alphabet Stamp set (buy here), he practices letter and color recognition, as well as hand-eye coordination. This set gives a traditional writing a spin as it promotes creativity and early spelling skills. And, a child can stamp much more than he can 🖊write!
Anatomy Puzzle & DIY Interactive Puppets 🎥 (Inside of the BODY Unit Study)
See here a 🎥 post “Anatomy Puzzle & DIY Interactive Puppets” with details about our favorite hands-on BODY materials we have been using.
Rainbow Loom crafting kit (buy here) is a hands-on creative activity which will boost your child’s fine-motor skills, while imagination and hands would create hours of fun!
Adrian, at 3.5 years old, is using Rainbow Looms.
This Rainbow Loom kit comes with a loom and a hook and everything your child will need to create bracelets, necklaces, charms, keychains, hair ties and more. While Julia likes to use the hook, Adrian prefers to use his fingers. He would pull the first rubber band over his index and third finger in an 8-shape. The next two rubber-bands are pulled over one-by-one as an-o-shape. Then, he would pick the bottom rubber-band and loop it over the top band (from the right and then from the left). In a little while, your child will see a little “tail” emerging!
Julia, 7.5 years old, is illustrating how to use Rainbow Looms.
This Fraction Formula Game (buy here) is a super fun hands-on fraction- math exploration. Each child (can be played from two to four children), while taking turns would draw a fraction card (one at a time) and drop a matching cylinder into his/her tube, with the goal to get as close to the “1” as possible, without going over.
The Game: the race to the “1” – to fill the “whole” exactly to the line!
Fraction tiles also double as a math manipulative, and offer a different fraction perspective – not all fractions are a pizza-circle! Also, the cards and corresponding fractions are color-coded, offering a child an opportunity to refine color recognition. Lastly, once the child wins, we look at the fractions that made up the whole, and Julia would write the combination in her journal. It is fun to see how many different fraction-combinations can make the whole!
p.s. We were inspired to purchase this game after reading Kylie’s post about it here.
Zen🕉 Garden Meditation Sand Box
Do you practice mindfulness with your children? A big part of Montessori education is teaching children to be mindful, respectful and ☮️peaceful with oneself and others. This Zen Garden (buy here) is a miniature version of a traditional Japanese meditative garden. Assorted stones and other objects provide visual interest and a counterpoint to the garden’s serene patterns.
Children are born mindful, and with wisdom we can keep this skill alive: ‘Montessori is wonderful in this way’. – The Dalai Lama.
This introspective Zen garden is also a very simple DIY 🏡activity. What you will need to participate in the art of Zen gardening:
- purified sand (you can also use polenta, amaranth or any other tiny grain),
- small objects like marbles, polished rocks (we also added a starfish, shark teeth and intricate shells.),
- a small rake,
- and a tray to contain this sensorial paradise.
A Zen Garden is a mindful tool to bring a child to the “now” – to the precious eternal moment of the Present, offering a child an opportunity to sensorially explore the sand, while gracefully raking around objects, thinking only about the precise movement of the hand, focusing only on the sparkling white sand and the design a child chooses to create. These moments are truly meditational, quieting the mind and enriching the soul.
For more on ☮️PEACE Education, read here 🕉Mindfulness with Children.
Abacus Wooden Counting Toy
I am sure you have abacus somewhere. It is such a traditional 🔢 math counting toy, and I remember myself using it when I was little. Now, I encourage both of my 👦🏼👧🏻 children ❌not to use their ✋🏻fingers when performing addition or subtraction work, and abacus comes to the rescue every time we do not have Montessori ten-bars or golden beads handy. With Abacus, a child can practice counting, adding, subtracting or making ten’s. This math toy is also great at promoting fine-motor control and at illustrating how the number can be broken down into smaller numbers.
In this 🎥 video, Julia (👧🏻 7 years old) is announcing ➕ addition equations with multiple addends to her brother Adrian (👦🏼 3.5 years) to solve using a colored wooden abacus. (We are using Imaginarium wooden abacus (buy here.)
The Ultimate Book of Vehicles
This amazing 📚 Book of Vehicles (buy here) is the most interactive hands-on 🚒🚜✈️ Vehicles 📚 book I have ever come across! And this book is Adrian’s absolute ❤️favorite at this time! Nearly one hundred different vehicles—in all shapes and sizes! Your child will see first-hand a giant crane hovering over a construction site, a 🚀 space-ship blasting into space, and much more! Supersized spreads feature marvelously detailed illustrations with a lot of flaps, pop-ups, pull-tabs, and rotating wheels, bringing various vehicles to life. A child can peak into a ⛴ ship’s hold, explore the innards of a garbage 🚛 truck, and help demolish a 🏠house. Any child who’s ever been intrigued by the roar of an engine will adore this extraordinary collection of things on the go, from the everyday ones to the nearly outrageous!
Also, my children love LEGO!
See here “LEGO Juniors Demolition Site Building Kit” post.
See here “🔢Math Simple ➕Addition and ➖Subtractions with LEGO.”
For more on LEGOs, see:
- here “Learning Fractions with LEGO”
- here “Julia’s Christmas Gift: LEGO Creator Expert Santa’s Workshop”
- here “Dropper Writing Letter M with LEGO (Language 101 🎥 Series 🎇 Curriculum)”
- here “LEGO – the Best Investment in a Toy”
- here “Julia’s 7th Birthday Gifts: LEGO Friends.”
We are also big fans of BRIO ~ see here “BRIO 🚂 🛬 🚉 🚇 Toys at 3 Yo” where I have links to other BRIO posts.
ROCA Toys Play Food Learning Toy of 🍉Healthy Eating Habits
Does your child have a favorite toy? How about both of your kiddos have the same favorite toy that will last you years! We absolutely love ROCA Toys magnetic & cutting Play Food Learning Toy!
Why we love this Play Food Learning Toy of Healthy Eating Habits:
🌟Toy with The MESSAGE! Promote Healthy Eating Habits and raise awareness about the 🙅🏼negative impact of 🍟junk food! Our body is our temple and we must nourish it by giving it healthy food! ‘You become what you eat’ & teaching children early that eating unhealthy foods will make them feel & look unhealthy: from sugar crushes to excess weight, to lethargy and lack of energy, not to mention 🤒medical issues 🤕many linked now to unhealthy diets, you are developing an awareness and good habits early on, and it is the best 🎁 gift you can offer your child!
🌟QUALITY ~ this high-quality toy is beautifully made from solid wood, including 22 🖌hand-painted 😱pieces each carefully handcrafted with first-class materials & tools, tested to the 🌐world’s highest safety standards.
🌟fun and engaging FINE & GROSS MOTOR exercise as your child will be learning to properly handle the kid-friendly 🍴knife while slicing wooden food & enjoying the satisfying ‘crunch’ sound as the self-stick tabs come apart.
🌟play a SORTING game: healthy v Not, 🍉fruits v 🍆vegetables, carbohydrates v protein, or even color-sort!
🌟sneak a little MATH lesson & ask to count the foods: “Count all healthy/unhealthy food?” ~ “If you gave Mommy 1 🍓strawberry, how many do you have left?” Count 🍉fruits, 🍆vegetable, sources of 🐟protein etc.
🌟gender NEUTRAL ~ I absolutely ❤️when the toys can be enjoyed by both of my children!
🌟myriad opportunities for realistic pretend-PLAY: 🏥Doctor, Dentist, shopping at a farm market or Grocery store ~ great for 💵Money Study, 🍽restaurant, picnics, kitchen-play (children can learn manners while serving food to friends and family and they can also learn to share), and so many more!
So, help your little one learn the basics of nutrition, develop early number skills, color recognition, grouping and sorting while instilling an important message of “healthy eating”!