Offering engaging toddler activities that provide productive work for them is crucial for their development. Offering Montessori-inspired activities that isolate skills, promote concentration, and develop various skills benefit the child. Montessori may seem unrealistic to start implementing in your current season of life if you have children of many different ages in which you can’t leave things out on an open shelf. Possibly you don’t have a lot of space to devote to shelf work activities, or you just don’t always want these activities accessible. My solution is creating Montessori in a Box which is full of quick-to-set-up engaging toddler activities.
What is Montessori in a Box?
Montessori in a Box is a photo box, or any size box really, that you can fill with developmentally appropriate Montessori activities. I was thinking about what to get my 2-year-old godson for Christmas and then this idea came to me. My godson has 5 other brothers and sisters and Montessori isn’t fully established in their home, but some elements are.
I wanted to offer a collection of engaging toddler activities that my sister could prepare quickly for her toddler to work with while she worked on some other things around the house. I compiled 7 simple and easy-to-create Montessori toddler work activities. I’ll share each activity, what you need in your box, and how to set it up. I’ll link all of the purchasable items at the bottom of this post. Some of these items would be great to have to set up a variety of other toddler activities!
I used the lid from my photo box and drilled two holes to be able to string a string through the lid. The string sits on the inside to be available for bead stringing. Take a small dish or ramekin and fill it with some wooden chunky beads. As the toddler gets older you could change up what size of beads or objects you offer. A variation to this would be to offer some penne pasta noodles or smaller beads. You could also prepare some pattern cards that they could follow to extend the work further.
Pom-pom transferring is a fun and colorful activity. Transfer work is very practical and refines many fine motor skills. For this activity, you will need two small dishes or ramekins, some small pom-poms, and miniature tongues. Set up the two dishes, the tongues, and pom-poms on a small tray. Model how to do the work. There are many objects that you could use in a transfer work. Dried beans or pasta works well but use what you have available.
Set any limits about the work with the toddler. For example “You can transfer the pom-poms with this tong. The pom-poms need to stay on the tray area.” If this is not happening, you can say something like, “Remember the pom-poms are part of this work and need to stay in the dishes. If we can’t do that we will need to find something else to do.”
Making drops using an eye-dropper can be a wonderful activity for a child to develop more fine motor dexterity. For this activity, you will need a small dish, an eye dropper bottle filled with water, and an optional small sponge. You could add a drop of food coloring to the water to make it more exciting. Model how to practice using the dropper, and dipping it back into the bottle to suck up more water.
A variation of this for an older toddler who understands number correspondence would be to create a laminated sheet of paper with numbers. Then have a section below the number for the child to make that many drops with the dropper. This could be real preparation for real practical life skills. We have been using these herbal supplements in our home and you take a certain number of drops each day. I look forward to the day when I can introduce eye-dropper transferring work in preparation for my boys to be able to set up their supplements.
Posting small objects into a small hole takes great concentration for a toddler. This would be a good activity for a younger toddler. Take an empty spice jar with the sprinkle lid on it. In a small dish set up some wooden skewers or cut straws. Model how to do the work to the toddler and how to tip the jar over to shake out the objects.
There are manufactured Montessori toys for this concept, however you can easily make your own! Find a plastic container with a lid. Cut a slit in the top of the lid that will fit the size of your objects. Find some disk-like objects. I had these wooden disks from an old game. However, you could do many things. Some ideas are buttons, fake coins, or poker chips. Set this activity up by placing all the objects into a small dish next to the container.
Some nice beeswax crayons and a notebook can be a fun toddler activity. You can place a few crayons in a dish and place it on a tray with a notebook. Remember that doing arts and crafts doesn’t have to be out of control. We can prepare the environment in a way that makes it manageable for both the child and us as the adult.
Pouring work is also great! You could get two small pitchers and set up a pouring activity. You can begin by pouring objects like dried beans, then rice, and then move onto water. Set clear limits when introducing these activities. Offer a sponge to clean up any spills.
We can allow our toddlers to help in food preparation. They can begin cutting fruit. Using a wooden cutter like this will offer good control for the child and will connect them to their food in a wonderful way.
We could keep a small dustpan and broom in the kitchen area. Cleaning up will be a joint effort and we can hold the dustpan while the child sweeps the crumbs into the dustpan.
Fill a small spray bottle with water and offer a squeegee or towel for them to clean up the water.
Scrubbing a table
A toddler loves to work and they are more interested in the task itself rather than the outcome. If you offer them a scrub brush and some soapy water you may notice that they scrub only one part of the table over and over again. This is okay and normal. For them, it isn’t about getting the table clean, it is perfecting that motion of scrubbing.
Links to Items and Resources
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Ramekins (great to get at the Dollar Store or thrift store)
Straws for Spice Jar Posting (I used skewers cut shorter)
Spray bottle (Dollar Store is a great place to get these!)