How to Make an Activitiy “Montessori”?

The Montessori approach takes into account the developmental needs of a child. It then offers an environment appropriately prepared to meet those needs. To understand how to make an activity Montessori, we need to understand the characteristics that make Montessori activities unique as well as the key developmental needs of specific age children. When we can understand these two things, we can make practically anything a Montessori expereince, but particularly activities within the home or classroom.

Characteristics of a Montessori Activitiy

Montessori activities are unique and can highlight different aspects of these characteristics I will share. Some activities will include many if not all of these characteristics and others may only have a few of them present. All of this is okay because we may have different purposes for different activities.

Understanding Open-Ended vs. Close-Ended

A Montessori activity will fall into one of two categories, open-ended or close-ended. An activity is considered closed-ended when it has a specific purpose or a defined way to use the materials. Some examples of close-ended activities would be the object permanence box, the knobbed cylinders, and a puzzle. A few examples of open-ended toys and activities would be Magna tiles, legos, cars, or art supplies.

Both types of activities have a place in a Montessori environment. Each has different benefits and focuses. A close-ended activity has a clear purpose and can help a child expereince a sense of accomplishment when they complete the task. These activities often lead to repetition. When an action or activity meets a specific need for a child, they will often want to repeat it. Where as open-ended toys foster independent play and creativity.

Self-Correcting or Control of Error within Montessori Activities

Some Montessori materials and activities will have a self-correcting property. Materials like the knobbed cylinder, puzzles, or a shape sorter will allow a child to self-correct their mistakes without someone telling them.

A shape sorter toddler toy.

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Left Undone

When we set out activities on a shelf for a child, we want them to feel called to complete them. We can do this by leaving the activity undone. By leaving the activity incomplete, we encourage and communicate to the children that they can complete it. For example, placing puzzles in a small basket instead of fitting them into the frame, or leaving wooden rings off a dowel for the toddler to place on, invites them to engage and finish the task. This small step makes a big difference in the way the child can interact with their environment.

A fruit puzzle with the pieces taken out and set in a small basket. The whole activity is set up on a tray.

Allows for Exploration with 5 Senses

Different materials will focus on different things but many will allow the child to explore with their five senses. We know that children learn from experiences. When someone can expereince something with multiple senses, they will have an even richer expereince.

A Montessori activity of pouring water between two pitchers with a sponge for spills.

Fosters Independence

Fostering independence can happen with both open and close-ended activities. A child can develop his ability to play independently with toys that foster creativity, like Magana tiles. Independence can also be developed through intentional close-ended activities offered at just the right time so that a child can do it independently after being shown how to do it.

Montessori Activities Focus on One Concept or Skill

With close-ended activities, you will find that they are honing in on one skill or concept. There may be other skills it is building upon, but the new skills are isolated within an activity. This is great for a child because it allows them to achieve mastery, which is good for their development. When preparing activities or purchasing activities, consider this element and look closely at the toy or activity to see what skill your child is learning through that material. You’ll find that many toys try to fit as many skills and activities into one as possible. What makes a Montessori activity different is how it brings more focus to one skill or concept, allowing a child to achieve mastery.

A Montessori activity of scooping dry beans between two bowls.

Setting Up Montessori Activities

I believe that almost anything can be offered to a child in a Montessori way. If we keep in mind the characteristics of the child as well as the Montessori activities then we can set up activities in a way that meets both sets of characteristics. There are many consistent and key Montessori materials and presentations a child will receive in a Montessori classroom. However, there are also many things we may want to introduce to a child that Dr. Montessori did not have a specific presentation for. We can keep the authenticity of the method by applying the principles I mentioned in this post.

The Importance of Preparation

When preparing activities we want to take time to prepare them for the child. For example, if we get a new puzzle, maybe instead of just setting out the puzzle on the shelve, we can prepare it for the child. We can get a lightweight tray with handles, a small basket for the puzzle pieces, and set the puzzle frame on the tray if there is one. After making these changes, the activity is prepared for a child. Preparing it with both the Montessori principles and the developmental needs of the child in mind.

A tray with a wooden box that has a drawer with a wooden knob. A slit in the top of the wooden box and a dish of wooden coins.

Tips for Setting up Montessori Activities at Home

Use trays and baskets to help give clear places for everything. Prepare things before setting them out for your child. Set them out in a beautiful and orderly way. Keep the number of options available to just a handful and implement a toy and activity rotation system. Model to your child how to use the activity and how to put the activity away. Model this often and do it together. Use observation to know when it may be time to set out new activities or to know if an activity is too easy or too challening.

A wooden shelf with two shelves and toys on it. A picture of flowers being cut hanging on the wall. Toys: cars, a basket with blocks, drawers with knobs, and a basket of stacking spoolz.

It Changes as They Change

As a child’s age changes, the way we physically prepare our environment will also change. When you are preparing activities for children in the first plane of development, 0 to 6 years old, you will want to have everything they need for an activity collected onto a tray. However, this is no longer necessary for elementary-age children and beyond. Now we can prepare the environment with the materials and tools they need, but they can gather them together.

An example to illustrate this is binding a few pieces of paper together into a small booklet. For a first-plane child, you would have the paper, cover page, hole punch, string, and scissors all set up on a tray. All the child would have to do is carry the tray to their workspace and bind their book. For an elementary-age child, we would keep all of these items separate and a child would need to think through the process and collect all of the items on a tray.

A small wooden tray with a small piece of blank paper and a dot painter.

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