Yesterday I started this multi-post series about what makes an activity Montessori by talking about the fact that Montessori activities are child-led. As a reminder, here are the eight qualities that make an activity Montessori:

Montessori activities:

  1. are child-led
  2. isolate concepts
  3. have a control of error
  4. are close-ended
  5. activate the senses
  6. are hands-on
  7. aid in independence
  8. foster concentration

Today, I will focus on the isolation of concepts. Most toys on the market today are designed to cover as many skills as possible in one toy. Montessori-aligned activities do the opposite: they isolate each concept to work toward mastery. So this means that busy boards, busy books, lock boards and many other popular toys that are often even advertised as being Montessori are actually not!

I chose this toy from Melissa and Doug as an example since I actually own this toy and have it on my shelf at the moment. The toy itself isn’t Montessori aligned and I wouldn’t just put it on my shelf as is.

This toy works on multiple concepts: it asks the child to sort the pieces by shape, color, and quantity. It also requires the child to have the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination necessary to pick up the pieces, turn them in the right way and place them on the posts.

A Montessori-aligned activity would break down those four skills into individual activities. Let me outline the way I used this toy to make activities for each concept. Please note that I intentionally left out how old my son was when I introduced each activity. You know your child and their development best and each child is different.

We started by using the five red pentagons with a single post stacker. This isolates the concept of putting the ring on the stacker and removing them. Ideally, you would start with a stacker that has a curved bottom so it tips toward your child as they pull it to them to put the rings on and stands by itself. My son skipped this as we were traveling for two months around the time he was developmentally ready for that type of stacker.

When he started showing interest in matching colors, I offered him the five-post stacker from the original toy with only one of each colored shape. Ideally, you would have a toy that has colored posts and the only difference between the rings is the color, but we already owned this toy so although the shapes are still different, my son pretty much ignored that at this point.

Recently, my son has this stacker back out on his shelf as he is very interested in counting and identifying quantities. I offered the toy with all its pieces this time and I modeled counting the pieces as I placed them on. After a few times of modeling, he now counts the pieces himself most of the time.  I wish that I had a counting toy that didn’t have the element of color and shapes, but I have a number of other counting activities on his shelf, so even if he is still sorting the pieces by color, he has enough other activities to help him master counting.

There is still one skill left and that is sorting by shape. I will offer this activity in the next few weeks, as my son is close to mastering the concept I am currently using this toy for and he has shown a new interest in shapes in the last few days. I traced each different piece with a black marker on a piece of thick paper. I will offer him then only one of each shape so he can match the shapes. While modeling this activity, I will name the shapes. I wouldn’t offer the five-post stacker with this activity because my son would either work on counting or color matching rather than focusing on the shape sorting concept.

As you can see, even though this toy doesn’t isolate concepts by itself, you can make activities with it that help isolate the concepts and still use the toy, which is inexpensive, readily available, and in my case, already in my household.

Other examples of using toys that aren’t Montessori aligned and altering them to isolate concepts are:
– taping holes over on a shape sorter to isolate each shape
– taping over or painting toys that have other concepts highlighted in their decorations
– cutting apart toys to present each concept separately.

I hope this example will help you look at your existing toys in your home and find ways to use them to create Montessori activities that isolate concepts your child is interested in right now. I am a big fan of using what you have instead of always buying new, so get creative! Let me know what you come up with in the comments.

Tune in tomorrow for the next quality of a Montessori activity: control of error!

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