We are in the second half of this multi-post series about what makes an activity Montessori and I am particularly excited about today’s topic. Before we dive into that though, just a reminder of all eight qualities of a Montessori activity.

Montessori activities:

are child-led
isolate concepts
have a control of error
are close-ended
activate the senses
are hands-on
aid in independence
foster concentration

Today’s topic is the hands-on aspect of Montessori activities.

“The hand is the instrument of intelligence. The child needs to manipulate objects and to gain experience by touching and handling. ”

—Maria Montessori (The 1946 London Lectures)

The materials developed by Maria Montessori herself are all hands-on, concrete ways to learn different concepts and skills. From folding small cloths all the way to the most complex mathematics materials for introducing negative numbers or fractions, they all are intended to be manipulated with the hands. Even without these traditional materials in the home, you can still offer your child activities that are hands-on. Keep in mind that hands-on means concrete, touchable things vs abstract things we can only hear or see. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Babies and Young Toddlers

  • For babies, offer a language basket with a collection of household items they can explore with their hands and mouth.
  • Young toddlers can start matching work by matching two identical objects and working towards matching two similar objects that have some slight differences.
  • Give young babies lots of opportunities to touch objects in their environment as long as they are safe doing so.
  • Offer books with touch and feel pages that allow your child to use their hands to experience the content.

Older Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • For an older toddler or preschooler, you can move forward with matching activities that become more abstract, such as matching objects to exact pictures and matching objects to similar pictures.
  • Toddlers and preschoolers can also benefit from working on an extension of their sense of touch called their stereognostic sense. This is the idea that you can tell what an object is by feeling the outline of the object without looking at it. You may have experienced this sense when you reached into your diaper bag, purse, or other bags to look for an item and were able to locate it without looking into your bag. You felt the outline of the item and knew what it was. You can offer a collection of a few household items in a drawstring bag and model for your child by feeling the items yourself without looking and stating what you think the object is. Then model checking your guess by taking the item out of the bag. Change out the contents to meet your child’s interest as they grow.
  • Around age 3, earlier if your child starts showing a specific interest, you can start introducing some concrete materials for letter sounds and 1-to-1 correspondence. Learning the letter sounds can be supported by playing the I Spy game with real objects and following that with sandpaper letters or a tracing board (without the pen! Just trace the letters with two fingers). Learning to 1-to-1 correspondence and counting can be supported by counting real objects and laying out values with wooden chips or pom poms. This would all be verbal at that stage or using images of amounts. Eventually, you can introduce the numerals to represent values and visualizing the associated values with the same materials you used in the step before.

In the end, the more concrete and hands-on your activities are, the better your child will internalize the concepts and be able to apply them to abstract materials later on down the line.

Only two more posts left in my multi-post series on what makes an activity Montessori! Watch this space later in the week for the completion of this series.

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