After working in a Montessori school for a few years, I came to really appreciate the philosophy and some of the methods. I had the luxury of actually watching Montessori in action. I observed five-year-old children assist in teaching their younger peers. I watched two-year-old children use manipulatives like the pink tower to hone their fine motor skills and learn geometric principles that would carry over into later math lessons.
It really was extraordinary, and I had to use some of what I learned at home on the littles. No matter what manipulative the kids are working with, I use the three period lesson from Montessori. Montessori Print Shop has a great tutorial on this.
I’ve recreated some of the Montessori works at home, but most of our materials are from Melissa & Doug or Hape. Here are some of the items we’ve used in the past or are currently using:
Develops fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination
After the kids mastered lacing, we used these for building patterns.
The holes are big enough to use pencils instead of lace, which works well with pattern-building.
This kit has everything you need for way more than math! The kit comes with lots of stuff and is designed to work with Saxon math, but we don’t use it with that. I’ve mostly just made stuff up as I went along or found great resources online which I’ll share with you.
We use geoboards to create shapes and then use those shapes to build more complex images like animals, houses, etc. The kids are learning basic concepts of area and principle. I got some laminating sheets and drew shapes on them. I’d have the kids build the shapes on their geoboard, and then check their work by laying the sheet right on top of their geoboard.
Dominoes – great for counting. The kids love the domino car parking lot too. This site has some cool ideas too. I loved her idea for flipping them over and using them to build letters. Speaking of that… have you seen the book How to Build an A? It’s a really cute book and a fun way to learn letters.
The unifix blocks work well for counting, adding, patterns. We’ve also used them for skip-counting by alternating colors with one color on every 2, 3, etc. We built towers and stairs with them which really helped the kids see that numbers increase by just one unit.
We used the counting bears for color sorting, counting, adding, subtracting. The kids loved using them to measure. We’d discover how long things were by seeing how many bears tall it would be. Then, the kids would find other items that are three bears tall which is great visual discrimination.
There is obviously a lot more in the box and kids will love going through the box. Just let the kids explore it for a while. They will learn so much on their own!
This number board is an invaluable teacher for learning numbers 1-10. Every piece is movable, even the dowel rods so you can vary the challenge on this board a lot. We started out by taking just the rings off or the dot pieces out and letting the kids work to replace them. Becca was first to notice that the dots were different colors and she could make the ring colors match the dots, which made it self-correcting. After they started learning how to write their numbers, we took out the numeral blocks and just left the dots. For the ultimate challenge, the kids can reassemble the entire board.
In Montessori, the letters are broken into groups based on when the kids are able to pronounce the phonetic sound. Kids are able to pronounce letters such as m, s, t, c long before they can form q’s or x’s. I used these Alphabet soup sorters to introduce letters and their phonetic sounds to my children. We used these cans much like Montessori uses an Alphabet box. Following the letter order below, I would introduce the letters and the picture objects inside each can that match the phonetic sound of the letter. We’d dump 4 cans all out in a basket and then sort them in front of the cans with letters first, then the 5 pictures for each letter. Finally, they get to a point where they can sort it by themselves. If they need more of a challenge, the words are printed on the back of each picture. You could use those to let the kids self-correct or use them to actually match the letters instead of just the pictures. When my older niece was here, I would use the cans to challenge her on alphabetizing as well. The set is made of a laminated cardboard, but has lasted through our two kids as well as being used by all three of our nieces when they lived here. It’s still in great condition.
The kids love this open-ended sequence puzzle. It offers a variety of solutions which lets the kids explore all possibilities. It’s a great tool for early geometry, sorting, stacking, arranging by size, and a lot more.
Puzzles introduce logic, spatial reasoning, matching, critical thinking, and an understanding of cause and effect. They are a must-have for any home in my opinion. We started with the big peg puzzles like the Melissa & Doug First Shapes House Puzzle, and eventually graduated to the smaller pegs like shown on this Fish Colors puzzle. Without even trying, your kids hands are getting pencil-grip ready.
Keep watching for more in this series. I’ll post soon about other manipulatives we use in our house, what a typical school day looks like for us, and some of our favorite handmade Montessori-style works.