How to Implement Montessori Inspired Activities At Home (Without Going Crazy!)

*Disclaimer- My activities are all Montessori inspired, but this post is not for the Montessori purist. This post is meant to inspire those who can’t make Montessori their life, but want to implement some hands-on learning with their kiddos. 🙂

I recently posted about my favorite curriculum and activities for preschoolers. Today I wanted to follow up with how to set up Montessori activities in your home without getting grey hair. I have four kids (ages 2, 4, 6, and 8) and yes, I have actually had Montessori activities accessible (almost) all the time to my children for the past 5 years now (in 3 different houses).

realistic montessori at home

In my preschool curriculum, Catholic ABC’s, I encourage parents to use hands-on learning activities along side what is in the book. I provide you with some ideas and printables to help with that. Here’s a peek at what that actually looks like in our home, and some tips to help you make it work in yours. 🙂

easy montessori at home

Melissa and Doug Beginner Pattern Blocks

How To Store Your Activities

First off, I whole-heartidly recommend getting a set of these rainbow drawers. They come in a flat box that you assemble yourself. You can get these at Wal-Mart, and sometimes at Michael’s (which means you can get a set with a 40% off one item coupon). I have the double set, which has 20 drawers.

There is 1 Montessori-ish activity in each drawer. (I’m not a stickler for all the Montessori “rules”, so I should probably just call them hands-on-learning-activities.)

The Basis Of How My System Works

Each drawer can pull right out of the front of the system, making it more like a tray. My children are allowed to get 1 activity at a time, pull the entire drawer out, and bring it to the table. Everything they need for that activity is in the drawer. They do the activity at the table, and are not allowed to leave the table until it is cleaned up, and the drawer is put away. They must put it away exactly as they found it. The activities are never to be left on the table unattended unless they’re just going to the bathroom and coming right back.

montessori color sorting bears

 Sorting Bears With Cups

The motivation for doing this properly? They’re not allowed to use the drawers otherwise. And trust me, kids want to be able to use the drawers. All of the coolest stuff is inside!

laser pegs hands on learning

 World Of Bugs Laser Peg Set

When They’re Not Following The Rules

Now, what should you do if your kids are making a mess, not using them right, or the activities are just plain driving you bonkers? Shut them down! There are 2 options for doing this.

  1. Turn the drawers around to face the wall. The system is on wheels, making this easy, and the drawers don’t pull out from the back, so they are inaccessible this way.
  2. Run a piece of wide painter’s tape from the bottom drawer all the way to the top. The tape means “no”. This is the option I use because our space is a little tight for turning it around.

close montessori activities

I actually use blue painter’s tape to shut down anything that’s driving me crazy, like tubs of toys, the door to the game closet, the outside toy box, and even bookshelves sometimes- whatever is currently threatening my sanity. The painter’s tape is awesome because it doesn’t leave any sticky residue behind. My kids know what the tape means.

blue painter's tape

Note: I pretty much always close the rainbow drawers when other kids are coming over to the house.

Cleaning Up After Themselves

Again, the children need to held responsible for upkeeping these, so you need to provide them with the materials to do so independently. Any good Montessori home needs a little broom and dustpan available to kids at all times. We keep ours on a hook by the kitchen trash can. We also have a spray bottle of water and some rags available for them. (The older kids are allowed to get the actual spray cleaner when needed as well.)

montessori broom for preschoolers

Labeling The Drawers

When you get all of your activities sorted into your rainbow drawers, you can label the front with a dry erase marker. Want something different in the drawer? Wipe it off and write something new on!

rainbow drawers

Switching Out The Activities

I switch out the activities in our drawers 2-4 times a year (you know, depending on how many times we moved that year, and how many babies we had.) 😉 The activities that are not currently being used are put into big ziplock baggies, and stored in plastic tubs. My tubs are labeled as follows: Alphabet Bags, Montessori/Preschool, Literacy Tools, Math Manipulatives, Puzzles, and Science.

how to store extra montessori activities

Storing Things With Small Pieces

I keep things with smaller pieces in a baggie, then inside the drawer. I buy really big baggies with the sliding zipper thing. We use them over and over, so they’re worth the price. This way, the kids can zip and unzip them without help.

how to store hands on learning activities

Creative Color Cubes

Sometimes I use pencil bags to hold the pieces. These are cheap at the beginning of the school year. I like the ones with the clear fronts. I do this for my magnet letter activities. For anything involving magnets, I have a designated cookie sheet the kids can work on that we keep behind the rainbow drawers.

how to organize montessori activities

Alphabet magnets in lowercase that actually look like letters- my favorites

What To Do With Stray Pieces

Another tip for keeping your sanity- keep a basket on top of your drawers for “found pieces”. Despite your best effort to always clean up as you go, there will inevitably be pieces floating around, especially when you are vacuuming. You’ll go insane looking for the right drawer for each little item. I keep a little basket on top of our rainbow drawers, and whenever I find a piece to a game or activity, I throw it in. Every month or so, I’ll ask one of the kids to sort all the pieces back where they belong.

lost montessori pieces

When Things Don’t Fit In The Drawers

I try really hard to collect things that fit, but it’s inevitable that you’ll find things you can’t resist that don’t fit the system. A few of these things can sit on top of the rainbow drawers, along with your “found items” basket. We slide our cookie sheet (for magnet activities) and our Montessori handwriting chalkboard behind the rainbow drawers.

Some of our favorite things that don’t fit include Imagenets, Pattern Play, many of our puzzles, our Deluxe Latches Board, and our big homemade geoboard (similar). Some of our “too big” things have ended up living on our shelf with the kid’s board games. We have the same rules for our games (one box at a time, etc) so it works out.

pattern play review

Pattern Play

There are other things that have to go in just right to fit. For instance, our sorting bear cups all have to face out so the rim of the cups hangs out of the front of the drawers a little bit. The cup for our watercolor paints does the same thing. Our Shape Sequence Sorting Set also has to be disassembled to fit.

Ways To Build Your Own Collection Of Activities

  • Purchase Legitimate Montessori materials. They are extremely expensive.
  • Purchase more affordable “hands-on” activities. Some of my favorites that I’ve purchased can be found here.
  • Ask for Montessori materials for gifts. I keep an amazon wishlist and happily email it to all the grandparents and Godparents each birthday and Christmas. When friends and family ask what you want, you should be ready with a good answers. Otherwise, your home will quickly fill with plastic junk.
  • Find deals on Montessori Activities. One option is purchasing the Melissa and Doug stuff from Michael’s or AC Moore with the 40% off one item store coupons. Often, Ross Dress For Less has Melissa and Doug knock-off type stuff in the toy section super cheap. I also aquire a good bit of our hands-on learning activities from thrift stores and yard sales.
  • Make your own hands-on activities. Yep, bite the bullet and just make them yourself. I have a Pinterest board full of very-realistic-to -make preschool activities. There’s a ton that don’t involve anything but a printer and a little cutting.

Here’s an example of a printed Montessori activity. I didn’t even print it in color. In fact, these are disposable cups leftover from a hotel room. This doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy stuff, people. This is the real world.

montessori sorting for older kids

This is free to print here

printable montessori activity

The matching flowers are free to print here.

Lydia (my 8 year old) even makes preschool activities for the drawers sometimes. She made these caterpillar pictures to be matched to pom pom balls by tracing a water bottle lid.

home made montessori activities

Lydia helped me make these shaky eggs. Each yellow egg has a purple friend that sounds the same when you shake them. Lydia had a great time helping find things that sounded different in each egg!

montessori sound matching

This color sorting activity was easily made from toilet paper tubes, construction paper, and colored Popsicle sticks.

color sorting activity for kids

For this one, the kids can punch out their own designs using a thumbtack and a small cork board. The thumbtacks are stuck into a wine cork before being returned to the drawer.

thumbtack montessori activity

For this one, you just provide pipe cleaners and pony beads. Sort by matching color, and string onto the pipe cleaner. This is great for fine motor skills!

make your own montessori materials

Activity Ideas: All Types For All Ages

You can put all types of activities for all different ages in your rainbow drawers. Think out of the box drawer. Some of our drawers have more traditional Montessori-type activities, and some of them have arts and crafts type stuff. I even have activities for my 8 year old in the drawers.

fun hands on learning activities

Creative Color Cubes

The activities for the littler kids go int the bottom drawers, and the ones for the older kids in the top drawers. This way, the littlest ones can reach the activities that are age appropriate for them. When I have a crawler, I even fill the bottom 4 drawers with baby-friendly things like nesting cups, musical instruments, baby puzzles with wooden knobs, or anything else they find interesting and can’t choke on.

setting up montessori activities

Crayola Jumbles Building Toy

I will let the babies do the activities on the floor until they’re big enough to bring them over to the table.

baby montessori activity

Melissa and Doug baby puzzle

Remember, whatever activity you put in a drawer, it should have everything you need. For instance, I often have a drawer with watercolor painting stuff. It has paper, watercolor paints, a paper cup, a stack of napkins, and a paint brush.

montessori painting tray

See my suggested paint and other craft supplies here

We sometimes have a drawer with Play-Doh. It will also have a small rolling pin, several cookie cutters, and a plastic knife. For the older kids, I have a drawer that has our Prismacolor pencils with complicated color by numbers and extreme dot to dots. In a lower drawer (for the smaller kids) I oil pastels and pieces of wax paper to draw on.

hands on learning arts and crafts

I also keep drawers with puzzles of various difficulties (more difficult ones towards the top). Here is a drawer with easy readers along side a whisper phones so the kids can hear themselves as they read to practice their reading fluency.

books with whisper phone

I’ve even been known to make a tray into a tiny sensory bin. We’ve had big sensory bins before, but I really prefer smaller ones that can go on a table top. This one is just a mix of lentils and black beans (that were scrounged from the pantry) with a child nativity set in it.

sensory bin montessori tray

Little People Nativity Set

small sensory bin in montessori drawer

My sensory bins are usually very simple. I keep the “filler” the same as long as it lasts, and switch it out with different little toy sets. This is kind of a sensory-bin meets small-world-play.

sensory bin meets small world play

Dot markers are probably the most popular activity for my littlest one! She loves them. You can get these at the Dollar Tree, but they are called “Bingo Markers”.

dot markers for montessori preschool

Another favorite of ours is “Rainbow Name”. For this drawer, I print worksheets of everyone’s names (using an online worksheet generator). I put the pages in the drawer with highlighters. The objective is to trace multiple colors over each name to see how they mix. I have these in cursive for Lydia this year.

montessori rainbow name

We have several different tangram sets, all appropriate for different age groups. It’s surprising how long kids will sit and work on these.

melissa and doug shape puzzle

Melissa and Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

melissa and doug montessori

Melissa and Doug Beginner Pattern Blocks

I love making learning fun for my kids! 🙂

montessori activities at home

This is the tip of the iceburg for the nerdy awesome educational stuff I like to keep at our house. When I first started out, I had barely enough things to put in the drawers. This is many, many birthdays and Christmas later, along with years of thrift store shopping and making things. I’d like to leave you with a less-than-magazine-worthy-photo, because this is real life. 🙂

montessori rainbow drawers

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of this stuff for free, nor did any companies pay me to recommend this stuff. Although Melissa and Doug probably should have, because this is like one big advertisement for them. lol. All opinions are my own. The Amazon links are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting this site. 

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Comments

  1. Love your line “it doesn’t have to be Pinterest worthy. This is real life” Ha! So true! Thank you for all these great ideas!

  2. This is the Best. Post. Ever!! I appreciate & love all the ideas that you provided. 🙂 Thank you so much!

  3. Ah.May.Zing!!!! Thank you, thank you! I wish I could have peeked into your home a couple years ago when I was trying the Montessori set up at home with three little ones. Now that we have four, I’m bookmarking and usin’ the ideas! Thank you for also showing the photo when things didn’t look perfect. Sigh. That’s more like it :).

  4. “I’m not a stickler for all the Montessori “rules”, so I should probably just call them hands-on-learning-activities.”

    I whole heartedly support this statement. These are all fantastic and excellent preschool activities, but they are not Montessori activities.

    I suspect you would be insulted/concerned/offended/turned-off if I commented that “I’m not a stickler for all the Catholic “rules” so I should probably just call them faith-based activities.” while promoting a bunch of protestant ideology as Catholic. Not to say Montessori is on the same level as theology, but it is a specific and defined philosophy that has changed very little over the past 100 years regardless of what Pinterest and the internet would have the homeschooling mom believe.

    I would also like to ask what part of my family is not “REAL”. The large part? The Montessori from birth through elementary and even beyond this year? You are doing what works for your family and I respect that (and I don’t have a problem with any of the activities you have listed here, like I said above they are in fact good activities and very helpful for a lot of moms I’m sure). But I do think you could have done it without inadvertently criticizing those who follow the rules as somehow not real.

    Love from Minnesota,

    A Real Live Catholic Homeschooling Montessori Large Family Mom

    http://www.workandplaydaybyday.com/2013/09/10-things-montessori-isnt.html

    http://www.workandplaydaybyday.com/2013/12/montessori-homeschooling-and-my-large.html

    • I certainly didn’t mean to insult anyone. I get a lot of comments that act like I’m some kind of super mom, and I was trying show other mothers that I’m just like them, and it is realistic to set this stuff up in a normal house. You don’t have to be super woman. Kinda like claiming that you don’t have to be a chef to make a certain recipe… real chefs probably wouldn’t have much interest in an article like that, or working from that kind of recipe, just as you didn’t need the encouragement of this post. You’re already a Montessori chef. 🙂

      I certainly hope it would go without saying that I have respect for families of all sizes. Again, I was trying to encourage mothers that have more than 1 or 2 children, or that don’t tons of money to pour into very expensive (yet legitimate) Montessori materials, that this is also within their reach.

      I will post a disclaimer at the top that this is not an article for Montessori purists. I will also tweak the title.

  5. Well I loved this article, Lacy. I have two kids, one on the way and God willing more– but we do NOT have a lot of money to spend on legit activities. No matter how legit they may be, lol. 😉

    I was going to comment that this was seriously one of the most inspiring posts I’ve read here. Thorough, and you listed sites to help me get going. I feel overwhelmed at this stage and I’m only just beginning homeschooling my son in Kinder. So, it’s articles like this one that help me take a breath and relax and easily learn how to make something simple yet powerful with my funds in my home.

    Thanks for posting, I love this and already sent it to two of my friends.

  6. Margaret @ Minnesota Mom says:

    Lacy! I have been thinking about these drawers ever since listening to (and loving!) your talk from the conference. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME post. Thank you! 🙂

  7. I love your website. I use so many of your ideas and printables in my kindergarten classroom. Thanks for sharing.:)

  8. I would love to know where you found the tiny houses and such in the sensory bin.

    • That set of the tiny houses was actually mine from when I was a little girl. It’s a little teddy bear village. No idea where it came from.

  9. Lacy, I loved this post!! Thank-you; I really need activity, organization, and implementation ideas!! It’s fabulous that you’ve done this 🙂

  10. Nicole Combs says:

    Laci,
    I have been following your face book since I purchased your curriculum. You seem very down to earth and share wonderful ideas. I have a four year old with high functioning Autism and will be homeschooling. I also have an 8 month old son. I appreciate all the time you put into your posts. God Bless you!

  11. Thank you SO much for these preschool posts! They are EXACTLY what I needed right now as I begin homeschooling my preschooler! He went to a Montessori preschool last year and I’ve decided to homeschool this year and keep the Montessori spirit alive at home, so THANK YOU for the help! You are and your ministry to other Catholic moms are in my prayers! God bless!

  12. This is SO reminding me to do a similar post that I’ve wanted to do for some time now. We have an 850 square foot apartment, with a boy who loves games and Legos, a mom who loves plants (and makes things for income), and our Montessori homeschooling… 😉

    Regardless of purist or not, it is great to share ideas and inspiration. 🙂

  13. I love your set-up and ideas! My oldest is turning 4 in September so I’m starting to get more organized with my homeschool stuff.

    Just curious, what do you to when the kids’ friends come over and want to play with all the amazing fun stuff? Do you allow them, or are the drawers off-limits for others?

    • Mostly, the drawers are off limits to other kids. I will let them get things out with special permission sometimes, but the reality is that other kids don’t understand our rules, so things usually end up a mess (or even broken) when I let other people’s kids do the activities. Mostly when other kids come over, they play with my kids outside (we have extra riding toys for visitors), or they play with toys. I’m usually too pre-occupied talking to their mother to properly supervise crafts, games, or other structured activities. In short: When I let other kids into the rainbow drawers, I always regret it later.

  14. Lacy, thank you so much for this post FULL of awesome ideas!! I found your website through a recommendation on Facebook (of all things) and am so glad I did. I will be coming back to this post over and over.

  15. Hope Ryan says:

    Great suggestions!

    I particularly enjoyed two things:

    1. Is that dot matrix printer paper in the watercolor drawer? I didn’t know they made that anymore! My hubby works with blueprints and we use those for crafts to painting to wrapping paper.

    2. The whisper phone! I haven’t heard of this! PVC…perfect.

    H

    • So funny! My husband used to be an IT manager, and they found a few cases of that paper left over in the church basement, so they gave it to us. Perfect for kids! And yes, PVC works great for whisper phones. We have several of them. 🙂

  16. This is wonderful! Waiting for my drawers this week! I have a question about Rainbow Name Writing. When I go to the site I’m not sure what to click on to download sheets. Can you please explain this? Thanks so much!

    • Scroll down, decide what style of letters you want (regular, cursive, or slanted) then you decide what kind of sheet you want to make. It lets you put in any words you want. 🙂

  17. Ok got it! Thank you. I’m so excited about! It came in last week and it’s already put together and ready! Can you please tell me where you print those three letter cards that go with the letter magnets? Thank you!

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