*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).
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. 🙂
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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This color sorting activity was easily made from toilet paper tubes, construction paper, and colored Popsicle sticks.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I will let the babies do the activities on the floor until they’re big enough to bring them over to the table.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
We have several different tangram sets, all appropriate for different age groups. It’s surprising how long kids will sit and work on these.
I love making learning fun for my kids! 🙂
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. 🙂
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.
- Our Favorite Preschool Curriculum and Activities
- Catholic ABC’s Preschool Curriculum
- Bible Alphabet Crafts For Preschoolers, A-Z!
- Organizing Your Children’s Library At Home
- What To Do With Craft Projects Once You’re Done
- A Guide To Buying Arts And Crafts Supplies: Where To Save, Where To Splurge