While you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on all of the beautiful Montessori toys available to buy, it's just as easy to provide engaging, Montessori-inspired learning activities for your child that cost almost no money at all.
In addition to the obvious advantages to your wallet, creating simple learning activities for your child lets you customize the work to their interests and level, which is perfectly in line with the Montessori philosophy.
These classic Montessori activities for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners cost $10 or less—and you probably have many of the supplies already!
10 budget-friendly Montessori activities using materials you already own (or can get for under $10):
1. Montessori activity: Water sponging
Materials: 2 bowls, 1 kitchen sponge, 1 tray or cookie sheet
All you need for this learning activity is a tray with two pretty bowls—one full of water and one empty—and a small sponge (cut a normal kitchen sponge into halves or thirds).
Show your child how to submerge the sponge in the bowl of water and then squeeze out the water into the second bowl. Transfer all of the water this way until the first bowl is empty and the second is full, and then let your child have a turn.
This is a common Montessori classroom activity because young children love working with water, and the activity teaches the foundational skill of how to clean water spills with a sponge. Learning this skill gives young children independence, because they can do things like pour water, paint or have tea parties without worrying about spills. It also helps young children develop concentration and their hand muscles.
Every child is different, but this work is usually interesting for 2 or 3-year-olds.
Once your child has mastered sponging, they can continue to explore water by pouring liquid from one pitcher to another, or using basters and medicine droppers to transfer water between containers.
2. Montessori activity: Open and close
Materials: A variety of containers with lids, laundry basket or other large basket
Fill a basket with a variety of small containers that close in various ways and let your child practice opening and closing them.
This may not sound very exciting, but young children often love this task, because learning to open containers gives them the independence to do things like get themselves a snack, open a paint jar, or open the shampoo by themselves to wash their hair. Young children crave independence and are willing to work hard to master these skills.
Provide containers that close in various ways such as a jar with a lid that twists on, a small container with a lid that snaps on, a small coin purse, and a pouch with a button. No need to buy special containers, just use what you have at home!
You can also add little objects inside the containers to make it more interesting. For example, you might include a few coins in the coin purse or a pretty marble in the jar.
3. Montessori activity: Color matching and sorting
Materials: Paint color cards, scissors
Grab some free paint color cards from a local hardware or home supply store—you'll need two of each color. Cut the cards into individual colored rectangles, then mix them up and show your child how to match colors. This is an exercise in visual discrimination, but also in organization as your child learns how to use an orderly process for finding a match.
For the youngest children, Montessori teachers provide just three colors (red, yellow, and blue), while older children work with more.
Once your child has mastered color matching, you can show them how to grade colors, arranging from lightest to darkest. For example, you might provide 10 different blues and show them how to compare each card to find the lightest, then the second lightest, etc.
4. Montessori activity: Open-ended sorting
Materials: Assorted small objects such as beads, buttons, coins, stickers or natural items (acorns, stones, shells)
This is a creative scientific exercise that allows children to explore classification systems. Start with a variety of small objects, such as beads, buttons, stickers, natural items, or whatever else you have at home.
Tell your child you're going to think of as many ways to organize them as possible. Dump them out and show your child how to create a system, sorting the objects by color, size, shape, texture, or whatever else you come up with. Then invite them to try, and see how many methods you can come up with together.
Follow your own child, but this activity is often good for 5- and 6-year-olds who can begin to understand more abstract concepts.
5. Montessori activity: Sequencing
Materials: Index cards or cardstock, pencils or crayons
Sequencing, or putting events in order, is a key concept in understanding stories.
Think of an activity your child likes, like going swimming, and draw three different pictures of that activity on separate pieces of card stock. The first picture can be of your child finding their swimsuit, the second of them in the pool, and the third of them drying off. Show them how to put the pictures in order. You can do this with any activity your child loves.
If you're not artistically inclined but you have a printer at home, you can take pictures of your child doing everyday tasks like brushing teeth, eating meals or putting on shoes. Print the pictures and glue them onto cardstock, then let your child put the images from their day in sequence.
You can do the same activity using images from your child's favorite books (you know, the ones you've read together so many times you practically have them memorized?). Photocopy or take pictures of illustrations from The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Napping House and let your child put them together in order.
6. Montessori activity: Secret message game
Materials: Paper and pencil
This one is for early readers, and all you need is paper and a pencil!
Tell your child you're going to write them a message with a top secret direction, just for them. Write something you know they can read and fold the paper in two, making a big deal out of it being a secret message. Your child will enjoy reading the messages and acting out the directions because they're top-secret and just for them—even if the message is as simple as "get a cup" or "sit on the couch" or "pet the dog." Make the messages more complex as your child's reading skills grow.
7. Montessori activity: Memory game
Materials: 3 shoeboxes, baskets or containers, 10 slips of paper, assorted small objects such as shells, buttons, or beads
Many Montessori math materials can be pricey, but Memory Game is a number activity you'll find in Montessori classrooms that you can easily make yourself.
Place a box or basket full of small objects, such as beads or buttons, next to an empty basket. At a separate workspace—a table or desk nearby—number 10 slips of paper and fold each paper in half to hide the number. Mix up the slips of paper in a box, then choose a slip of paper and silently read the number to yourself, but don't show your child what it is.
Leaving the slip of paper with the number on it behind you, go to the box of small objects, pick up the right number of beads or buttons, and place them in the carrying basket. Bring them back, count them, and then show your child the number you picked. Then it's their turn!
Memory game helps children practice keeping a number "in their head"—remembering the number they need without bringing the paper with them.
8. Montessori activity: Nature journal
Materials: notebook and pencil
Get a notebook with story writing paper (where each page has a space to draw and a space to write) and invite your child to start a nature journal.
You can ask them to go outside and find whatever they find interesting to draw and write about, or give them a more specific task, like "see if you can spot a bug to draw."
For children who are not yet writing, ask them to tell you what they saw and write the words for them. With time, they can take over the task.
9. Montessori activity: Matching hunt
Materials: Natural or household materials
There is a lot of matching work in early childhood Montessori, because it is excellent for visual discrimination, organization and vocabulary.
You don't need a fancy game or toy to practice matching—you can find matching items all over the house, and right outside your door. Go on a nature walk or an indoor scavenger hunt with your child and collect as many matching items as you can find: leaves, blocks, crayons, stones, acorns, marbles, two of each kind. Save them in a basket or tray and show your child how to match them by type, then label your collection.
10. Montessori activity: Peace activity
Materials: Any objects that make your child feel peaceful
Many visitors to Montessori classrooms comment on how peaceful they are and this is not by accident!
There is a big emphasis on peace in Montessori, both global peace and peace within the child. Many Montessori classrooms will have a peace area with little activities children can do to center themselves.
Some examples are a small music box your child can sit and play, a sand timer your child can watch while practicing silence (not forced silence, just let them try their best) or a small photo of nature or of your family that your child can sit and reflect on. Talk to them about how these things can help them feel calm when they have big feelings.