If you’re looking for Montessori shelf activities and ideas for preschoolers, here’s a detailed look at what’s currently on our 4-year-old’s work shelf along with some other learning materials we keep available to her in our Montessori-inspired homeschool room.
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What’s On Our Montessori Shelves?
We’ve reached about the mid-way point to our school year, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to post what materials and works are currently on our Montessori shelves. Today I’m going to share some pictures and information about my youngest daughter’s Montessori-inspired shelf activities.
For reference, she turned four years old in December and is considered to be in her first year of primary. Since she still spends the majority of her day engaged in imaginary play, gross motor activities and practical life, our Montessori shelf activities are just a supplement for her. At this age, I do not keep a daily or even really a weekly work plan for her. I do not require a certain number or works or even a fixed amount of time in the schoolroom. Through observation, I simply try to support and encourage her natural interests and present early math and language lessons based on readiness.
Right now her main work shelf is divided into the following areas: fine motor, language, and math.
Fine Motor Activities
Sewing and Embroidery
Sewing, lacing, and embroidery works are excellent ways to help strengthen and develop a child’s fine motor hand movements. I keep a small tray and simply rotate the works based on her interests and seasonal handicrafts.
Braiding and Bow Tying
This is a new work on her shelf. She’s recently expressed an interest in learning to braid. To make this work, I simply tied 3 different colored laces onto our embroidery board. I also set up a bow tying work which my oldest appreciates.
Cutting and Pasting
Whether you print cutting strips, provide blank paper, or purchase something like this activity book, scissors are a great way to help refine a preschooler’s fine motor skills. We pair cutting with pasting activities a lot, and my daughter also enjoys cutting strips of yarn and shapes out of felt as well.
Montessori Language Activities
Drawing Straight and Curved Lines on a Slate Chalkboard
I printed these free Curved and Straight Line sorting cards from Montessori for Everyone and placed them alongside a small slate chalkboard. My 4-year-old recently participated in a Studio Art lesson on drawing lines with my older daughter and really enjoyed it. This is a really quick and simple activity to set up to strengthen visual-motor skill development.
Stencils and Metal Insets
Also available to her at all times are our metal insets as well as the Learning Resources Primary Shapes stencils. Both of these are excellent fine motor works that can also be used for open-ended artwork.
To create a tactile writing activity, I printed these free cursive letter mats from Waseca Biomes and added Wikki Stix. Waseca groups letters by “stroke families” so children can practice writing several letters which use related handwriting strokes. First, I present the little stories that Waseca provides to help her remember how to write each letter. Then she can use the mat to practice independently.
I keep one of these mats tucked behind the slate chalkboard on her shelf. It’s easy to just swap them out as she gains proficiency with each stroke family.
We also practice writing letters on the chalkboard using the ‘Wet, Dry, Try’ method. Here’s the 3 steps we follow for each letter:
1 Wet: Using chalk, I write the letter she would like to practice writing. Then shes uses a watercolor brush pen to trace over the letter, effectively erasing it.
2. Dry: She then uses a dry cloth to trace the wet letter line.
3. Try: Now the chalkboard is blank, and she can try to write the letter independently. I find the stories from Waseca help boost a child’s confidence with this step.
We use language objects for a variety of language-learning games, including sound games and sorting games.
CVC Cards: The Listening Game
The Listening Game has been one of her favorite language activities for more than 4 months now. I simply swap out the set of cards every few weeks.
The game itself is really easy to set up — you can download the free cards we use here or simply use any CVC picture cards or objects you have around the house. Simply select 5-10 cards at a time and spread them out, face up. You’ll then ask your child to bring you one of the cards. However, instead of saying the actual word you’ll only say the sounds. To make the game even more challenging and fun, whisper the sounds to your child instead. My 4-year-old also insists the cards be placed face down as she enjoys searching for the correct card.
The Listening Game is a really great early literacy activity that helps develop a child’s phonemic awareness and blending skills.
My daughter’s become pretty proficient at identifying sounds in beginning, ending, and medial positions at this point, so we’ve begun working on letter recognition. We use a combination of tactile letters and games to help her associate the letter sound with the letter symbol. Pictured here is just a really simple game where she finds the matching letter among any two cards.
Super Genius: First Words with the Moveable Alphabet
Super Genius: First Words follows the same ‘Find the Matching Pair’ principle as above except this time she searches for the matching object and then uses the moveable alphabet to write the word out. At this point we are only using the picture cards for this activity. The game also comes with CVC word cards to be used with emergent and beginning readers.
Here’s another new material on her shelf that I think will be well received. She’s been enjoying telling us long, elaborate stories for quite awhile now so I thought I’d make some storytelling stones available to support her creative narrative abilities. I’ve paired the storytelling stones with a blank hardcover journal so I can transcribe her stories into a book that she can then illustrate if she chooses.
Montessori Math Activities
Tactile Symmetry Cards
These tactile symmetry cards were just a random activity I set up on day. Both my daughters loved the activity though and requested they be placed on their shelves. I simply used Wikki Stix to create symmetrical shapes. The challenge is to find the matching halves while wearing a blindfold.
Tangrams are a simple and fun spacial reasoning math activity.
Sorting U.S. Coins
My first grader will be learning all about money math over the next couple months, so I wanted to be sure to include my preschooler as well. On her shelf right now is a sorting U.S. coins activity, a Heads and Tails coin matching game, as well as a lock box filled with 100 pennies, 20 nickels, 10 dimes, 4 quarters, 2 half dollars, and 1 dollar coin along with some money dice. We can play a simple roll the dice game where she brings me the coin that matches the value shown as well as play the Race to $1.00 using coin strip manipulatives and the Hundred Board.
All of these printable coin resources are available in Counting Coins: A Money Math Bundle.
Addition Bead Bars
My 4-year-old enjoys clip card activities occasionally, so I added these addition bead bar cards from Every Star is Different to provide some practice with simple addition. She’s been playing Sum Swamp and some of our other favorite math board games for the past 6 months or so now so she’s quite familiar with addition at this point.
Teens Bead Bars
Teen bead bars and cards are also available on her shelf. We recently built a hanging bead frame for the teens to support this activity.
I recently added the Hundred Board onto her shelf to support our money math activities. She’s free to explore it and work with it as she pleases. The other day she enjoyed using it to place all 100 pennies from her coin lock box.
The Golden Bead Bank Game
This was my oldest daughter’s favorite ‘game’ for at least a year, although we play it a bit differently than what you’d see in a Montessori school. We set up our bank, lay out a place value mat along with our dice, and use the materials from Orchard Toys’ Shopping List game to play a simple game of shop. Each person selects a shopping list. Once they’ve decided on the first item they’d like to purchase, the shopkeeper rolls the dice and then the shopper visits the bank to collect the amount of beads needed and then returns to purchase their item. Each shopping list contains 8 items, and of course no one wants to leave the store until they’ve completed their list and filled their cart. 😉
This is a great game that allows you and your children to role play grace and courtesy lessons as well, including:
- How to greet and say goodbye to someone
- How to introduce yourself
- How to politely wait your turn
- How to walk carefully around the room
- How to use polite words
- How to hold a casual conversation
We use our large wooden dominoes for a lot of simple math games and activities. Right now my 4-year-old uses these to add up the dots on each domino and then sort them by their sums. Future activities we’ll be doing with these include:
- sorting sums by even/odd
- finding the difference between the dots on each domino
- subtizing dominoes number talks
My older daughter uses these same dominoes to practice multiplication facts, sort the multiplication products by even/odd, plot coordinate points on graphs, and identifying greater than/less than by using them as fractions.
Physical Movement Activities
Four-year-olds require a lot of movement and proprioception input. A lot of times my oldest daughter needs one-on-one assistance and asking my 4-year-old to wait quietly during these times is not always met with the most conducive outcome. In fact, there’s a very good likelihood she’d instead be crawling on my back or shoulders in this situation. Remember, we’re doing Montessori at home — things are different than in a classroom where she would be able to visit and talk to a friend, or seek help from an older student, or have the attention of an assistant. I mean, sometimes I’m able to use our cat as the ‘assistant’ but he’s not always the most receptive to being woken up from his school time nap to help me out. 😅
Enter movement-based games. I keep a few of these ready and available for those occasions where I’m needed by one and my other child isn’t working independently at the time. It’s an easy way to redirect their energy and hold their attention for a bit.
Yoga Card Game
This is a super simple activity that both my kids enjoy. They simply flip a card over, ‘read’ the yoga pose challenge, and then roll the dice to see how long the post should be held. For an extra challenge, they can opt to try to keep a bean bag balanced on their body for the duration of the pose as well.
Roll and Move Game
Here’s another really simple movement-based game for when your kids are bursting with a ton of restless energy and you’re unable to get outside to burn it off at that exact moment. Kids just roll the dice and then perform the exercise that matches the number.
Other Montessori Learning Activities Available in Our Schoolroom
In addition to the Montessori-inspired learning materials listed above, my 4-year-old is also able to choose and work with a variety of other activities, including art, practical life, sensory play, music, geography, science, open-ended toys, and board games. These materials are kept in our schoolroom where both my daughters can retrieve and access them independently. These include:
- Art: colored pencils, stencils, scissors, hole punch, pin punch, window crayons, paint, Wikki Stix.
- Sensory Play: kinetic sand, play-doh, modeling sand, modeling clay.
- Practical Life: washing windows, dusting, sweeping, plant care, flower arranging, pet care.
- Music: ukulele, harmonica, flute, CDs and CD player.
- Geography: world maps and globe, land and water forms, puzzles.
- Science: sorting and classification work, puzzles.
- Open-Ended Toys: KEVA planks, peg dolls, Schleich animals, biome play mat, cars, LEGO.
I also rotate board games between our downstairs family room and our schoolroom. The games currently available in our schoolroom that our 4-year-old enjoys playing the most include Sum Swamp, Pengoloo, Max the Cat, Sleeping Queens, Rhino Hero, and Skipbo Jr.
I hope this post has helped provide some ideas if you’re also the parent of a 4-year-old child looking for some Montessori shelf activities for home. As always, if you have any additional questions feel free to leave me a comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @freeandunfettered.