What is on our Montessori-inspired shelves: counting and number recognition activities


Hello, thanks for stopping by! I am here today to share with you the activities that I set up for my 3-years old son to support his interest in counting. 

Before I begin, I want to say a few things:
  • teaching children number recognition and counting makes sense only once they have shown an interest in them, there is no need to force toddlers to master those skills,
  • I prepared most of these activities a while ago when I was testing out a laminating machine, which was playing up and I finally needed to return it. That's why there is so much plastic in here. 

I hope you enjoy reading and try some of these activities out 🙂



NUMBER PUZZLE
On the first shelf, I have 2 activities. The first one is ten 2-piece puzzles from North Parade Publishing Ltd. (I found them in TKMaxx). The child simply counts the items on one half of a puzzle and matches it to the corresponding number on the other half. What is important, only the correct pieces will fit together, so this is a fully self-correcting activity. This means that the child will be able to complete and correct it without the help of a parent. 
These particular puzzles aren't available anywhere at the moment, but you can find plenty of alternatives these days. I always see similar sets in TKMaxx, and in every other charity shop I go to. 


SANDPAPER NUMBERS
These are Montessori-inspired sandpaper numbers, that I made a while ago using some scrap paper, sandpaper, glue and cardboard. I invite my son to repeat the names of the numbers as well as to trace each number with his finger two to three times. This is a fantastic learning material, so I would advise everyone to either buy the original Montessori sandpaper numbers or to DIY them. 


COUNTING CARDS AND MAGNETIC NUMBERS
On the second shelf, I have a simple activity that helps with both counting and number recognition. I have made these counting cards using stamps, but if you don't have stamps, you can draw little pictures on a paper or print the ready cards out (there are plenty of them available for free online). 
In this activity, the child counts the pictures on the card and matches the correct number to it (I used some magnetic numbers, but you can use anything you want/ have).
As you can see, these aren't the prettiest cards in the world, but I like to make the most out of everything I own (hence the stamps). 


MONTESSORI HUNDRED BOARD
On the third shelf, we have a Montessori Hundred Board, which is a wooden board divided into 100 squares, and it comes with 100 number tiles and a control chart. 
It is a perfect material for teaching children number recognition and counting and helps them understand number order. Obviously, there is so much more you can do with it, for example, skip counting.
At the moment Kian practices placing numbers 1-10 in order. 
I bought this board off of eBay, so it is a slightly smaller version to the original Montessori boards, but it works perfectly fine for us, at home. 


NUMBER RECOGNITION MATCHING ACTIVITY
On the fourth shelf, I have a simple number recognition matching activity, made using old bottle caps and a bottom piece of an upcycled sweets box. Of course, you don't need the exact piece of plastic for this activity, instead, you can use a plate, a paper plate, or even a piece of paper that you will write numbers on. The idea of this activity is for the child to match the numbers on the bottle caps to the numbers on the 'board'. 
To make it more challenging, you can ask the child to transfer the caps using tongs or handy scoopers, but I decided to stick to the simple matching activity here. 

Fun fact- the top part of this sweets box was used to make my waterfall diorama last year. You can find the step-by-step tutorial to it here


WOODEN PUZZLES 
I found these puzzles in a charity shop a while ago, and they came without a box or even a stamp with a brand name on it, so, unfortunately, I don't know where they are from. Google isn't helping either here. I love them, however, because they are sort of two in one puzzle. Kian really enjoys the finger-counting feature here, so he normally counts the animals, then matches the corresponding number to the result he got, places the puzzle in the sloth, and then shows the number with his fingers. 

All in all, a well invested £1.99.



ONE TO ONE CORRESPONDENCE 
Another super simple activity here, it helps with counting, number recognition and fine motor skills. The child reads the number on the card and transfers on it a correct amount of blocks using tongs provided. 








I hope you enjoyed reading this post and please let me know what type of activities would you like me to prepare next.
Thank you for your time!


Gosia x
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HOW TO MAKE THE MOST USE OUT OF TOYS


Hello! I am here today to share with you some ideas on how you can make the most out of the toys your child already owns. It will save you money, time and stress because we all know that clutter is overwhelming. 

OBSERVE YOUR CHILD
To start, I would suggest observing your child for a few days, to check what they actually play with and what type of toys they are mostly drawn to. Also, which toys they never, ever use.
If you have a lot going on in your life, and loads of things to remember about, I would suggest making a list of often used and never used toys, it will make the next steps much easier for you. 

RE-ORGANIZE YOUR CHILD'S PLAY SPACE
Once the list is ready, you can re-organize your child's play space. Decluttering is fantastic! Most of the children don't play with their toys because they simply have too many of them. Of course, this step is optional.
Next, you can divide the toys that you're keeping into two groups, and hide one of them away. Then you swap the toys every week/ two weeks, or how often you wish. This method is great because it is fully customizable to your child's needs, and your schedule.
Rotating toys has many benefits, one of them is that your child never gets bored with their toys, and they feel that they are getting new toys frequently, which makes them want less brand new toys. This will also allow you to have less clutter in the toy storage system, which means less mess, and less cleaning. Less cluttered play space (no matter how big or small it is) encourages the independence in the child, because they can not only easily access all of the toys, but also clean them up after play


EXAMPLES ON MAKING THE MOST OUT OF THE TOYS:

Lego Duplo/ building blocks
Building blocks are one of the most important types of toys to have in one's collection. They teach the child about geometry, gravity, they encourage creative thinking and problem-solving. Honestly, their benefits are endless. But there is so much more your child can do with them than just building. 
With their help, you can teach your child colours, counting, matching, sorting, patterns and many, many more. 


Animal figurines
Animal figurines are many children's favourite toys. They are, however, pretty expensive, so it is worth to make the most out of them.
I came up with 48 fun and educational activities with animal figurines, and you can find the first part of my guide here, and the second one here. These activities are suitable for babies, toddlers and younger children. 

The ball
The ball is the queen of open-ended toys. It is affordable, and if we were to count the cost per use of toys, the ball would probably win. It not only beautifully supports the development of your child's gross motor skills but also, thanks to its simplicity, can be easily incorporated in other types of activities. 
A small ball can become a pretend food or an animal, and if you have a few of them at home, you can build an interactive solar system for your child or introduce them to the concept of ordering by size or weight. You can use them for making patterns, colour matching and colour sorting, or shape sorting.



Vehicles
Toy vehicles can be used in many ways, too! The child can sort them by colour, by type, by brand. Put them all in lines, do patterns, practice counting, addition, subtraction. Learn hundreds of new words when learning the parts of the vehicle. Practice ordering by size (or tell which one is bigger, which one is smaller etc.). Learn the brands. Endless possibilities here. 


A few tips on purchasing toys:
  • follow your child. Each child has his interests, so it is fantastic if we follow them when buying toys. Then we are almost 100% sure that our child will play with what we bought. It saves frustration (for parents and kids), money (obviously), and space (because the storage always comes with capacity limits 😉),
  • if you want to save some money on toys, you can invest in second-hand items. You can find them online (eBay, Gumtree, Facebook market place etc.), in charity shops/ thrift stores and car boot sales,
  • buy less, but better quality. Minimalism in toys has more benefits for the child's development than an abundance of toys. If you choose wooden toys over plastic, they will last much, much longer. I know that wooden toys tend to be pricier, but I found almost all the pieces my son owns second-hand, and I paid less than I would for plastic toys,
  • invest in open-ended toys and loose part materials. Thanks to the simple design, they can be used in infinite ways, so they will never be too boring for your child. You buy (find in the garden/upcycle) once, and they last for a few years. If you have never heard of the idea of the loose parts play before and you would like to learn more, you can check out my article on the topic here

I hope you found some inspiration here, and please let me know what do you do to make the most out of toys your child owns. 

Thank you for your time,
Gosia x



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THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF LOOSE PARTS PLAY

Loose parts play is so much fun! Here is one of my tinker trays filled with natural and open-ended materials.
Hi, thanks for stopping by! I am here today to tell you how important the loose parts play is for a child's development. In this article, you will find ideas on how to incorporate loose parts into everyday play, how to present them, and what materials to choose. I hope you enjoy reading! 


What are loose parts?
Perhaps you've seen your child playing for hours with empty bottles, a ladle or pieces of wood before. Choosing loose parts over traditional toys. Kids are those who see no limits when it comes to playing possibilities, so when provided with the right materials, they can make more uses out of them, than any adult would.
By the 'right materials,' I mean simple, open-ended elements which the child can manipulate in multiple ways. There are no restrictions or instructions for playing with loose parts, so the child is free to decide what that acorn or a wooden block becomes.


What are the benefits of the loose parts play?
Loose parts encourage creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. They help to build up the child's confidence because there is no right or wrong way to play with them. It's all about exploring, testing, learning and fun. When the child aims to place pine cones on the top of his block construction, he sees that some of them are too big and they keep on falling. These are some of the early science experiments when a little person familiarizes with gravity, constructing and balancing.
Loose parts play encourages exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and bonding with her. The child will happily collect the leaves and twigs on a nature walk, and, with time, learn to identify which tree/ where they came from. They will see how different each pine cone is, and how proudly shiny the round tummies of conkers are.
And think how empowered the child feels when he realises that he can create his toys, re-design them and re-arrange the scenes he builds with the simple materials provided.
Your child never gets bored when playing with loose parts, because they are much more than just pressing a button or two. And what is incredible about them, is that they are eco-friendly- most of them are natural and bio-degradable or upcycled. And they either cost nothing or are very affordable


Examples of loose parts materials
When choosing the materials for loose parts play, try to go with natural pieces or upcycle metal/ plastic trays, bottles and boxes that you already own.
I would suggest to chose larger pieces for babies and young toddlers, to avoid choking hazard. Also, please ensure that they are of the right (safe) weight and size for them and that they aren't sharp. 

Some of the commonly used materials include:
  • pine cones,
  • conkers,
  • leaves,
  • dry flowers,
  • acorns,
  • pebbles,
  • sand,
  • twigs,
  • all sizes of wood pieces,
  • bowls,
  • trays,
  • baskets,
  • scarves,
  • fabric scraps,
  • cardboard boxes,
  • blocks,
  • plastic bottles,
  • wine corks,
  • beads,
  • popsicle sticks,
  • buttons,
  • shells (from ethical source),
  • cardboard pieces,
  • peg dolls,
  • glass pebbles,
  • bottle tops,
  • ball (regular or wooden),
  • and whatever else you wish to provide for your child :)


How to incorporate loose parts into everyday play and how to present them
The loose parts can be either available for the child at all times or played with from time to time (some parents chose to hide the small pieces away to avoid the choking hazard). It is best when the child can freely access the materials, though. In our house, I always have larger pieces (boxes, blocks, pine cones, wooden bowls, scarves, leaves, twigs and baskets) easily accessible for Kian, and he plays with acorns and all small pieces under my strict supervision. 
You can display as many pieces as you wish (after a few days of observation you will be able to estimate how many pieces work best for your child). If you have room to create a separate loose parts play area, I would suggest trying it out. If not, you can simply display them in your child's toy storage/ shelves. When your child can freely access them, they will incorporate them into all kinds of play.
Also, loose parts are so much fun combined with playdough or kinetic sand. 

In terms of presentation and storage, you can use whatever suits you. I store the smaller pieces in tinker trays, the bowls and baskets on the shelf/ easily accessible for Kian, and scarves in a large basket, which is also always on display. 
If you don't own a tinker tray, you can store the smaller pieces in jars, baskets, bowls or trays. 


A few important things:

  • when providing your children with smaller materials, please supervise them,
  • there are a few great brands out there providing loose parts (for example Grapat or Grimms, they both are wonderful), but please never feel pressured to buy all the toys that bloggers/ vloggers/ neighbours recommend, 
  • the creator of The Loose Parts Theory is called Simon Nicholson, in case you wanted to read more about him 😊


I hope that I have encouraged you to provide your child with loose parts, and if you were familiar with the concept before, please let me know what do you value about them. I love watching Kian manipulate the materials in infinite ways, and he always amazes me with the ideas he comes up with. 
Have a wonderful day and thank you for your time! 
Gosia x






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PART II: The ultimate guide to activities with animal figurines for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers (hands-on & Montessori-inspired)

Grasshopper:CollectA 2009

Hi, thanks for stopping by! I am here today to share with you part II of my ultimate guide to activities with animal figurines. In the first one, I presented 34 ideas for fun and educational (mostly Montessori-inspired) activities for kids of different age. You can find it
here.
Just a quick mention that these are some of my son's favourite toys (played with every single day for the past 1,5 year), but because they are non-biodegradable, I got 95% of our collection second hand. I can not speak highly enough about their educational values.
They are wonderful, but please, please, please do not feel obligated to buy any toys that are being recommended by bloggers/ vloggers/ anybody else in this world, because all your child really needs is unconditional love, nutritious food, contact with the nature, care and the sense of security. The rest- the toys, the room decorations, all the fancy stuff is just an addition to her or his life, and it is totally up to you if you want to buy them. 

One more thing I need to mention is that some of the figurines may not be safe for babies, as some of their parts are sharp (like the musk ox's horns).


I categorized the activities into three groups: beginner friendly, intermediate and advancedNow, this is only to guide you, all kids develop slightly differently, so please do not feel bad if your kid didn't master one of the skills mentioned yet. I hope you enjoy reading and try some of these activities out 😊



BEGINNER FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES:
Texas Longhorn Bull: Schleich 2012,  racoon: Schleich 2009
DUSTING THE FIGURINES
You may think that I am crazy, but kids actually love this activity. You can introduce your child to dusting before they turn 1. It is a practical life exercise that supports the development of fine motor skills. 


Sheep, calf: AAA;  grasshopper, praying mantis: CollectA;  chipmunk: Schleich (2013),  rabbit: no name
TRANSFERRING WITH TONGS
Transferring object with tongs not only strengthens hand muscles, supports the development of hand-eye coordination, but also teaches concentration and patience.
The child needs to transfer figurines from one bowl/tray/basket to another using tongs. 


Turtle: Bullyland
ANIMAL AND SPOON (RACE)
This activity is similar to the old good egg and spoon race. When your child is walking and running confidently you can make it a race, but smaller kids can simply walk from point A to B holding a spoon with an animal figurine in their hand.


yak: Schleich (2009), mandrill female and baby: Schleich (2013);  grasshopper and praying mantis: CollectA (2009)
ORDERING BY SIZE
In this activity child orders the animals from the smallest to the biggest. I would suggest starting off with 3 very distinctive figurines, to make it easier for the child to understand the concept of ordering. 


INTERMEDIATE ACTIVITIES:
Tiger: AAA,;  triceraptos: Schleich (2011)
RECOGNIZING ANIMALS BY THEIR TAILS
In this activity, the child recognizes the animals by their tails. The rest of the figurine can be wrapped up in a piece of fabric or a sock. 


Racoon: Schleich (2009)
GUESS WHO?
In this activity, the child needs to guess which animal you are thinking of. You can set your own rules here, depending on your preferences and the age of your child. For example, the child may be allowed to ask open questions (where does he live? what is his colour?) or questions that can be answered only with 'yes' or 'no'. Have fun!


Sea horse: Schleich (2013), guitar fish: Schleich (2015);  goldfish: no name
ANIMAL THEATRE
Kids love playing theatre, and the animal figurines make fantastic puppets. You don't need to buy a proper theatre, you can make it out of cardboard box, or simply pretend that a shelf is a theatre. 


T-Rex: Safari Ltd. (1998);  triceraptos: Schleich (2011);  rhino: Schleich (2011);  koala: K&M;  duck and ducklings: no name
ORDERING BY WEIGHT
In this activity, the child orders the animals from the lightest to the heaviest or the heaviest to the lightest. It is a fun introduction to the concept of weight. 






STACKING
A fantastic activity which practices patience, hand-eye coordination and concentration. Even very young toddlers will be able to stack one figurine on the top of the other, and the older kids will surprise you with their creations and steady hands.




Velociraptor, bat, fly, dragonfly: no name;  zebra: Schleich (2008), bison: Schleich (2013)
SINKS OR FLOATS
Playing sink or float is a fun way to introduce your children to early science experiments. All you need is a bowl filled with water and a few figurines. The child places the figurines in the water and observes which ones are floating and which are sinking. 


ADVANCED ACTIVITIES:
Red deer: Schleich (2010)
WRITING A DESCRIPTION OF AN ANIMAL
Describing the animal in writing is a fantastic activity for older kids. It expands the vocabulary, and it is a great and fun way to practice spelling and grammar.  



Parakeet (Budgie): Schleich (2002)














HOT AND COLD GAME
Hot and cold is a fun and educational game, which requires 2 or more players and some small objects (this is why the animal figurines are just perfect here!). The rules of the game are very simple: one person leaves the room, and the rest of the group decides where to hide the figurine. Then the chosen person comes back to the room and needs to find it. The group helps him by indicating whether he is getting closer or moving away from the hidden item by saying 'hotter' and 'colder'. 



Bowl 1: Sea horse: Schleich (2013), guitar fish: Schleich (2015), seal: Schleich;  goldfish: no name;  clownfish: was added to an activity book 'Animal Adventures: Ocean Play Kit' by Silver Dolphin Books;  narwhal: CollectA
Bowl 2: bat, fly, butterfly: no name;  parakeet: Schleich (2002); owl- no name but I am pretty sure that this is a dupe of the Bullyland Great Grey Owl
GUESSING THE SORT
In this activity, the child needs to guess why some particular animals belong to one group. The cool thing about it is that you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want. Some ideas may include animals with wings, animals with stripes, ocean animals, animals that fly, nocturnal animals, arctic animals etc. 



Mexican redknee tarantula: CollectAn(2009), lion cub: CollectA (2010);  ant: no name;  chipmunk: Schleich (2013),  goat: Schleich (2012), hedgehog: Schleich (2004)
MAKING UP A STORY
Your child can draw a few figurines out of a basket or a bag, and make up a story including all of the animals he drew. Older kids can write it if they want to. Such a fun and creativity boosting activity!





Thank you for your time and please, do not forget to check out the first part of my guide, if you haven't already x





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