I recently received an e-mail from a homeschooling mama who's setting up some Montessori inspired activities for her 2-year-old daughter. She asked me about cylinder blocks and geometric solids - which was easy enough to answer. And then, she asked me this: "Are there any other Montessori materials that would be beneficial if purchased for home use?" Yikes! I ended up writing her a whole book! :) Once I get going on Montessori, it's a little hard for me to stop... Anyway, I decided to post my response on here, in case any of you are interested. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, too!
1. Coordination and Control of Movement (Practical Life)
Most practical life activities can be put together with things you probably already have in your house and treasures you can find at thrift stores and garage sales. Since your daughter is 2, I would probably suggest activities like these:
-scooping rice from one dish to another
-squeezing water with a sponge between two bowls
-find a container (coffee can, yogurt, etc), cut a hole in the lid, and put together some objects that can be pushed through it
-stick a chopstick to a tray with a ball of clay, and have your daughter *string* the chopstick with chunky beads
The possibilities for practical life activities are endless! Usually you can just follow your child's natural interests, but do keep in mind that the purpose of these exercises is to strengthen motor control and develop a sense of order and independence.
The Sensorial activities are quite a bit harder to put together without buying a lot of materials. Their purpose is to help your child refine her senses by isolating one particular quality at a time. For example, the knobbed cylinders are all made of the same kind of wood and all have the same knobs on top; they only differ in height and diameter. If I were you, I would go for the mini knobbed cylinders - I've never used them, but they're significantly cheaper and they look like they achieve the same purpose. As for the for the geometric solids, that's great if you can put your own set together. In my classroom, we usually work with a set of 6 - cylinder, cone, cube, sphere, rectangular prism, and ovoid. These work the best for us because they're all fairly easy to find in the environment. I'll be honest, though, they are not especially popular with the children. We have a set of cards that have pictures of things like balls, blocks, cans, and eggs, and the children will match them to the geometric solids sometimes. Otherwise, they rarely get used unless a teacher is directing the activity.
These sensorial activities tend to get used the most:
-the pink tower
-the broad stair
-the knobbed cylinders
Mystery bags and fabric matching are also popular, and you can put them together yourself. -Mystery bags are cloth bags that contain objects you can identify or match by "seeing with your hands."
-Fabric matching involves matching pairs of fabrics that vary in texture by touch alone.
Basically, just keep in mind that your purpose is to refine the senses. There are a lot of activities out there that accomplish this without involving "official" Montessori materials. For example:
-make different sounds and have your daughter guess what they are (example: ring a bell, whistle, clap,laugh, unzip something, etc).
-taste test salty, sweet, and sour by filling eyedroppers with sugar water, salt water, and lemon water
-match smells like citrus, peppermint, and cinnamon by putting drops of essential oils on cotton balls in jars
Oh, one more thing! This is what I was taught about the sensorial materials: the child should have the experience first - without language. Later on you can give her the names (for example, loud and soft). I find that this varies with each child - many already know the names, and sometimes it just feels natural to add them into the conversation. Next comes matching, then grading, and finally, the language that goes along with grading (big, bigger,biggest).
As for math and langauge (can you tell I'm running out of steam?), they're pretty straightforward for little ones. 3-year-olds are the youngest children in my classroom, and the majority of them spend most of their time in the practical life and sensorial areas of the classroom. What I would suggest for a 2-year-old is simple (please correct me here if I'm wrong!) - be conscious that you're speaking in a clear voice with real words, play "I spy" and games that involve matching, and model making a 1-1 correspondence between numbers and objects when you count things out.