One thing I love about homeschooling: I never stop learning about teaching. Recently, I read that Maria Montessori discovered her educational methods while working with children who were mentally challenged. I have always admired the work of Maria Montessori, but now that we have little Junior with T21, I’ve embraced her methods for preschool. And Junior is thriving on them.
But there’s one little problem: Montessori toys are really expensive. So, with the help of Pinterest and a little creativity, I’ve been making our own Montessori-inspired toys. Here are 6 inexpensive homemade toys for your toddlers:
1. Wooden Coins and Drawers
It’s my spin-off from the Montessori Coin Box, and it’s a great activity for counting and sorting. Junior loves to put in the coins and then open the drawer and dump them out. I bought all the materials at Michael’s – the wooden drawers, the coins, and the tray all for about $9. My son used a dremel to cut the slits in the drawers for the coins. I painted the coins and drawers with acrylic paint and then added a coat of varnish.
2. Wooden Pegs and Board
Great for kids who need to strengthen their hands, these wooden pegs need to be pushed in hard to stay upright. I painted them different colors so Junior could arrange them by color and so we could name the colors are he pushes in the pegs. Again, I bought all the materials – wooden board, pegs, and peg holders – at Michael’s. Use wood glue to attach the peg holders to the board.
3. Seasonal Matching Cards
Junior loves the game Seek-A-Boo, a matching and memory game. So, I decided to make him even more cards – ones that are seasonal. This will help him learn the words for things he’ll be seeing this season. To make these, use the free app, Collage Maker, and use a grid format. Make a list of words you want your toddler to learn. (For ex. leaves, pumpkin, acorn, pinecone, turkey, pilgrim, etc.) Then do a google search for each of the words, and type “png” at the end of this word. This brings up images of each word with a white or transparent background. Drag the pictures into the collage maker. Add a border if you want. Print on card stock, and if you want to make a matching game, be sure to print two sets. Cut the pictures with a paper cutter and laminate.
4. Board Book Photo Albums
What toddler does not love looking at pictures of family and friends? To make your own family album board books, buy the blank board books at Rainbow Resource. They’re about $3-4 each. Print out your favorite family photos on a color printer and trim with a paper cutter. Glue the pictures into the book with a glue stick. Then, to protect the book from spills or drool, cover each photo with clear contact paper. Be sure to measure the contact paper so it goes over the edge of each photo. When laying down the contact paper, start at the top of the photo and very carefully push the adhesive down with one hand while holding the rest of the contact paper taut with the other. Push out any air bubbles as you go. And voila! Indestructable family albums!
5. Ribbon Pull Toy
Here’s another toy that builds fine motor skills. Take an empty breadcrumb canister and poke a bunch of holes in the lid. (Tip: place the plastic lid directly on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to poke holes and turn the knife to make the holes a bit larger.) Measure the height of the canister and cut a colored sheet of paper to wrap around the canister. Adhesive construction paper will make your job easier, but you could just glue construction paper on. Make the toy visually interesting by gluing and wrapping ribbon around it. Get a variety of ribbon scraps (I bought a bag of ribbon scraps at Michael’s). Tie a knot at one end and push the unknotted end through one of the holes in the lid. Tie another knot at that end. Repeat until you have lots of ribbons for your toddler to pull.
6. Peg dolls in Candle Cups
This one’s my favorite because it’s so darn cute! (Thank you, Pinterest!) Peg dolls in candle cups are great for learning colors, counting, and building fine motor skills. You can buy these at etsy for about $37 (gasp!) or make them yourself for about $10. To make: buy the candle cups and peg dolls at Michael’s. Paint them with semi-gloss acrylic paint. (My daughter painted them and added the numbers.) When I first gave them to Junior, he had a hard time putting in the dolls without knocking over the cups. So, we glued the cups onto a small wooden plank. (Wood glue or gorilla glue will do the trick.) One caveat: the dolls are small and could be a choking hazard. I searched high and low for extra-large candle cups to fit extra-large peg dolls, but they were nowhere to be found. So if you make them, save them for a toddler who is done with putting things in his mouth.
So there you have six homemade Montessori-style toys. With Christmas coming up, these are great gifts your older kids could make for younger siblings. Or make them yourself — they’re fun and easy to do!