Homeschooling with Toddlers – Montessori Trays

These Montessori trays can cover any subject you would like.  They are the most versatile and also the least expensive Montessori idea to set up, as you often have these things laying around your house. 

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

Homeschooling with a toddler in tow can be the biggest homeschooling challenge we face day to day.  Trying to find things for kids too young for school but far too awake to be quiet (or if they are, it is cause for alarm and not peace) is a huge challenge.  In this series we are continuing to explore ideas inspired by Maria Montessori in her early education classrooms for keeping our youngest kids out of trouble and teaching them a few things too.  Adding these things to your homeschool classroom may just be the answer to buying you a few minutes with your busy toddler.

 Montessori Tray

  • Cost: Nothing to < $25
  • Space Needed: Small (tabletop area)
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes or less
  • Toddler distraction factor: High (at least 15 minutes)

 The picture above is my 2 year old (now 7!) using bamboo sugar cube tongs to move cotton balls from one saucer to the other and his joy at his success!

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

The possibilities are absolutely endless and each tray is guaranteed to give you at least 7 minutes of time where your toddler doesn’t need something.  Just in searching for these images on my hard drive I found around 50 different ideas of what to put on a Montessori tray… but before I share those, let me show you where I put the tray:

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

 On the lowest of one of my shelves I have special spot dedicated to the toddler/preschooler in the house.  It has reading books, special toys, and the Montessori tray on it.  This tray changes all the time… sometimes drastically (like adding in pattern beading instead of transferring) sometimes very slightly (like today they get to work with popcorn instead of dried black beans) but if it changes at all, they will be interested. 

Always trust your guy when choosing items and stick to food items if your child has a habit of putting things in their mouth.

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

Transferring – Dexterity and coordination.   

  • Beans in two small bowls with a spoon
  • Cotton balls in two small containers with sugar cube tongs
  • A cream pitcher filled with water and a small cup and saucer (don’t forget to add a napkin so they can clean up their own spills!)
  • And if you want the best-mom-in-the-world title for a day, add marshmallows or M&Ms to transfer and let them eat them when they are done. 

 Art – Cutting, gluing, and coloring

  • A small jar of crayons (around 3) and a piece of blank paper
  • white chalk and a piece of black cardstock
  • Droppers with food coloring water in them and three small bowls for mixing colors
  • Coloring page with markers (saved for special occasions in my house)
  • Mosaic pattern blocks and their cards to create shapes
  • Add a small muffin tin with different colored liners and some coordinating buttons to sort into colors.
  • Cardstock or construction paper and a pair of safety scissors with a bowl to put the pieces in.
  • Card making (art tray)– In this simple tray, I added fun stickers and cardstock ‘cards’ I cut into a heart shape. 

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays


Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

 Very cute to send to grandma for Valentines day!

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

 Matching and patterning – Fantastic for letter recognition later on!

  • Add 6 pairs of memory cards and have them match them up
  • Separate a few small jars from their lids the child will naturally try to figure out which lid goes to what jar. (This works with large bolts and nuts too if age appropriate.)
  • Pattern Beads are a great thing to add!

Homeschooling with Toddlers - Montessori Trays

Put keys or coins or buttons in your copier and then add that page, along with the items, on to the tray so the child can match

Fine Motor Skills – Developing those writing muscles

  • Tweezers and a few small pieces of fabric to transfer
  • Large plastic beads and a few pipe cleaners to make bracelets
  • Parmesan shaker and dry spaghetti noodles to put in the holes
  • Pom-poms and a plastic soda bottle to put them into
  • Clothes pins and a piece of cardboard to clip them onto


I hope these inexpensive and helpful ideas can buy you some time during your school day where your toddler is occupied!  Best of luck!

About Val

Valerie Rose, creator of the blog Collecting the Moments… one by one spends her days cooking, gardening, and homeschooling her 4 children on her urban homestead in rainy western Washington. With camera in hand, she is constantly collecting the moments of life and encouraging others to do the same with activities and inspiration for a simple, creative household. You can find her on Pinterest, Facebook and on her homeschooling blog where she documents all the fun learning her kids do day to day.