When Big M was about 18 months old, we went to a trial Montessori playgroup with a few of our friends. All the kids enjoyed themselves, and the minimalist, open-ended toys and play ideas were great. At the end, the facilitators handed out brochures to enlist registration for the 6-week playgroup they were launching. And while prices in neighboring F airfield County are often steep, the price on the form about made my eyes bug out of my head – I actually asked if the price listed was really per class or for the whole 6-weeks. Needless to say, we didn’t sign up, but we did get some great ideas to use at home… like this Montessori Animal Match.
For those not already familiar, Montessori is an educational approach created by an Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori, at the turn of the 20th century. She emphasized independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural development, psychologically, physically and socially. The Montessori model has two primary principles: first, children will naturally engage in self-constructive ways with their environments; and second, young children have an instinctual path of psychological development. She believed that children, left to freely choose and interact in a constructively prepared environment, would naturally and spontaneously interact for optimal development.
What I take this to mean is I should strive to create a play space that provides toys that inspire imagination and creativity, where play objects are easily accessible by children and used with limited intervention by me, the parent or facilitator. Typically, when I introduce a new activity in their room, I do a little demonstration, then leave them to their own devices. Our Montessori Animal Match is just such an activity.
Children have a natural tendency to discern, in Montessori terms, ‘exactness’, or matching, and create order in their little worlds. At the Montessori playgroup we attended, Big M participated in a series of activities based on these tendencies. Colored place mats designed to collect objects of matching color. Large cards with shape silhouettes intended to collect objects of like shape. And a basket of plastic animals next to large photo cards with pictures of real animals. She really enjoyed the animal matching game, and I immediately knew I could recreate it at home with our Little People Noah’s Ark. She already liked to match them up in their two by two pairs, so matching them to the cards was an easy next step.
When I got home, I searched on Google for images of real animals to match the animals in our ark: lions (male and female, elephant, giraffe, tortoise, zebra, panda, kangaroo, cheetah, and hippo. I formatted them to all be the same size in PowerPoint, printed them on heavy tag board and cut them out. I lay out the cards, and Big M would match up the animal pairs. The lions are tough – since the male and females look different, and there are also lion cubs in our set, but she picked up even on that pretty quickly. For nearly two years now, we have used the same cards, and now Lil’ M plays with them too.
Our Montessori Animal Match
After our first demonstration, I always just put the cards away with the Ark in its cubby on Big M’s shelf. She would take it out and match all the animals to the cards, or play with just the cards, making different animal sounds or naming each animal. And sometimes she would play with the Ark without the matching cards. The Ark has now retired to Lil’ M’s room, but now they play with it together. Lil’ M is just learning, but Big M is always more than happy to correct her ‘mistakes.’
It is so much fun to watch Big M teach Lil’ M… and even more fun to see them play together more and more with every passing month. If you already have a Fisher Price Little People Noah’s Ark, you can get our free printable animal cards in our weekly newsletter. And if you don’t, you can create your own animal cards to match any animal set you may already have (farm, zoos, wood blocks, animal TOOBs). Sign up to get all our posts for the week, along with any corresponding printables and a weekly special offer, delivered straight to your inbox!
If you enjoyed this activity, and are interested in learning more about Montessori and discovering other Montessori-inspired activities, be sure to check out our Montessori Inspired Fun board on Pinterest!
Do you have a favorite Montessori-inspired activity? We’d love to read about it – feel free to post a link in our comments or on our Facebook page with your latest post or favorite!