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Montessori Trays: Why, How, And When to Use Them

One of the keys factors in any Montessori program is the philosophy of child-led learning and play. Montessori materials are all designed so that the child can successfully interact, play, and learn with the materials on their own – free from distraction. Trays are commonly used throughout a Montessori school or home to facilitate this style of learning and discovery.

Montessori trays organize activities and foster a sense of independence and order. These trays are easy for a child to carry and include all the materials needed for an activity. Montessori trays and baskets offer variety without overwhelm and clutter, allowing for focused, uninterrupted play.

If you utilize the Montessori method exclusively with your child, then you are familiar with the importance of using trays with your child. If you are new to Montessori or looking for a way to incorporate some Montessori theory in your home, Montessori trays and baskets are a great way to help your child learn and grow independently.

Why Does Montessori Use Trays?

The materials used in the Montessori Method are as important as the theory itself. Every component of a Montessori material, task, or set-up is designed to help the child learn and develop critical ways of thinking and experiencing their world.

Trays are used in many of the different Montessori areas of learning and are a great way to incorporate this style of learning in your home. Montessori trays are used for some important reasons:

  • Montessori trays help teach order. When an activity is organized and presented in full to a child, they know where things are when they start and how to neatly put each item away. This also encourages your child to work on one activity entirely and then put it away before beginning another one.
  • Carrying a Montessori tray helps children develop focus, coordination, and balance. While carrying a tray might not seem like much for an adult, there are many critical motor skills this action helps develop in a small child.
  • Organizing activities and play with trays and baskets fosters independent thinking and choice in a child. A child is encouraged to choose the tray that interests him the most at the time. This leads to more engagement and focus as the child himself is deciding what to work on.
  • Montessori trays and baskets allow for curating toys and activities based on your child’s interest and skill level. Instead of bins and buckets filled with endless clutter, having fewer, more complete tasks, projects, and activities allows for more purposeful and focused play. As your child’s interests and skill levels change, you can swap out trays to introduce new things.
  • Montessori trays teach children to classify and group things that are alike. Sensory experience and learning is a tenement of the Montessori method. The organized trays help develop an understanding of how objects relate to each other and are grouped together in different ways.

You Can Be Creative With Your Montessori Trays

There are an unlimited number of ways to use Montessori trays and baskets in your own home. Trays can be utilized to organize so many different games, toys, and activities. In fact, using trays allows for you to offer an even larger variety of tasks; including ones that would otherwise take time to set up and put together. This is particularly true of art trays.

When creating a Montessori tray or basket there are a few things to consider.

  1. Make sure your tray has a lip or edge or that your basket is shallow. It is important that the items are safely contained and can be carried, and also that every item can be clearly displayed.
  2. Use natural material trays and baskets when possible. The Montessori method considers it vital for children to play with materials that are natural to the world and their environment. Wood, wicker, metal, and other natural fibers are perfect.
  3. Make sure that the size of your tray or basket is appropriate for your child. The child must be able to carry the tray or basket themselves.
  4. When placing your trays and baskets out for the child make sure they are at an accessible height and clearly displayed. They should be easily accessible to the child so that he can access them all.

You can choose just about any game, lesson, task, or theme for your Montessori tray. The goal is to make sure there is a clear objective for each tray and that they are complete, meaning that everything the child needs to do the activity is on the tray.

Some examples of activities on Montessori trays include:

  • Sorting Activities: Montessori trays make for a great way to introduce different sorting games and activities to children. For example, a sorting tray might include sorting buttons by color or sorting buttons by size. You can set up your tray to include cupcake pans or other small bowls and dishes and incorporate small tongs or tweezers to further develop fine motor skills.
  • Cutting and Pasting Activities: Pasting and cutting trays are popular examples of Montessori tray activities. On these trays you can include small jars of glue and brushes and various materials for pasting onto clean paper. You may want to put together a tray with stencils, scissors, pencils, and paper to create a cutting station for your little one to explore.
  • Sand Trays: Kinetic sand and other sensory sands are a great way to let children learn through play. These trays can include different objects to dig in the sand with or other shapes they can use to mold the sand into.
  • Practical Life Trays: There are an endless amount of ideas for practical life trays. These are intended to include activities that are critical to independence and daily living. These may include a small cheese grater and a bar of soap, or a beading activity with beads and different types of string and yarn. They can also include things like spray cleaning, opening and closing containers, and more.

You Can Start Using Montessori Trays Anytime

Montessori trays are a great way to encourage independent play that is designed to nurture a child’s sensory development as well as their independence. Montessori trays can be used for so many different activities and in so many ways.

You can use Montessori trays in your child’s room or playroom, or even in each room of the house with trays designed to fit that room’s purpose. For example, in the kitchen you may want to put trays that focus on practical life or cooking skills. Maybe a tray with toy fruit that can be cut, as an example.

Whatever you decide, Montessori trays are always a great addition to your child’s environment and are totally customizable. Be creative and have fun with them.


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