This week I added another component to our learning routines: the activity tray.

Search online for “Montessori activity tray” and you will find dozens of ideas for how to put these together. In fact, the possibilities for creating an activity tray are as endless as one’s imagination. In a nutshell, a Montessori activity tray is a highly focused mini-lesson, most of which are focused on practical skill and dexterity tasks but which can also be used for any other kind of mini-lesson or warm-up we desire.

In the activity tray, I have found a way of teaching that finally really clicks with who my daughter is. She loves the structure, the order, the containment of the lesson. She likes that I demonstrate once or twice and then let her work on it herself. It also has turned out to be a way to help Katie transition while she is waking up. I get up and have the activity tray set up at her table spot. Now when she comes downstairs, she goes immediately to her tray—instead of asking for anything else. Like me, she needs to have her mind wake up quietly first, and then she gets rolling and is more ready with a positive energy to greet the day. She loves her trays—in fact, she has been asking for more of them.

And? The activity tray (or even more than one tray) buys me time to start breakfast for the kidlets. Eric gets up before Katie, and he usually has some milk to tide him over until she wakes up. With Katie at her activity tray, I have time to start her breakfast more easily.

I wish I would have started the activity tray strategy with Katie long ago when she was much younger, but now Eric will benefit from this routine. It would be nice to have beautiful colored plastic trays, but right now, I am just using my baking sheets!

Our Montessori-inspired trays this week:

Sorting/tweezing. She had to sort the puff balls (one in each well) into the devilled egg platter, using tweezers.

Completing her task…

Sort and match the socks, fold them together, and place them in the other basket. This one was challenging (the folding part), but she started getting the hang of the folding.

Water transfer using a clean sponge.

She filled the sponge from one bowl, and squeezed it into the other to transfer all the water

Water pouring using a teapot

We happened to get some neat styrofoam in one of Eric’s gift packages from Amazon, so we used it to do some toothpick sticking.

Cousin Hannah passed along these melting beads and shapes to us. Katie placed the beads all over the star, then I melted it with an iron and released it from the pattern.

We did this tray after lunch one day: sort the jellybeans by color, and then count each

Katie’s sorted beans—we also did some addition/subtraction practice here

Teaching brother how to do a basic puzzle. Katie modeled doing the puzzle (below) and explained what the animals were, the sounds they made, etc. I got to finish my breakfast while she taught him.

The puzzle Eric has been working on this week

Katie’s writing slate. I asked her to look at what I’d written above (“Boppa”—her grandpa) and she had to write it below. We use this whiteboard pretty strictly just for writing practice—that makes it special and fun and a privilege to use when it comes out, and Katie gets more excited about it.

The kidlets both like to play with this, so we get mileage out of it when I bring it to the floor. Eric practices putting the velcro pieces together and taking them apart. With Katie, I use this for math (How many cuts make how many pieces? How many pieces of the eggplant are left if we take one away? etc).

I found this book this week: a Spanish version of Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book Ever” which we love. This bilingual version is slightly the same and slightly different… But who doesn’t ADORE Richard Scarry? This is just what we need, and our vocab is increasing. Katie has started using some Spanish phrases, like, “Te amo, Mommy!” and today, “Your diaper is stinky, mi hermano!”

Aaaaaaaaand….Katie picked some petunias and a green wormy bug happened to be hanging out on the pink one. It made a cocoon around itself. BONUS! Yes, this is in the house. Yes, anything could fly out…but, it is all in the name of learning. We’re so into bugs right now. Wahoo! What a stroke of luck.

We are also using manipulatives for math practice, and of course, we are continuing the Harry Potter series. We are halfway through Chamber of Secrets.

We haven’t had quite the time for total schooling this week because we’ve had so many wonderful events this week (which I need to blog about): the 4th, a trip to Nana’s to play with cousins and swim, Uncle Chet’s surprise birthday party last night, a mother-daughter date to the ballet version of Cinderella, and tomorrow, Uncle David’s birthday party. Our summer is hoppin’! Still, we try to make focused learning a part of every day, even weekends. We want to teach that learning is fun, continuous, and ever ready, integrated into our daily lives. By doing this, we hope our kidlets learn that schooling and learning is not something they need to wish to end, or that it is consigned to certain times and set apart from vacation. We hope not to set up a dichotomy between “schooling” and “vacation-fun”—because LEARNING IS FUN!

Especially with these trays… Wish I’d have run into this idea MUCH sooner. So far, it has been a winner with our pre-schooler. I love it, too! It is fun to fall asleep at night thinking about new trays in my mind…

Happy homeschooling this week!