This is an activity ("work") we did all the time when I taught preschool at a Montessori school before my daughter was born. The basic idea here is pretty straightforward: sort little stuff into the compartments on the ice cube tray. But there is a little bit of method to the madness. In fact, really, if the kid is doing it right, there shouldn't be any madness at all.
This activity helps build the following skills:
- hand-eye coordination
- working from left to right (like when we read)
- doing things in order
- one-to-one counting (optional)
Let's do it!
First, set up your activity. You'll need enough small objects (I used marbles this time) so that there are as many objects as there are holes in the ice cube tray (i.e. 15 marbles for this ice cube tray with 15 holes). Place the small objects in a dish that is easy for the child to get their hand in and out of. (Our marbles today are in an Ikea kid cup.)
If you want to be really hyper-Montessori you'll silently and slowly model the entire activity first. I did this all the time in my classroom, but at home I usually just direct Olivia as she goes. "No, put it up here. This one next." That sort of thing.
When you're ready to do the activity with your child, set it up so that the dish with the objects in it is on the left and the ice cube tray is on the right. (Remember, we're working on working from left to right.)
Choose one object from the dish* and place it in the hole at the top left corner.
*Sometimes Olivia tries to sneak two or three marbles in her hand at once and (at least for now) I don't let her do that because it usually causes her to lose her concentration and she forgets where the next one goes.
Place the next object in the hole just to the right of the first object.
The third object goes in the top right hole.
The fourth object will go in the second hole down on the left (just under where you put the first marble).
Continue placing objects in the holes, one at a time, left to right, until the ice cube tray is full.
Then, starting at the top left hole, place the objects back in the dish, one at a time. Work in the same pattern (left to right) as you did when you put the objects in the holes.
Optional: Count each object as you place it in/take it out to get in some good one-to-one counting practice.
Try this activity with:
- different ice cube trays (the thrift store and Ikea are great places to look)
- different objects (marbles, beads, coins, cheerios, candy, small erasers, etc.)
- the ice cube tray turned sideways so you're working in long rows instead
- an egg carton instead of an ice cube tray
Note: It may seem a little stingy to have a "right" way to put the objects in the holes, but after doing this activity with several different children in my classroom and now with my daughter at home, it is my personal opinion that kids do better when there's a "right" way to complete an activity.
This is not an art project or a dance move where there's room for a lot of fun personal expression; this is a math/focus activity with specific goals in mind. Kids (even little kids) know when they're doing something "right" and they will be more proud of themselves upon completion of the activity and more focused during the activity when following specific guidelines (i.e. left to right, one at a time, etc.). Bonus: you're less likely to end up with little things thrown all over your house instead of in the dish or ice cube tray where they belong. :)
Find more fun and easy preschool ideas on the Preschool page. You can also find them by clicking on the Preschool button in the header. Enjoy!