Montessori Activities: Easy, Affordable Ideas for the Busy Box

Planning a Montessori curriculum – even a partial one – is time consuming and, if you follow the Montessori recommendations, it can also be quite expensive. Wood-based toys are beautiful and pleasing on the eyes but rather hard on the pocket. So when I was putting together a Montessori Busy Box, this was what I came up with (ideas were taken and modified from Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years and 1+1+1=1.

Our Montessori Busy Box

Yes, it looks a bit of a mess, but this is the storage form. I take the things out and set them out when we’re ready for the activity. Either that, or Gareth and Gavin will rummage for whatever picks their fancy…

Montessori Busy Box

Practical Life Activities

Bottles and Tops: intended for children age 2-4 years old, it teaches them how to open and close screw-top bottles. I used old water bottles that we have had to retire because of moldy straws. You can also collect various screw-top bottles and jars around the house, such as the peanut butter jar, bottled water bottles, etc. Aristotle can already do this so he can teach his brother how to do it.

Montessori Practical Bottles

Water Activities:

  • Using a dopper
  • Using a sponge

Intended for age 2.5 to 5 years. Again Aristotle can teach his brother how to do this. To make it more fun, you can use coloured water (just add a bit of food dye). Use the dropper to transfer water from one receptacle to another (I’m missing the cup in the picture below). Use the sponge to wipe up water “spills” or to soak up water and squeeze dry.

Montessori Water play

Pouring Rice: Intended for age 2.5 to 5 years. Initially fill the jug with rice and teach your child to pour the rice slowly into the cup. As your child masters the ability, you can use water instead of rice. Again Aristotle can do this and teach his brother. It is also good practice for Aristotle who is still proned to spills from carelessness.

Montessori Pouring activity

Setting the Table: Intended for age 2.5 to 5 years. It’s not so appropriate for us since we use chopsticks at home in a traditional Chinese setting, but it’s still a great activity for the boys to practice. We can add more fun to this activity with the Signing Time Time to Eat song about setting the table.

Montessori Setting Table

Threading and Tying Shoe Laces: Intended for age 3.5 to 5 years old, this is probably more for Aristotle who has yet to learn how to tie laces. He doesn’t own any lace-up shoes at present and won’t agree to get a pair because he can’t tie his own laces – so definitely a great activity for him…

Montessori tying laces

Buttons, Zips and Fasteners: This is probably the equivalent to the Montessori Basic Skills Board. You can see my review on My First Activity Book to see all the activities inside the book.

Montessori Practical Everyday

Using a Spoon: Teaches Hercules the fine motor skills required to handle a spoon. The idea is transfer the buttons one by one from the bowl into the ice cube tray.

Montessori Spoon Dexterity

Lacing Beads: Intended for age 1.5 to 4 years old. Helps children develop their fine motor skills to thread the beads onto a string. If you have a variety of colours and shapes, you can also teach your child a sorting activity, e.g. group the same colours. A cheaper alternative would be to use an old round shoe lace and some large beads for making necklaces.

Montessori Bead Threading

Wooden Puzzles: Hercules has mastered the single piece puzzles like this one on transport.

Montessori Wooden Puzzle

This 12 piece puzzle is still a challenge though. We probably need something of an intermediate difficulty to add to our busy box.

Montessori Wooden Puzzle 2

Sensorial Activities

Actually, I’m not sure whether this woulf fall under Sensorial or Math. Using the busy board, I created a counting game similar to one of the Montessori Apps he plays on the iPad. I use magnetic numbers to denote the quantity we are after, then magnetic buttons to represent the quantity. To kill two birds with one stone, we set the buttons out following SEE’s Maths patterns.

Magnetic Board Numbers

The Tower: Intended for age 2.5 to 4 years old, you can teach children size order. This activity is our “equivalent” to the Montessori Pink Tower. You can teach your child other things, such as counting the blocks, the colours (if you have multi-coloured blocks), and cause and effect (by knocking down the tower).

Montessori Tower

Peg Board: This is our Melissa & Doug Sort and Snap Colour Match. Make your own patterns, follow the patterns they give you, count the pegs, name the colours, sort the colours – there are really quite a number of applications for this board.

Montessori Peg Board

Wooden Abacus: What’s a Montessori busy box without an abacus?

Montessori Abacus

Shape Sorter: Not the beautiful wooden shape sorter from Melissa & Doug but we’ve had this one since Aristotle was a baby so waste not want not. Hercules can consistently finish sorting the shapes except for the right-angled triangle which still baffles him if he happens to hold it backwards and cannot turn it around to make it fit.

Montessori Shape Sorter

Felt Playscape: Just a variety of felt shapes and a couple of larger pieces of felt for the backdrop and your child can get busy creating his own patterns and designs.

Montessori Felt Playscape

Geometric Shapes: We received this puzzle from Heguru, but I’m sure it is easy enough to make your own out of cardboard. Just fit the colour shapes into the blanks.

Montessori Geometric Shapes

That’s about all we have so far but there are still many other Montessori activities that you can easily create with a low budget, especially if you think of ways your child can help out around the house – which kills two birds with one stone and fosters a good habit for life.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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