For toddlers, I love to set up a nature or observation tray rather than a nature table. I like to keep all the small pieces contained within the walls of the tray. My toddler understands he can observe, touch and manipulate all of the items but they must stay in the tray. Only now at 21 months are we moving away from a nature basket which has served more as an exploration/treasure basket to a real observation tray.
A Montessori observation tray is not small world play, it's not small parts play, it is about observing up close and with attention to detail, real natural objects. It's also a good place to share or display special natural items or items found on nature walks or during nature study. We put our nature observation tray on our toddler/infant shelves, above we are using the Low Baby Shelf from Manine Montessori, it's the perfect height.
Young toddlers can struggle with using a magnifying glass so we use large bug viewers or this magnifying glass on a stand. We use the Large Magnifying Set (magnification x 2.3), Giant Bug Viewer (magnification x 5) and Bugnoculars.
Other items we use in our Montessori toddler nature/observation trays include:
- Found items from a nature walk and own backyard.
- Toobs and other small, real to life model animals.
- Fresh or dried flowers.
- Shells, driftwood or other objects from the seaside.
- Nature or colour flags nearby.
- Magnifying glass or Bug Viewer, Bugnoculars for younger children.
- Feathers, sticks, stones, items that capture the child's attention.
- Dead insects or animal casings.
- Laminated items like leaves or butterflies.
- Preserved animals and plants like insects in resin.
- Play silks in natural or seasonal colours.
- Display of photographs or illustrations of natural objects and environments.
- For older children, it can be useful to keep a sketch pad and drawing pencils nearby.
- Themed items, like items with a seaside, feathers, or seasonal theme.
- Clear window blocks for display or for fragile items.
- Nature books can be kept nearby, I really like the Look and Learn Bugs Board Books for very young toddlers.
I love how in #7 and #8 they use trays with segments, toddlers love to put things away in small places and I think this would really appeal to their sense of order, both of these are from Montessori classrooms.
Inspiration for this article is from une table d'observation in 100 activités d'éveil Montessori : Dès 18 mois (in French).
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