Inside: 3 easy Montessori activities for 18 month olds (using only things you have around your house) that increase your toddler’s independence.

w anna hear something crazy? Can you guess what my son’s most-played-with toy has been for 4 years now?

It’s not a wooden rainbow.

It’s not even his beloved magna-tiles.

It’s…a can of cat food.

It all started when my little guy was barely making his way around on all fours, constantly barging into the kitchen cabinets while I was trying to cook. So, I decided to designate a specific cabinet just for him. And you know what? His absolute jam became stacking cans of cat food from that cabinet.

Err…cat food, you ask? Well, it turns out that particular can had a picture of his all-time favorite creature (his first word? ‘cat’, closely followed by ‘meow’). That can of cat food swiftly became his sidekick.

He’d snuggle up to it during breastfeeding sessions, take it on wild rides on his tricycle, and even coo some meows to it. As he got older, his imaginative play took a quirky turn – enter pretend cakes filled with… cat food. Yep, you heard that right.

And here’s the kicker: while his “fancy Montessori toys” sat there gathering dust on the shelves, it dawned on me that the best Montessori materials for 18-month-olds were hiding right under my nose.  And better yet, they were absolutely free. The best Montessori activities for toddlers are ones that focus on practical life skills. Who needs those pricey Monti kids toys when stacking cans of cat food can do wonders for eye-hand coordination?

So, here are 3 of my son’s favorite Montessori activities for 18 month olds that won’t cost you a dime. And the best part? They’re a breeze to set up. But beyond that, they teach your young toddler that they’re capable of doing things all on their own, giving their confidence a solid boost.

Ready to dive in?

Free DIY Montessori Activities for Toddlers

Lids on Jars: Open and Close Activity

Ok, parents. Our first simple yet effective Montessori activity, using only stuff you can find in your kitchen cabinets. We’re talking about jars, lids, and a bit of toddler-style problem-solving. No frills, just good, clean, budget-friendly fun. 

I like to use glass jars. (It’s surprising how quickly kids pick up that they need to treat breakable things gently.) But if that makes you nervous, use plastic ones.

Montessori Jar Lid Open Close Activity

Set it up: Set out a basket of jars and a basket of matching lids. Let your child figure out which one goes with which, then help them twist on the top. 

There’s so many great things going on here: 

  • Matching: Imagine a bunch of jars that all look kinda the same and a bunch of lids thrown in for good measure. Your kiddo’s mission? Match ’em up. It’s a visual workout, testing their reasoning and problem-solving skills in a low-key way.
  • Fine Motor Skills: Now comes the hands-on part – twisting those lids onto the jars. It’s a simple but effective workout for those tiny hands and wrists. Who knew tightening lids could be so oddly satisfying?
  • Frustration tolerance: Prepare for a bit of trial and error. Some lids might be stubborn, and that’s where the frustration tolerance lesson for your 18-month-old kicks in. It’s a mini-masterclass in dealing with little setbacks, one lid at a time. Because, let’s be real, not every lid is going to play nice, and that’s perfectly fine. We’re all learning as we go.

Montessori Paper Roll Threading Activity

Know what supply you’re always going to have on hand? Paper towel and toilet paper tubes.

DIY Montessori Threading Activity

Set it up: Cut up paper towel tubes so you have a bunch of rings. Hot glue a string to a popsicle stick to make a threader. (You can glue a bigger piece of cardboard to the other end of the string so the tubes don’t fall off.) 

Now help your little one add the rings onto the popsicle stick and onto the string.

What your child is practicing:

  • Hand-eye coordination: Your toddler’s brain is working hard to see the tube and fit the stick through it, by making their hand movements cooperate with their goal. It’s a lot of work. And every time they miss or barely get the stick in the hole, their brain is learning and processing new information about how their body works.
  • Practice for real-life activities: Threading (and lacing) are a progression of activities that get smaller and require more precision as your child grows. Threading these big loops is a pre-cursor to embroidery, and then sewing, which are hands-on practical life activities your child will eventually get to.

DIY Wind the String

Here’s another Montessori at home activity that’s all about simplicity. Winding string. I initially saw this activity done on a huge store-bought spool. But I thought this is a total DIY project. 

Montessori Winding String Activity

Set it up: Just find something long, like a wooden spoon, and a string.  Attach the string to one end of the spoon and show your little one the art of winding and unwinding. A great way to introduce Montessori activities at 15 to 18 months.

And the developmental benefits?

  • Hand control: This is great for hand motor skill development using a twisting action. 
  • Bilateral coordination: This task requires using both hands, and in ways where they have to work together. This is amazing brain work because it requires one side of the brain to coordinate with the other side.

Which Fun Activity Will You Start With?

Montessori doesn’t have to be a puzzle of expensive toys; it’s about embracing the everyday items around you. These activities aren’t just games; they’re a roadmap to nurturing your toddler’s confidence.

So, the next time you are looking for a way to boost your child’s development, grab those household items, dive into the joy of discovery, and witness the incredible growth and confidence of your little ones – without breaking the bank.

Which activity will you start with first?

What’s Next?

  • Increase your toddler’s vocabulary with Montessori 3 part cards.
  • Subscribe to my email. I send one play activity idea, once a week, giving you some serious inspiration for what to do with your toddler or preschooler that week. Plus freebies and special treats.
  • Read the rest of my blog. It’s home to lots of play & learn activities, arts & crafts projects, activities to build your kiddo’s cognitive skills, and Montessori activity ideas and info.
  • Shop my printable activities. Explore nature-themed printable activities for your toddler and preschooler to help them learn through play. All hands-on activities — the healthiest way for your young kiddo to learn. And designed with watercolor artwork, so you’ll love adding it to your beautiful home.

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