Four Baby Birds: A Montessori-Inspired Game for Toddlers

As you may have noticed, I am no purist when it comes to early childhood education. I think that many methods and philosophies have ideas and practices that are worth embracing and implementing in the home. I've become pretty adept at taking what resonates with me and discarding the rest.

Waldorf and Montessori, the two philosophies with the biggest name recognition, at their core, do have things in common. They both seek to teach the whole child; head, heart, and hands. They both follow seven year development cycles and seek to follow the child's lead. One key difference, though, is their attitudes towards storytelling and learning. To perhaps oversimplify a bit, Montessori believes that learning, in and of itself, is exciting enough. There is no need to dress math or science or reading in fancy garb in order to draw children to them. The fact that one plus one equals two, is pretty awesome in it's own right. Waldorf, on the other hand, strives to create a magical world for young children and makes extensive use of storytelling and imaginative play to teach things like math and the alphabet. I like to think of it this way: both classrooms do many of the same things, Waldorfians just do them all with gnomes.

It was in one of those harried five-o'clock-hours when dinner needed to get started and Silas was simultaneously demanding the totality of my attention, that our game of Four Little Birds was born. He was in a fine motor phase where he wanted to pick everything up with tongs or something similar and was going through the basket of napkins trying to pick them up with a wooden castanet. It wasn't quite working out and he was getting incredibly frustrated.

He was starting to get really upset and a tantrum and full meltdown were looming. So, I picked up a napkin and started chirping. Instantly, he was silent and looking at me with eyes that said, "what's next, mom?"

Four napkins became baby birds that had fallen out of their nest. I handed him a basket and asked him if he'd like to be the mama bird and help the babies get back into the nest. I made a peak in the center of the cloth so that he could easily grab it with the castanet and he was happily engaged for the next twenty minutes, chirping and fluttering and picking up the babies, while I made dinner.

I think that drawing from both Montessori and Waldorf helped to make this spontaneous game successful. The imaginative play got his attention and pulled him out of the tantrum spiral and the activity itself followed the clear interest he was showing in doing fine motor pinching work with the castanet. A moment of Waldorf/Montessori serendipity. And it was a lot of fun too.

Silas is 2.5 years old.


  1. What an awesome, spontaneous, activity. I love the Reggio philosophy but I also find Waldorf and Montessori to be delightful too. Sometimes I just put my own spin on all three and meld them into a practice that works for us. Yet I still allow for freedom to explore toys which aren't necessarily from any of these philosophies and I'm okay with that too.

    I love seeing your ideas and practices grow and flourish on your blog. They are so inspiring!

    Wishing you a lovely day.

  2. Isn't that part of being human - learning to adapt? To follow just one strict path, or method of learning, might lead you to miss out on the benefits of another method.