Grammar Gardening

The Grammar Farm is a classic Montessori activity to introduce children to the parts of speech.  We call it the “Grammar Garden” based on a long-standing family activity my kids created called the “Lego Garden.”

The Idea

Create a farm, garden, or other play-scene and label objects with parts of speech.

Farm 1

Nouns are orange, Verbs are green, Adjectives are yellow.

Farm 2

On this day we added learning about Direct Objects as nouns that come after the verb.

Farm 3

The 5-year-old boy version…

The Execution


Toys to build a scene (farm, legos, dollhouse, Littlest Pet Shop, etc)

Labels for the scene (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc); you can purchase farm labels to print at Montessori Print Shop, or just create your own as you go along.

See an Inexpensive Montessori Farm and other Farm Ideas

If you would like to proceed in the correct Montessori  fashion, search for “how to present the grammar farm” and you will find many articles like this one.

How we do it:

Build the scene. This can take a day or two if needed!  Don’t force it.
Ask your child to name the “things” in the garden.
Point out that “things” are called Nouns.
Write labels and place them.
Ask your child to name what the things do, or their “actions.”
Point out that “actions” are called Verbs.
Write labels and place them.
Ask your child to describe the things.  Point out that “describing words” are called Adjectives.
Write labels and place them.

Note:  Some nouns will also be adjectives.  Example: Pick an apple from the apple tree.

You can add on to this activity as the child learns more parts of speech:  Pronouns, Adverbs, Prepositional Phrases, complex Noun ideas such as common v. proper, concrete v. abstract, singular v. plural, etc. (A complete list of Grammar Concepts.)

The Extension

If your child enjoys setting up elaborate play-scenes, use them as a jumping-off point for storytelling. Choosing adjectives and verbs for the characters may inspire her to create a longer, more elaborate story.  Encourage your child to tell you her story, and write it down.  Later you might want to copy the story into a “book” (a small stack of paper folded in half and stapled). One of my children created many of these books, some of which were illustrated and read over and over again!


Clay Miniatures

One of my goals in teaching my kids to do crafts is to help them discover hobbies they can do for life.  To that end, we don’t do a lot of “kid crafts.”  I try to find simple versions of adult crafts for them to practice, and eventually grow into.  My oldest daughter discovered this form of clay crafting on her own; it has since become a family favorite.

The Idea

Create dollhouse (or fairy-house) sized miniature objects from clay.  These objects can then be used in play or other learning activities.

mini clay pieces

A selection of mini clay projects from my oldest daughter’s collection.

The Execution


  • Sculpey Clay (oven-drying)
    • We usually stock up when Michael’s puts the individual color blocks on sale.
  • Pasta Machine
    • Optional, but lots of fun and very useful; my oldest daughter received the Atlas machine as a Christmas gift one year.
  • Rolling pin if you don’t have a pasta machine
  • Basic clay tools
    • We like plastic ones like these, and these are good for older or more advanced crafters

One fun and simple project to start with is clay “canes.”

  • First “condition” the clay by passing it through the pasta machine (or rolling flat with a rolling pin) several times.  This softens the clay and makes it more pliable.  My kids could spend hours passing clay through the pasta machine.
  • Next, create a cane using one of these Simple Polymer Clay Canes tutorials.  Allow imperfections in the canes for younger kids; they turn out very artsy looking!
  • Slice the canes as described in the above tutorial.  You can make “cookie” slices for dolls, or thicker slices for “beads.”  (If beads, poke a hole through each one with a thick needle before baking.)  Thick slices can also be used as counters for games or math manipulatives.
  • Bake and cool as directed on the package.
mini clay beads

We created a garland out of Jellyroll Cane Beads, perler (hama) beads, and homemade pom-poms.

The Extension

A more complicated cane to make can be found on this Flower Clay Canes tutorial.  Some beautiful and highly complex canes can be found on Polymer Clay Workshop.

Tutorials for making an endless variety of miniature clay food can be found on the internet.  Many of these require additional supplies such as pastels, glazes, and resins. Some of our favorites:

Miniature Clay Food Tutorials (Pinterest)
Simply Stella
Dollhouse Bread and Snow-cones

Another fun project my daughter enjoyed was creating miniature clay koi ponds.  The stones are aquarium gravel, and the “water” is clear resin.  Tutorials for this project can be found on Small Creations and My Tiny World.

mini clay pond

Bits and pieces of clay projects can be reassembled into dioramas, such as this mermaid cavern.

mini clay mermaid

Drawing Spirolaterals

This activity can be done with any young child who can count and draw a straight line.  However, the math behind it is quite advanced, for the curious student who wants to dig deeper.

The Idea

Learn to draw spirolaterals, or “square spirals,” to explore the intersection of pattern and numbers.  A spirolateral starts with a segment of length 1, then turns to create a segment of length 2, then a turn and length of 3, etc.     End results vary based on the length and number of segments.

spiro image

Spirolateral of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9.  The black dot is the starting point for the square spiral.

The Execution


graph paper
pencil & eraser

Read through this tutorial on How to Draw Spirolaterals.  Draw with pencil until you get the hang of it and start seeing the patterns.

Older children can start with regular graph paper.  Younger ones benefit from larger squares, such as this 1/2″ grid paper from Print Free Graph Paper.

The triangular spirolaterals are best for older children, or in pencil … it took me a few tries to get them right!

Some questions to explore:

Why do the spirolaterals based on multiples of 4 not work out? (Because you are making a square with 4 sides, and thus ending back where you started).

What other patterns do you see?

What happens if you skip numbers? (1, 3, 5 instead of 1, 2, 3, for example)

The Extension

Online software that can plot basic spirolaterals

Mathematical Definition:

From Wolfram: Spirolaterals as a subset of Mathematical Images

Inspiration for further exploration (from Robert Krawczyk, the spirolateral expert)

The Art of Spirolateral Reversals (pdf)

Spirolaterals, Complexity From Simplicity (pdf)

Curved Spirolaterals

Magnetic Poetry

Doesn’t everyone have a set of these from the 90s?  Here’s one activity to make use of them again.

The Idea

When teaching grammar concepts, I try to separate the grammar activity from handwriting.  At young ages, handwriting still takes up so much brainpower that not much else gets through.  These poetry tiles are a great way to play with words without tiring little hands. At the very end, after the learning has taken place, the child can practice writing, if desired.  This activity is intended for a student who already has a good grasp of the parts of speech.  It should not be your first grammar activity.

The Execution

1. Find some nouns.  Find some verbs.  Pair nouns with verbs.  This step could be your entire activity (see The Extension below).  If you proceed to the next step and meet resistance, tread water here for a while.

Magnetic Poetry 1

3 nouns + 3 verbs

2. Add articles (“the, a, an”) and conjunctions (“and, but, or”).

Magnetic Poetry 2

Add articles and conjunctions

3. Add adjectives

Magnetic Poetry 3

Add adjectives.

4. Rearrange as desired into a poem.

Magnetic Poetry 4

Rearranged and tweaked with new words.


5. Copy onto paper (most likely at a later date).


My son wanted to circle the nouns (blue) and verbs (red).

The Extension

If your student enjoys this activity, come back to it each time you learn a new grammar concept.  One possible progression:

-find nouns
-find verbs
-pair nouns and verbs
-find adjectives
-pair nouns and adjectives
-create adverbs (there are a few -ly tiles in my set)
-pair verbs and adverbs
-pair verbs and nouns (as direct objects)

Today’s Doodles

Our landlord is doing major renovations when we move out this summer, so many days we have workers measuring, quoting, and digging into parts of my house I really don’t want exposed!  Not a lot of school work gets done.   This morning was one of those days, and a perfect time to corral the kids around the kitchen table and work on our Doodles.

“Real” Zentangles aren’t supposed to have color.  But we like color.  Keep in mind that these are only 2.5 x 3.5 inches (trading card size).

I also created a Master Doodle Template so my littlest ones can practice just filling in patterns. (For best results, print on cardstock paper.  Cut into 2.5 x 3.5 rectangles.)  They like to refer to a page of patterns like our Master Doodle Patterns.

zen patterns 13

Age 8

zen patterns 14

Age 6

zen patterns 11

Age 6

zen patterns

Age 14

Noun Collecting

The Idea

Introduce the concept of nouns by going on a treasure hunt in the house.  In the younger years, all grammar work needs to start tangible, not abstract.  Don’t ask your child to point out a noun in a piece of writing until they have a firm grasp on what it is.

The Execution

Ways to make a Noun Collection:

Gather a pillowcases full of nouns
Find nouns in a certain room (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom)
Find nouns in a certain category (person, place, thing)
Find nouns in a certain activity (basketball, swimming goggles)

Once a child understands the concept of a noun, Noun Collections can be made on paper:

Find nouns in a favorite book.
Find nous in a favorite song.
Find nouns that start with a certain letter.

Noun Collection

A box of nouns from the playroom.

Things To Do with a Noun Collection*:

Draw a picture
Create a book of pictures (Book of Nouns, Book of Verbs, etc)
Dictate list to mom
Copy/write list
Create a book of lists
Write a poem using the list
Write a story using the list

 *Depends on the skill level and interest of the child

Noun List 2

A bedroom Noun Collection used as copywork.

The Extension

Use Noun Collecting to learn about other noun concepts:

Find plural or collective nouns.
Find common nouns and list their proper names.
Find abstract nouns in a poem or song (love, truth, honor)

Common & Proper Nouns

A list of common and proper nouns dictated to Mom.


Purposeful Doodling

The Idea

If you have a student who enjoys doodling, don’t view it as a waste of time.  Doodling is a gateway to developing fine motor skills.  While letter formation is an important part of handwriting, letters won’t happen until the child develops hand muscle strength, precision, and endurance.   Some children might enjoy writing endless strings of letters to build up hand strength, but if you have a creative little person they will most likely balk at such a waste of time.

Many adults enjoy a meditative type of doodling called Zentangle.  If you search for “zentangle patterns” on the internet, many of the patterns will be too complicated for children.  However, there are plenty of patterns that kids can learn and enjoy.  I have enjoyed a book called One Zentangle a Day.  As I worked through the book, I taught my kids patterns I thought they would like, and made a notebook of favorite patterns for future reference.

Some of our favorite patterns for kids.

The Execution

Start with a small square of paper.  Zentangle uses 3.5″x3.5″.  Personally, I cut cardstock into trading-card sized pieces so that I can store them in trading-card albums.  (Some doodlers prefer a larger piece of paper, but the small size is less intimidating.)  Use a pencil to draw a shape on the paper.  Fill it in with doodles and patterns.  The best pen to use is a black Micron pen, size 01.  However, we often resort to fine Sharpie pens as well, or any other fine tip marker.

See some of our Doodles here.

For very little ones, it might be easier to start with a pre-drawn template (print on cardstock and cut into 2.5 x 3.5in rectangles).

The Extension

Many graphic designers use zentangle-like patterns in their work.  We often find an artist we like and copy their ideas.

ER_08       julia rothman