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

Adding Doubles

This is one of the first math activities I do with my children, usually starting around age 4 or 5.  It is simple enough for little ones, but is easily customized for older kids as well.  (See The Extension below).

The Idea

Use things found in the natural world (or the child’s world!) to expose him to early addition.  We memorize all the “doubles” math facts early on.  Later they can move to “doubles +1,” “doubles-1,” etc.


The Execution

Print pictures that show doubles addition.   If you are artistic, draw a picture.  If your child is artistic, let him draw a picture.  (To find pictures on the internet, search Google > Images.  Then choose Search Tools > Type > Line Drawing.) You can use paint, handprints, stamps, or any other medium your child enjoys. Label and write the math fact on the paper.  (See picture above).  In the early years I will usually label and write for my kids.  As they get a little older and better at numerals they can do it if desired. Display the picture for reference, or slide it into plastic protectors and make a “math fact book.”



Any 4 legged animal.  Label the legs “1, 2, 3, 4.”  Others ideas: car.


Insects, like this Bumblebee.  Label the legs “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.”
Other ideas: construction vehicle, train, flowers.


Spiders, like this one.  Label the legs, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.”
Other ideas: trains, flowers with 2 layers of 4 petals.


Trace 2 hands or 2 feet. Label the fingers/toes “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.”
Other ideas: flowers with 2 layers of 5 petals.


A dozen eggs.  Label the eggs, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.”
Other ideas: flowers with 2 layers of 6 petals.


Trace 10 fingers and 10 toes. Label.


The Extension

Teaching strategies using “doubles.”

Once the child knows the “doubles” facts well, she can practice them on worksheets using doubles.

This same method can be used for older children to investigate multiplication facts.

Reading Aloud

As a child, I loved to read.  When my parents punished me, they would take away my books for extended periods, hoping to force me outside to play and socialize.  It didn’t work: I would read cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, clothes tags, and books I had hidden under the towels in the bathroom. When I was pregnant with my first child, I fantasized about sharing all these wonderful books with my children. They would sit perfectly still, gazing at me with rapture in their eyes as the stories unfolded.

Parent disillusionment #1: I hated reading aloud. Followed quickly by parent disillusionment #2: Why don’t they sit still!?

After stubbornly battling my energetic oldest child for years, I learned the truths and tricks of reading to young children.  And I learned how to accommodate my own dislike of using my voice for extended periods.

Truth #1 – Many kids hear and retain better when their hands are busy.

playing quietly

This truth really bothered me, because it just didn’t seem possible.  How could they listen if they were focusing on something else?  Then I realized that some of my favorite times to listen to audio books were when I was busy.  While driving in the car, while doing light housework.  I tested this idea several times, checking comprehension while doing various tasks. It turned out to be especially effective with my oldest and youngest children, who are the most creative and energetic.

Below are some activities we now enjoy while reading aloud.  You will need to have practiced these activities in the past and be proficient enough that they are somewhat mindless and don’t need interruptions for help.

Doodling – Random drawing, or more purposeful doodling
Friendship  or Paracord bracelets (my boys love these)
Knitting or Crocheting
Cross-stitch or Embroidery
Painting fingernails
Shining silver
Play with a favorite toy (trains, cars, etc)

An alternative is to catch your children at their naturally quiet times of the day (morning, afternoon, or night) and read at those times.

Truth #2 – You don’t have to like reading aloud to do it!

I just don’t like using my voice.  I dislike talking, I’m not chatty, and I really hate saying the same thing twice. My throat can get scratchy from one chapter of a children’s book!  Still, I firmly believe in reading aloud.  I know that children’s decoding doesn’t catch up to their comprehension until the young teens, so I like to always be challenging their minds with luscious, rich stories. Here’s how I do it (with lots of hot drinks and help from technology!):

Child #4 is a early bird.  He can wake up as early as 5:00am, so many days I will make my coffee and sit and read with him.  He prefers to practice his own reading at bedtime.

Child #3 loves long bedtime stories with me.  I drink a cup of peppermint tea while she gets ready for bed, and we cuddle up and read a long chapter or two.

Child #2 is currently on a friendship bracelet jag.  Just after lunch he likes to pull out his supplies and listen to a book.  He does the rest of his reading on his own.

Child #1 is a teenage night owl and often struggles to go to sleep.  We have built an audio book library on her kindle with, so she usually listens to books for an hour or two at night while going to sleep.

In addition to these individual reading times, I also try to read aloud (with the three youngest) during mid-morning while they are doing an activity.  By spreading out the reading times across the day, we have been able to build memories, and make our way through a long list of books!

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

Art as Medicine

Growing up, I was not an artist.  I was a reader, a musician, and a thinker.  My sister was the artist, the athlete, and the dancer.  As an adult, I didn’t do anything artistic.  I worked as an engineer and made spreadsheets as a hobby.   I really don’t like museums.  I truly loathe live musical performances (although I do enjoy the music on my own time).

But having children changes you, and one of the things I have learned is the value of art in the lives of my children.  It gives them time and space to think and experiment without fear of failure.  It gives us time together, sitting around the table, to talk and create things as a family.

Several years ago I walked into our school space and saw a mess of art supplies left by my oldest. I probably heaved a sigh and started to clean it up, only to happen upon this:

9-1-1 painting

We hadn’t even talked about 9-11, but she printed pictures off the internet and had her own time of contemplation.

A few years later we were transferred overseas, and had to leave our beloved Florida home.  The kids were terribly sad to leave their friends and say good-bye to the only home most of them remembered (we move a lot…).  We spent a few weeks creating a piece of Florida to take with us.  They each picked out a favorite animal.  We hung a piece of butcher paper on the wall and laid a tarp on the floor..  I sketched, they painted.

florida wall paint

Soon after we arrived in the UK, the kids were going stir crazy because they didn’t have any friends.  They decided to make “paper friends.”  This picture is 2 of the perhaps 8 paper friends that were made — complete with packing tape — and played with nonstop for several weeks.

paper people

Don’t leave out art!  Don’t fear the mess.  We keep a tarp, supplies, and a few of dad’s old t-shirts (art smocks!) in an easy place, and haul it all out at least one day a week.  I provide a structured art experience usually once a month, and the rest of the time they are free to explore.


Hundred Board Math

There are two schools of thought concerning early math.  One is to teach memorization early and allow understanding to dawn later.  The other is to teach understanding first and allow memorization to occur naturally through use.  We tend to fall in the second camp, although I will say that it likely depends on the child.  Most of our Math Activities create an environment where the child has a chance to explore and make connections naturally.

The Idea

Use Hundred Boards, coins, and counters to allow children to explore numbers.

100 board

The Execution

Counting From 1 to 100

Place pennies on numbers from 1 to 100. As simple as it seems, this activity seriously entertains my kids for a good 15-20 minutes or more. You can start this activity as soon as the child understands not to eat the coins! It’s not important they do it in order at first, but at some point you may wish to model it that way. As my children have done this activity (from ages 3 to 6) their knowledge of number sequencing has grown. Not only do they learn to count to 100, but they notice the transitions from 9-10, 19-20, etc. They practice ending a row, then moving down and left to start a new row. They start to understand that “12” is not the same as “21,” and have a concept of the 20s, the 30s, etc.

Trading Pennies for Dimes

Fill the board with pennies. Have the child count out 10 pennies from a row, and trade it in for a dime. Place the dime on the 10, 20, etc. This activity is a great pre-concept for regrouping (carrying and borrowing).

Skip Counting

Use transparent plastic counters instead of pennies.  Place counters on 1 to 20.  Remove every other counter.  Count out loud the numbers that are covered.  Practice evens, odds, count by 3s, 4s, 5s, etc.

Simple Addition

Example: Using the transparent counters, place 3 counters on 1-3.  Ask the child to add 2 more counters.  On what number do they end?

Free Play

Bring this activity out occasionally without instructions.  Let them explore and discover.  My kids like to put pennies on all the numbers that have a 5, have a 2, etc.  They also like to make patterns.

The Extension

After spending a few months playing with the board, start to translate the concepts to paper.  We will perform the activity on the board (like Simple Addition) and then write it on paper as we go.  If the work on paper is confusing, go back to just the manipulatives, and try again in a month.

Trading Pennies for Dimes is an activity you will want to pull back out when you start regrouping with addition (I’ll post an example of this activity at a later time).

Magic Potion Station

The Idea

Create a new experience with the same old baking soda + vinegar science project.

mini magic potion

This is our “Mini Magic Potion Station” that stays in one pan.

The Execution


  • baking soda
  • distilled vinegar
  • food coloring
  • droppers (I have some left over from infant medicines)
  • stirrers (we use toothpicks)
  • containers to hold baking soda
  • containers to hold vinegar
  • containers for mixing

Add food coloring to several different batches of baking soda.  A muffin tin is good for separating colors.  Add food coloring to a flask or two of distilled (or malt) vinegar.   Make sure you have a nice thick tarp or towel under the experiment area.  My kids love to make “swirlies” with the different colors.

The Extension

Add other liquids for experimentation (such as vegetable oil).

Set up an Outside Potion Station.

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)

Art Tarp for Posterity

This is a painter’s canvas drop cloth from Home Depot.  It goes on our big table every time we do an art project. It hasn’t been washed in 6 years!  One day, when my kids are all grown, I may have it stretched and framed as a memento of the journey.

(My cloth is large, similar to this one.  I have it folded over twice for extra thickness.)

art tarp