Practical Life: Carrying a Tray

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We are nearing the end of our series on basic Montessori Practical Life lessons, which is helping to lay the foundation for more exciting Practical Life work, like our Hammering Activity last week.

This week, we are learning how to teach a child to carry a tray, the Montessori way! (A guest post from Beth Holley!)

Teach Your Child How to Carry a Tray the Montessori Way - part of a Montessori practical life lessons series, teaching children orderly & purposeful work


So far in our Montessori Practical Life series, we’ve introduced the idea of “preliminary exercises.” The preliminary activities are done to develop a skill that’s included in further work. So far we’ve shown handling a chair and rolling our work rugs. These actions are not done for their own sake, but as part of other activities.

Today we’ll move on to a preliminary activity that requires a few more objects, such as a small tray and some objects to place on the tray.

In a Montessori environment,we store all the lovely materials on open shelves, so that the child can see and choose (decision–making!) what she would like to do. To keep things tidy and organized, we separate many activities on trays or in other containers.

Balancing objects on a tray, especially objects with weight or height, can be challenging. So we offer the chance to practice, creating a sense of success. Success leads to interest, which leads to work, which leads to development.

This lesson write–up has more than one stage. Depending upon the child’s success, the graded exercises below may be presented over time.

Teach Your Child How to Carry a Tray the Montessori Way - part of a Montessori practical life lessons series, teaching children orderly & purposeful work

How to Carry a Tray

Direct Purpose: to develop the control needed to balance objects on a tray;

Indirect Purpose: independence and concentration.


  • a child-sized tray with a slight edge or lip for grasping, 12” or less inwidth;
  • a sponge;
  • a small, non-breakable, light-weight jar;
  • a taller and thinner item of breakable material (flower vase);
  • a small breakable pitcher, first empty, then 3⁄4 full of water

Age: 2 1⁄2 – 4


Practical Life Presentation: Exercise 1: Sponge

1. Say, “Watch while I show you how to carry something on a tray.”

2. Place the sponge on the tray.

3. Lift the tray with thumbs on top of the lip, fingers on the bottom, and elbows close to but not touching your body. Hold it about waist high.

4. Walk slowly to a table, while keeping the tray level, and at the same time looking in front of you.

5. Arrive at the table; slowly lower the tray and softly place it on the table, while sliding your fingers from under the tray.

6. Invite the child to carry the tray to another table.

7. If the child is successful, move on to demonstrating the next heavier object.


Exercise 2: Light-weight Jar

Proceed as in exercise 1, placing the slightly heavier object in the center of the tray. If the child is successful with exercise 2, move on to demonstrating the taller, thinner object.


Exercise 3: Taller, Thinner Item (Flower Vase)

Proceed as in exercise 2, placing the slightly taller object in the center of the tray. If the child is successful with exercise 3, move on to demonstrating the pitcher.


Exercise 4: Pitcher

Proceed as in exercise 3, placing the empty pitcher in the center of the tray. If the child is successful with the empty pitcher, move on to demonstrating the 3⁄4 full pitcher.


Points of Interest:

Does the child walk slowly and look in front of her?

Does she keep the tray level when picking up, carrying, and putting down?

Does she place it gently?

Can she balance and hold the weight such that objects don’t slide or topple over?

Is she steady enough such that the water doesn’t slosh about?

Montessori Practical Life Lesson: how to carry a tray


We use breakable objects to create a real “control of error.” If an object slides off and breaks, the child becomes more aware of the need to balance. The teacher is always gentle and impartial when items break. She says calmly and simply, “I will help you clean up the pieces.” If other children are available, they will often help too.

Can you think of other practical life skills requiring a special way of carrying things?

Cups and saucers? Cutlery? Scissors? Buckets? There are many possibilities for “preliminary exercises”!

To learn more about Montessori theory, please visit Beth’s blog A Montessori Lexicon or you can also find me on Teachers Pay Teachers.


If you liked this post, be sure to check out the rest of our Practical Life activities and subscribe for daily or weekly post updates!

Did you enjoy this Montessori Practical Life Lesson? Next up are the Spooning Exercise and Analysis of Movement.

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