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Learning to use tongs

Our son is now 27 months old. Please note: I use the terms “he” and “him” in this exercise because my child is a boy and I find using “he/she” and “him/her” to be clunky. This activity is based on an exercise in Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child.

This is a basic practical life activity that uses common household items and helps to develop fine-motor skills. By teaching your child to work from left to right, it also helps to set him up for writing and reading from left to right.
Montessori Monday

Materials needed

  • 2 small bowls
  • small pair of tongs
  • cotton balls, pom-poms or beads


  1. Put the dishes side-by-side with the tongs to the right of the bowls.
  2. Fill the left-hand bowl about half-full with the cotton balls, pom-poms or beads.
  3. tongs

  4. With your child seated to the left of you (or to the right if he is left-handed), slowly transfer the objects to the other bowl using the tongs. Be sure to emphasize the opening the closing action of the tongs to your child.
  5. When you have transferred all of the objects into the other bowl, switch the bowls so the filled bowl is on the left again.
  6. Invite your child to try transferring the objects using the tongs.

Safety note: Be sure to supervise your child during this activity, as small objects can be a choking hazard or be inserted into the ears or nose.

Our experience

tongsMy son jumped right in to this exercise, but he did not use the tongs as intended. He was unable to squeeze them together to operate them properly. He was able to transfer the cotton balls into the other bowl even without squeezing the tongs, but after a while he got tired of the tongs and started using his hands. Then, he started dumping the cotton balls from one bowl to the other.

The cotton balls also stuck together, so even when using the tongs, he ended up transferring more than one cotton ball at a time. I think it might be better to use pom-poms or beads since those would be less likely to stick together.


You can vary this exercise easily by changing some of the objects used in it. For example, for a more difficult exercise, you could use egg cups, tweezers and dried peas or lentils. You could also use other small objects such as buttons, coins or beans.

Another extension of this exercise is to use more bowls and objects of varying sizes, shapes and/or colors, allowing your child to sort the objects.

What other toddler activities can you think of using tongs?

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