How To Use Montessori Flashcards The Right Way

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If you’re a fan of printables like me and have a toddler at home I bet you’ve already seen the Montessori flashcards somewhere. Or at least you’ve heard of them.

I remember the first time I saw a pack was when I was browsing Etsy for kids printables ideas. And it was love at first sight. 

Note: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you buy from my link I might make a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay. See the full affiliate disclosure here.

What I didn’t know at the time was how to actually use them or how old my daughter had to be. I couldn’t find a straightforward answer back then, but if you’re in that same position now, here is what you need to know.

What are the Montessori flashcards?

The best thing about Montessori flashcards is that they can be used in tons of different ways. Here's how to introduce them to your child.

You can see them under many names – flashcards, nomenclature cards, 3-part cards, language cards, classified cards… Their exact size could vary a bit but the principle is all the same. 

Montessori flashcards help kids learn the name of things, understand some basic principles or sequences, learn to classify or match things.

The classic Montessori 3-part cards come in the form of a set where each item has three corresponding parts:

  1. A control (nomenclature) card. The card contains a picture and a label with the name of the item.
  2. A picture card. Contains the picture only.
  3. A label card. Contains the word label only.

The items displayed on the card could be anything from common fruits to different kinds of butterflies to planets.

The cards are also commonly accompanied by objects corresponding to the image. For example a picture of a cat and a small plastic cat.

Who are the flashcards suitable for?

The appropriate age that is suitable for playing with Montessori cards can vary from less than a year old to preschoolers. The recommended way to introduce the cards to each age is defined in six main stages.

Stage 1. Over 10 months old

At this stage, children could be asked to match two identical pictures, i.e. the control card and the image card.

When you first introduce the cards, you may want to start with just three sets of images and gradually increase the number of different images. 

Stage 2. Over 12 months old

If you have purchased a set of Montessori flashcards with corresponding objects you could introduce them about the time the child turns 1 year old. At this age, they should be able to match the image with the relevant object.

However, there are two things I need to note here. 

First, if you haven’t practised the exercise described in Stage 1 and the kid doesn’t know how to match, they may have a more difficult time in the beginning. 

And second, if you’re playing with a homemade set (like we are), you may have to skip this stage since you probably don’t have toys that match the displayed image.

Stage 3. Over 15 months old

Disappointed that you had to skip stage 2? Well, now is the time you can introduce similar objects. 

In essence, ask the kid to pair the image of a cat with any other cat you have around. And by that, I mean a toy figure or another image, although your pet cat will do just fine too.

Stage 4. Over 2 years old

At the age of 2, you are recommended to start using the set as language cards. In other words, show the kid a card and ask them what is shown on it. After that, you may ask them to pair with a suitable object.

Still, if the child is as talkative as mine you could ask them to name some of the cards earlier, whenever you believe they are ready. We have been naming some animal cards since my daughter was a little over 1 year old.

Stage 5. Over 2.5 years old

Kids that are at least 2.5 years old could try a more complicated type of matching – letter to letter. This doesn’t mean that they should know how to read. Just ask them to match the label visually. 

To do this, read the label and then ask them to trace it with their finger. By looking at it carefully they can try to find another label with the same letters written on it.

Stage 6. Over 3.5 years old

The final stage is suitable for reading toddlers. Although personally, I believe that 3.5 may be a little too early to expect a child to read, according to the Montessori method at this stage the child may be able to read the label card and match it to an image card. Afterwards, they could use the control cards as a form of self-correction and see how they’ve done.

For me, this is a little too progressive for a 3.5-year-old, but we’ll see. After all, my older daughter isn’t even 2 years old yet.

Alternative ways to use the flashcards

Montessori flashcards are a great way to improve your toddler's language skills. Here are 4 ways to make them even more engaging.

I don’t have toy figurines for most of our cards. But with a bit of imagination, you don’t really need them. Here are a few different examples of how you could play with the cards.

The sound of the animal

A little before turning 1.5 my daughter started imitating some animals she recognises. We used the flashcards to practice the ones she knows and to learn new ones.

How? I show her the card and ask her what sound this animal makes. Or I tell her how the animal on the picture sounds and then ask her to do it with me.

Shopping list

Once we took some of the fruits and veggies cards with us to the supermarket. I prepared just the items from our shopping list.

When we were in the store I would give her a card and take her to the area this fruit or vegetable is and ask her to find it for me. It was a little difficult for her at first but she got it rather quickly and now she has a lot of fun with it.

Just be sure you’re not in a hurry because shopping this way is not very quick (to say the least).

To the zoo

This summer we plan on taking the kids to the zoo and I’ll try to reverse the groceries game. In essence, whenever we see an animal I will ask her to find the card for it. 

I’ll let you know how this goes.


Flashcards are also a great way to learn colours. You could also ask your toddler to look for items with a specific colour around the house by giving them a colour card.

This may not be as simple as it sounds since they will probably be a different shade of the colour so it would be like the similar objects matching at stage 3.

Montessori-inspired flashcard ideas for your toddler

Looking for alternative toddler fun? Check out these 20 ideas for Montessori flashcards you can create at home.

In case you don’t have time to create your own flashcards you are pretty much limited to what you can find in store. Etsy provides a good variety of cards both physical and printable. 

If you’re DIY crazy like I am, however, when it comes to the type of cards you could introduce, pretty much the sky’s the limit. Here are a few toddler appropriate examples to get you started.

  1. Animals (land vs sea, savanna vs farm)
  2. Fruits (whole fruits, slices of fruits, etc.)
  3. Vegetables
  4. Colours
  5. Shapes
  6. First words/ everyday objects
  7. Land/water/air classification (eg. a field, a sky balloon, a fish, etc.)
  8. Numbers and counting
  9. Letters with objects (A for Apple, B for Bee, etc.)
  10. Body parts
  11. Human emotions (happy face, sad face, angry face)
  12. Vehicles
  13. Professions 
  14. Sports
  15. Musical Instruments
  16. Weather (cloudy, sunny, rain, snow)
  17. Seasons
  18. Themed cards (Christmas related items, Spring related items, etc.)
  19. Common flowers
  20. Lifecycles (of a chicken, butterfly, flower/tree)

If you want to make your own cards but don’t know where to start, check out how I’ve made our cards for some budget-friendly tips and tricks.

What do you think of the Montessori flashcards method? Would you try it at home? Do you have any other ideas on how to use the cards?

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