Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Developing Object Permanence Skills in the Montessori Environment

NAMC Montessori developing object permanence girl with box and ball

Have you ever played peekaboo with an infant or toddler? I love to hear that gurgle of laughter every time the person hiding appears. Why does this game appeal so much to young children? Adults know that when someone ducks out of view does, he has not disappeared forever, but for the young child, it truly is a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” When something is gone from sight, it no longer exists for the child.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget believed that the development of object permanence, or the ability to understand that objects exist even when not seen, is one of an infant’s primary developmental accomplishments.
Based on his observations Piaget determined that infants learn about their world through their senses – vision, touch, taste, sound, and movement.

The Object Permanence Box - Montessori Activity and Presentation for Infants and Toddlers

The object permanence box is often found in the Montessori infant/toddler environment. It is introduced to children when they are old enough to sit up without assistance, generally around 8–12 months of age. The direct aim of the material is to help children develop their sense of object permanence. It also indirectly helps them develop focus and concentration and gives them practice developing fine motor skills through the whole-hand grasp.

NAMC Montessori developing object permanence girl with box and ball

NAMC student Susan Purdy kindly sent us a video of her granddaughter Carina working with her object permanence box in her home. Although she was not quite one year old when the video was taken, Carina worked with the material for 45 minutes. While you watch the video, consider what other objectives this simple material satisfies.

When I viewed the video for the first time, I smiled over the joy that is apparent in young Carina’s face. Her concentration is evident as she carefully places the ball in the hole. I love how she knows she can place the ball in the hole from any position, but her sense of order keeps her returning to sit in front of the material. She also experiments with using either hand but goes back to using her original hand after a while. Through focused repetition, Carina is also learning about cause and effect. She sees that when she places the ball in the hole, it appears directly in front of her. However, when she misses, the ball ends up elsewhere and she has to retrieve it.

As you can see, a lot of learning is happening as Carina uses the object permanence box, which makes it a beneficial material to add to the shelves in your Montessori infant/toddler environment. When presenting the object permanence box, remember to keep your presentation short so you have the child’s full attention. Very few words are necessary other than naming the box and the ball, although you may also choose to introduce the words “in” and “out.”

Presentation of the Montessori Object Permanence Box

1. Put the work mat in place and put the object permanence box on the work mat so it will be in front of the child. Encourage the child to help.

2. Sit facing the child with the work mat between you.

3. Name the box and the ball: “This is the box. This is the ball.”

4. Slowly and deliberately place the ball in the hole.

5. When the ball rolls to a stop in the tray, smile and pick it up.

6. Repeat the action.

7. Invite the child to place the ball in the hole.

8. Once the child begins putting the ball in the hole, quietly move aside and allow her to work undisturbed.

9. When finished, invite the child to put the materials away on a low shelf so she may work with them again when she wishes.

If you would like to learn more about object permanence boxes and other traditional Montessori Infant/Toddler materials, click here to read Traditional Montessori Materials in the Infant/Toddler Environment.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, January 22, 2014.


  1. Is a child that young able to carry the box to the shelf independently?

  2. Thank you for your comment and for bringing up a good point. At first, you would go with the child to get and return the material. But it should always be on a shelf that is accessible to the child. When they are ready, and with practice of course, you will find that they will carry the material independently and return it the area when they are finished. They learn that this is part of the routine of the activity. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of concentration and muscle coordination so it takes time and patience, but it does happen!

  3. I have a question about the object permanence box. I have introduced it to my son at 8 monts old, but he was constantly puting the ball into his mouth. He is now one year old and still puting the ball into his mouth, so I am wondering what I am doing wrong?

    I would be very happy if you can give me some advice?


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