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Stereognostic bags, otherwise known as Montessori Mystery Bags, are a classic Montessori activity and one that we repeat every couple months in our at-home program.

Because they’re so fun and easy to set up, I often bring this activity with me when I know my three year old might be a little bored, like waiting for the dentist, in restaurants, or in the car. 

So what is a stereognostic bag?

It’s just a small drawstring bag with 3-8 items inside, where you identify the objects in the bag just by touch. 

It’s a great activity to develop language and the stereognostic sense, the ability to determine what an object is just by touch alone, without any of the other senses. 

You use the stereognostic sense all the time, you probably just didn’t know what it was called. Anytime you reach under the couch and feel around for the remote or dig around your bag for your phone, you’re using it.

Improving the stereognostic sense helps children to develop:

  • Spatial awareness and reasoning skills
  • Understanding of dimensions
  • Size and shape discrimination
  • Logical thinking and problem solving
  • The ability to form abstractions

All important skills for mathematical learning down the road. 

How to Set Up A Stereognostic Bag

All that you really need to do for this activity is choose 5-8 items and place them into a drawstring bag. We have this one because it’s easy for toddlers to open and close and it’s a cotton-silk blend so it adds to the sensory experience, but any small drawstring bag will do. 

The younger your child is, the fewer items you’ll want to include. There are also suggestions for what you can include below, based on age. 

If it’s the first time you’ve done this activity, you can do go through the steps first.

Sit beside your child. To encourage interest you could say, “I wonder what is in this bag?”  

Open the bag and put one hand inside. Take your time to feel around inside the bag. Once you have chosen an object, name it before removing it from the bag.  

Repeat until all items have been removed. Once all items have been removed, name each item again while pointing at it. Return each item back to the bag, one at a time, and encourage your child to have a turn. Repeat as many times as you’d like!   

To encourage your child to feel for the object without looking, close your eyes when you put your hand in the bag.    

It can be really fun to use items of interest to your child. 

For instance, my oldest is really into tools so I have a set of the Tools TOOB that I put into the bag. 

Montessori Mystery Bag, Stereognostic Bag, Canada

Notes For Children Ages 12-17 Months

For children 12-17 months, ensure the items are all ones they’re familiar with to make it easier for them to identify. 

You can also choose items from one room of the home that your child is familiar with, i.e. items found in the kitchen. This will develop their classification skills and sense of order.  

During this time of development, this activity will primarily be used to develop language skills and enrich vocabulary. Removing and replacing objects from the bag will also develop their hand-eye coordination and object permanence. 

What to include at this age:

  • Items from nature - acorn, leaf, pinecone, rock, shells
  • Items from around the home
  • Items from the same room in the home

The more different the items, the easier it will be for your child to figure out. 

NOTE that you want to ensure none of the items are dangerous to mouth if your child is still putting things in their mouth. 

Notes For Children Ages 18-24 Months

As your child gets older, you can add more items, around 5-8, as well as unfamiliar items to develop new vocabulary.

What to include at this age:

  • Anything from the 12-17 month list above
  • Animal Figures
  • Other small figures or toys (i.e. different kinds of vehicles)

For Children Ages 24+ Months

Around 2+, you can use pairs of objects so that your child match a pair using only touch, or more difficult items to develop their vocabulary. 

What to include at this age:

  • Anything from the 12-17 and 18-24 month list above
  • Geometric shapes
  • Pairs of items 
  • Letters or numbers

New or unfamiliar objects will be even more challenging so you can really get creative. 

As with any activity, if your child quickly loses interest, it’s likely the activity is too hard or too easy. If that’s the case, reevaluate what you’re including in the bags and try again!

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