10 Essential Thematic Hands-on Units to Include in Your Yearly Preschool Curriculum – A Comprehensive Guide

As a preschool teacher, designing a curriculum that caters to the educational and developmental needs of your young learners can be quite challenging. However, creating a thematic-based curriculum can help ensure that your students receive a comprehensive and well-rounded education across various content areas. This blog post presents a guide to the 10 essential thematic units you may like to incorporate into your yearly preschool Montessori inspired curriculum to help you create an effective and engaging learning environment for your little ones.

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Incorporating students’ interests is important in the preschool curriculum because it ensures active engagement of learners and fosters a love for learning. Moreover, by tapping into children’s curiosity and preferences, teachers can enhance their motivation, which ultimately leads to better learning outcomes. On the other hand, themed units for the whole year help establish continuity and provide a sense of coherence in learning. Moreover, thematic units enable teachers to introduce new concepts and encourage children to explore the world around them. Combining both approaches can create a genuinely inclusive and holistic learning environment that caters to students’ unique needs and interests.

As a preschool educator or parent, it can be overwhelming to come up with a comprehensive curriculum for the year. However, breaking down the curriculum into essential thematic units can help simplify the process. Here are 10 essential thematic units that you might like to consider including in your yearly preschool hands on curriculum. But let’s first examine the pros and cons of teaching using thematic units in the classroom.

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Pros of using thematic units in the preschool classroom

  • Integration of Multi-disciplinary Learning: Thematic units allow the integration of multiple areas such as science, literature, art, music, and social studies. This way, children can explore varied topics within a theme and make connections between disciplines.
  • Emotional Connection: Thematic units engage children’s curiosity and connection to the world around them. Children feel more invested in their learning as they explore a topic that interests them.
  • Depth of Learning: A thematic approach ensures that learning is in-depth rather than surface level. Children have the opportunity to learn about a topic in a more comprehensive and meaningful way.
  • Inclusive of Learning Styles: hands on thematic units can cater to different learning styles, with activities that suit the specific needs of each child- auditory, visual, tactile, or kinesthetic learners.
  • Opportunity for Cross-Aged Learning: Thematic units provide the opportunity for mixed-age groups to work together and learn from each other, which develops empathy, enhances social skills, and fosters a sense of community within the preschool classroom.
  • Engaging and Fun: Thematic units are appealing and engaging to children, making learning fun. It creates an exciting learning environment that encourages children to explore, discover, and learn.
  • Flexible and Adaptable: Hands on thematic units are flexible, allowing teachers to modify them based on children’s interests and abilities. This enables teachers to create a curriculum that caters to the developmental requirements of each child.
  • Builds foundational skills: Thematic units provide opportunities to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and other essential skills in the preschool classroom.
  • Meaningful Learning: Thematic units provide children with a purpose for their learning, making them appreciate and understand its relevance in their life, which creates a positive attitude toward learning.
  • Enhances Memory Retention: hands on thematic units integrate interesting and appealing activities that lead to better memory retention for children, enabling them to remember new information for more extended periods.

cons of using thematic units in the preschool classroom

  • Can be too limiting: Thematic units can restrict teachers from providing a well-rounded and comprehensive curriculum. If the teacher spends a considerable amount of time focusing on one specific theme, the children may miss out on other essential topics.
  • Can be challenging to individualize: Thematic units are not always inclusive of every student’s unique needs and interests. A teacher may struggle to personalize the unit to cater to the varying abilities and learning styles of every child in the room, which can lead to a less effective learning experience.
  • Can be overly structured: Thematic units require a great deal of planning and preparation, making them quite structured. This structure may hinder the spontaneity and creativity of the children in the classroom.
  • May lead to rote learning: Thematic units often involve repetitive lessons, which children can quickly become bored with. This can result in rote learning, where children do not truly understand or internalize the information they are being taught.
  • May not align with the Montessori philosophy: The Montessori method emphasizes student-led learning, which may not be fully utilized in a thematic unit setting. Educators may feel restricted in allowing children to explore their own interests and create their own learning opportunities.

So, how can Educators and parents can effectively incorporate thematic units in the preschool classroom?

Choose age-appropriate themes: Select a theme that is developmentally appropriate for the age group you are working with. For example, a theme on plants might be better suited to older preschoolers than younger ones.

Use Montessori materials: Incorporate Montessori materials into your thematic unit whenever possible. For example, if you’re teaching a unit on animals, use Montessori animal puzzles and figurines to encourage hands-on learning.

Plan activities around the theme: Develop activities and lessons that are centered around your theme. For example, if your theme is gardening, plan activities such as seed sorting, planting, and exploring different types of soil.

Provide hands-on experiences: Encourage children to explore their theme through hands-on experiences, such as sensory bins, art projects, and science experiments.

Incorporate literature: Use books that relate to your theme to encourage literacy development. Read stories and non-fiction books that teach children about the theme in an engaging way.

Encourage exploration: Allow children to explore the theme in their own way. Provide open-ended activities that allow for creativity and exploration.

Connect with families: Share information about your thematic unit with families and encourage them to continue learning at home. Provide suggestions for activities that families can do together to reinforce what children are learning in the classroom.

10 Essential Thematic Units you might like to Include in Your Yearly Preschool Hands on Curriculum

1. All About Me Unit

Children love learning about themselves and their families. Use this thematic unit to teach children about their own unique qualities, family traditions, and culture.

As a teacher, designing a hands on thematic unit around the topic of ‘All About Me’ can be an exciting and rewarding experience. The Montessori approach to education prioritizes children’s individual learning needs, creating a personalized and self-paced learning environment. So, designing a unit that focuses on the child as an individual is an excellent way of fostering children’s self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-expression.

Include the Montessori principles

The Montessori approach involves a set of principles that guide teaching and learning. These principles should be incorporated into the ‘All About Me’ theme. For example, the principle of hands-on learning allows children to explore and engage in activities independently. Give children opportunities to participate in activities that engage their senses, such as creating a self-portrait, measuring their height, weighing themselves, and creating a family tree.

Encourage self-expression

Children are unique individuals, each with their personalities, interests, and preferences. Encouraging self-expression is essential when designing a hands on unit centering around children themselves. Provide children with a variety of tools and mediums for expressing themselves, such as paints, clay, pencils, and music. Also, include activities where children can describe themselves, like ‘About Me’ books or posters.

Explore cultural diversity

In an ‘All About Me’ thematic unit, it is essential to remember that each child belongs to a unique, diverse culture. Incorporate diverse books that explore different cultures, and have conversations about different family structures, and languages. Also, have children share aspects of their culture with their classmates through storytelling, food, or music.

Include practical life skills

Practical life skills are integral to the Montessori approach. When designing a unit centered around children themselves, it’s important to incorporate practical life skills such as proper hygiene, dressing, and nutrition. Incorporate activities such as dressing themselves, washing hands, or preparing healthy snacks.

“All About Me” printables

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2. Seasons and Weather Unit

The seasons and weather thematic unit is a fun and engaging topic for preschool students. This unit focuses on teaching children about the different seasons, and weather patterns, and how it affects the environment and our daily life. By incorporating various activities and lessons, children will learn about the world around them and the changes they experience throughout the year.

Here are some ideas to include in your seasons and weather thematic hands on preschool unit:

Seasonal calendar

Create a calendar that displays each season and encourages children to identify which season it is currently. This activity can help children understand the concepts of time and sequence, while also learning about the different seasons and how they affect the environment and weather.

Seasonal clothing

Introduce children to the appropriate clothing for different seasons. Discuss the reasons why certain clothing is worn during each season and how it can help keep them warm or cool.

Weather instruments

Teach children about weather instruments such as a thermometer, barometer, and anemometer. Allow them to experiment with these instruments and record their observations of the temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed.

Weather patterns

Research weather patterns such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Discuss the causes and effects of these weather phenomena and the safety measures needed to stay safe during such storms.

Nature walks

Take children for a nature walk to observe the different signs of each season, such as leaves changing color in the fall or flowers blooming in the spring. Encourage children to collect natural items such as leaves or flowers and use them for art projects.

Seasonal foods

Introduce children to seasonal foods and encourage them to cook or bake with the ingredients. This activity can help children understand the concept of seasonal availability and how different foods grow during different seasons.

Seasonal songs and stories

Read books or sing songs about seasons and weather to reinforce the concepts learned. This activity can help children develop their literacy skills and enhance their understanding of the topic.

Teach children about the different seasons and weather patterns throughout the year. They can learn about the changes in the environment and how to dress appropriately for each season.

Seasons and Weather Unit Themed Printables

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The Earth Goes Around the Sun Montessori Natue Free Printable

3. Animals and Habitats Unit

Teach children about different animals and their habitats. Children can learn about different types of animals, their physical characteristics, and how they adapt to their environment.

Introduce the concept of habitats

The first thing to do when teaching Animals and Habitats is to introduce the concept of habitats. You can explain that animals live in different habitats, such as forests, oceans, deserts, and grasslands. It is important to explain that each habitat has unique characteristics that animals need to survive.

Explore different habitats

Once the children understand the concept of habitats, you can start exploring different habitats and the animals that live there. You can focus on one habitat per week or per day, depending on how in-depth you want to go. Some animals that live in each habitat include elephants, lions, and giraffes in the savannah, or whales, octopuses, and jellyfish in the ocean.

Use Montessori materials

A Montessori approach to teaching Animals and Habitats is by using Montessori materials. For example, a habitat basket can be used to allow children to touch and feel materials that simulate habitats. Another material to use is a puzzle map, where children can learn about the different continents and the habitats present. Montessori materials make learning more engaging and interactive.

Activities related to habitats

Incorporate group activities that relate to the animals and habitats learned. For example, children can make animal masks, or draw large animal pictures for the classroom. They can even work together to create a mural that depicts different animal habitats.

Books and videos

Lastly, reading books and watching videos related to Animals and Habitats can be helpful as well. This way, children can learn about habitats and animals in a fun and engaging manner. Reading books that present different animals and habitats can also open up discussions as to how best we can protect these habitats and care for the creatures inside them.

Animals and Habitats Themed Printables

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Deciduous Forest Biome Characteristics, Animal and Plant Adaptations

4. Community Helpers Unit

Teach children about different community helpers such as police officers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses. They can learn about the important role they play in society and how to be safe in different situations.

This theme is a great way to introduce children to the different kinds of people who work in their community and the roles they play in keeping the community safe and functioning. Here are some of the things you should include in a community helpers thematic hands on preschool unit.

Introduction to Community Helpers

Begin the unit with an introduction to the different kinds of community helpers. Identify the roles of different people in the community, such as police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers, mail carriers, and bus drivers. Discuss the responsibilities of each profession and their contributions to the community.

Montessori Activities

Montessori activities are designed to provide hands-on experiences that allow children to learn through exploration and discovery. Here are some ideas for hands on activities that will help children learn about community helpers:

  • Sorting activity: Provide pictures of different community helpers and have children sort them into groups based on their profession.
  • Dress-up activity: Provide dress-up clothes that represent different community helpers. Children can dress up and role-play different professions.
  • Puzzles and matching activities: Provide puzzles and matching activities that feature pictures of different community helpers and their professions.
  • Community Helper Bingo: Create a bingo game with cards that feature different community helpers. As children identify the helpers, they can mark them off on their bingo card.
  • Community Helper Memory Game: Create a memory game with cards that feature different community helpers. Children can match the helper to their profession.


Books are a great way to introduce children to different community helpers. Look for books that feature stories about different professions and their role in the community. Here are some books to consider:

Community Helpers Field Trip

A field trip to a local fire station, police station, or post office can provide real-world experiences that reinforce the concepts learned in the classroom. Contact the local community helpers and arrange a visit. During the visit, children can meet the community helpers, see their work environment, and learn more about their responsibilities.

Community Helpers Printables

4. Transportation Unit

Teach children about different modes of transportation such as cars, buses, trains, and airplanes. They can learn about the different ways that people travel and the importance of being safe while traveling.

When designing a hands on preschool unit focused on transportation, it’s important to consider a variety of activities and materials that will engage children’s imaginations, encourage exploration and curiosity, and support their overall development. Here are some suggestions for what to include in your transportation-themed unit:

Sensorial activities

Transportation is a rich sensory experience, and there are many ways to incorporate sensory exploration into your unit. For example, set up a “car wash” station with containers of water, soap, and sponges for children to wash toy cars. Additionally, provide opportunities for children to explore different textures and sounds associated with transportation modes, such as different types of wheels or the sounds of a train whistle.

Language and literacy materials

Help develop children’s vocabulary and reading skills through transportation-themed books and language materials. Provide opportunities for children to label and sort different modes of transportation, and to learn new transportation-related vocabulary words.

Scientific exploration

Transportation also provides an excellent opportunity for scientific exploration. Set up experiments and investigations related to gravity, friction, and other scientific concepts that are relevant to moving vehicles. Encourage children to make predictions, test hypotheses, and record their observations.

Art and music activities

Provide materials for children to create transportation-themed art projects, such as building paper airplanes or creating collages using pictures of different transportation modes. Additionally, incorporate transportation-related songs and rhymes into circle time to help develop language skills and encourage movement and coordination.

Practical life activities

Transportation is an integral part of many people’s daily lives, so provide opportunities for children to practice real-life skills related to transportation. For example, create a “bus stop” area where children can practice waiting for and boarding a simulated bus, or set up a small bike path or walking course to practice pedestrian safety skills.

Transportation Printables

Learning activities montessori nature printables hands on diy preschool (46)

6. Plants and Gardening UNIT

Teach children about different types of plants and how they grow. They can learn about gardening and the importance of taking care of plants.

As a preschool teacher, creating thematic units that are both engaging and educational can be challenging. One popular theme for preschoolers is plants and gardening. This theme not only teaches children about the natural world, but also helps develop their fine motor skills and fosters a sense of responsibility and care for living things. Here are some essential elements to include in a plant and gardening hands on unit:

Hands-on learning experiences

Montessori education is all about hands-on learning, and a plant and gardening unit is the perfect opportunity for children to get their hands dirty. Provide opportunities for children to plant seeds, water plants, and care for a classroom garden. Use real gardening tools and encourage children to observe and describe the changes they see in the plants over time.

Literature and language activities

Books about plants and gardening can help expand children’s vocabulary and comprehension skills. Choose books that are appropriate for your students’ reading level and incorporate literacy activities such as retelling the story, word matching, and writing prompts. A gardening-themed dramatic play center is also a fun way to encourage language development.

Scientific exploration

Preschoolers are naturally curious about the world around them, and a gardening unit provides ample opportunities for scientific exploration. Encourage children to use their senses to explore plants and observe their growth over time. Introduce vocabulary words such as photosynthesis, pollination, and composting.

Art and sensory activities

Gardening is a sensory-rich experience, and incorporating art and sensory activities can deepen children’s understanding of the theme. Set up a sensory table with soil, scoops, and small plants for children to explore. Provide opportunities for children to create art inspired by plants and gardens, such as leaf rubbings or painting with flowers.

Practical life skills

Montessori education emphasizes practical life skills, and a gardening unit provides many opportunities for children to practice these skills. Teach children how to properly use gardening tools, water plants, and care for the garden. Encourage children to work together to maintain the garden and take pride in their work.

A plant and gardening thematic unit can be a rewarding and engaging experience for both teachers and students. By incorporating hands-on learning experiences, literature and language activities, scientific exploration, art and sensory activities, and practical life skills, children can develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world and learn important skills that will stay with them for a lifetime.

Plants and Gardening Printables

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7. Holidays and Cultural Celebrations Unit

Children appreciate the excitement and joy of holidays and cultural celebrations. This unit introduces children to a variety of holidays and cultural celebrations, highlighting traditions, foods, music, and other aspects of different cultures.

Comes the holiday season, and it’s a great time to explore celebrations and cultural traditions. It’s an excellent opportunity for preschool teachers to create a thematic unit that is centered around holidays and cultural celebrations.

Multi-cultural exploration

The first thing to keep in mind while celebrating holidays and cultural celebrations in the Montessori classroom is to be inclusive. Nowadays, classrooms are diverse, and each student comes from a different background. So, discuss and explore other cultures and traditions. Introduce students to a variety of customs, foods, and languages from different parts of the world. Make each child feel that their culture is appreciated and valued.

Sensory exploration

During the holidays, it’s important to incorporate sensory exploration into the curriculum. For example, introduce different scents like cinnamon, cloves, and peppermint during the winter holidays. Use different fabrics that reflect different cultures and traditions to let children explore the sense of touch.

Cultural symbols

Cultural symbols add excitement to any holiday unit. Incorporate cultural symbols such as the menorah, Christmas tree, and Diwali lamps to let children explore their significance. You can create activities such as art projects that allow kids to learn how to create these symbols. It’s an opportunity to incorporate fine motor skills as well.

Celebratory food

Food plays a significant role in every culture and tradition. Therefore, incorporate festive foods into the hands on curriculum. Classrooms can have cooking experiences allowing children to explore different foods and ingredients. Allow the students to have a safe and exciting experience in understanding the traditions and tastes of different cultural cuisines.

Books and Literature

A Montessori classroom is full of books for students to explore. Incorporating books that represent different cultures and traditions is essential. It expands the children’s minds and opens them up to different perspectives. Use famous literary works to understand different traditions during holidays, like “The Night Before Christmas,” “The Christmas Story” by Jane Werner Watson, “The Kwanzaa Story,” “My First Diwali,” and “Eid Mubarak, Corduroy.”

Holidays and Cultural Celebrations Printables

Christmas Pack Learning Busy Book Folder Preschool Kindergarten Montessori Nature Printables
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8. Healthy Habits Unit

Teach children about the importance of healthy habits such as exercise, eating healthy, and good hygiene practices. This will help them develop healthy habits from a young age.

When it comes to teaching young children about healthy habits, it’s important to keep their developmental needs in mind. Incorporating Montessori principles into a preschool unit on this topic can be particularly effective, as it allows children to explore and learn at their own pace. Here are some key elements to include in a healthy habits hands on preschool unit:

Hands-on exploration

Activities that allow children to taste healthy foods, practice hand washing techniques, or do stretching poses can all be effective.

Practical life skills

One of the hallmarks of a Montessori education is the emphasis on practical life skills. In a healthy habits unit, this might include learning to cut up fruits and vegetables, practicing pouring water into cups, or setting the table for a healthy meal.

Gardening and nature exploration

Getting outside and exploring nature is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Consider incorporating a gardening component into your healthy habits unit, such as planting herbs or vegetables in a small garden bed or window box.

Mindfulness and self-care

Montessori principles emphasize the importance of mindfulness and self-care, which makes them a natural fit for a healthy habits unit. Consider incorporating activities like guided meditation, silence game, peace table, or journaling into your curriculum.

Collaboration and community

Finally, Montessori education places a strong emphasis on collaboration and community-building. Incorporate activities that allow children to work together to achieve healthy goals, such as planning a healthy meal or creating a healthy snack bar for the classroom.

Healthy Habits Printables

Germs and hygiene printables
emotions a to z cards

9. Continents of the World Unit

As a Montessori teacher, one of the most important parts of the curriculum is teaching children about the continents of the world. This is an exciting and engaging theme for young learners, as it allows them to explore different cultures, foods, animals, and climates from all around the globe. When creating a thematic unit on the continents of the world, there are a few key elements that should be included in order to make the unit interesting, informative, and fun for the students.

Maps and Globes

Start the unit by introducing the children to maps and globes, and teaching them how to locate the continents. This can be done through fun games, such as “find the continent” or “pin the continent on the map.” This will help the children gain a basic understanding of the geography of the world, and prepare them for further exploration.

Culture and Customs

One of the most fascinating aspects of the continents of the world is the diverse range of cultures and customs that exist. While studying each continent, it’s important to introduce the children to the food, music, clothing, and traditions that are unique to that region. This can be done through stories, songs, and hands-on activities, such as cooking traditional dishes, creating traditional crafts, or playing traditional games.

Animals and Habitats

Another important aspect of the continents of the world is the wide range of animals and habitats that exist. Children love learning about exotic and unusual animals, and this can be incorporated into the unit through books, videos, and field trips to local zoos or animal sanctuaries. Additionally, it’s important to teach children about the different environments that animals live in, such as deserts, rainforests, and oceans.

Climate and Weather

As children learn about the different continents, it’s important to also teach them about the different climates and weather patterns that exist. This can be incorporated into the unit through hands-on activities, such as creating weather charts or conducting experiments to simulate different climate conditions. Teachers can also use photos and videos to show children what the weather is like in different parts of the world.

Art and Music

Finally, no thematic unit on the continents of the world would be complete without incorporating art and music. Encourage children to create their own artwork that reflects the cultures and traditions of different continents, or to listen to and perform traditional music from around the globe. This will help children gain a deeper appreciation for the diversity of the world, and encourage them to explore and learn more about different cultures.

Continents of the World Printables

continents of the world

10. Dinosaur Unit

Dinosaurs are fascinating creatures that captivate the interest of young children, making it a perfect theme for preschoolers to explore.

When putting together a dinosaur-themed hands on preschool unit, there are certain key elements to consider:

Introduce the Concept of Dinosaurs

Start by introducing the concept of dinosaurs to your preschoolers through books, videos, and pictures. Show them different types of dinosaurs, and let them identify the different physical features of each type. Encourage the children to ask questions and share their ideas and thoughts about dinosaurs.

Create a Dinosaur Vocabulary

Teach children dinosaur-related vocabulary such as herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, fossils, and paleontologist. Encourage children to use these words as they learn more about dinosaurs. Use pictures or diagrams to help children understand these concepts better.

Dinosaur Stories and Songs

Reading or telling dinosaur stories can help preschoolers learn about different types of dinosaurs and their behaviors. Singing songs that have dinosaur-related lyrics can also add a lot of fun while learning. Encourage children to create their own dinosaur stories and songs during free playtime.

Dinosaur Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts are a great way to foster creativity and hands-on learning. Let children create dinosaurs with clay, paint, or any other material of their choice. Provide materials to create a dinosaur habitat, such as a volcano or forest. These activities can help children learn about the life and habits of dinosaurs while developing their fine motor skills and creativity.

Dinosaur Math and Science Activities

Math and Science activities can help children learn more about dinosaurs. Activities such as counting dinosaur toys, sorting them by size, and categorizing them based on physical features can be fun and educational. Science experiments focused on different dinosaur’s popularity and habitats can include egg hatching challenges and creating a fossil through imprinting techniques.

Dinosaur Outdoor Exploration

Take children on a dinosaur adventure outside where they can explore fossils and dinosaur tracks at the local museum or in parks if available. Let the children play with sand and dig for fossils or create their own dinosaur footprints in the mud. Observe everything outside the classroom that relates to dinosaurs, such as animal footprints.

Dinosaur Printables

Remember that a hands on curriculum should be designed to support and foster children’s natural curiosity and love for learning. The 10 essential thematic units we’ve outlined in this guide provide a great starting point for building a meaningful and impactful curriculum that empowers young children to explore, discover, and grow. By incorporating these themes into your lessons, you can create a stimulating, engaging, and healthy learning environment that supports each child’s unique growth and development, setting them on the path to lifelong success.

learning printables you might find helpful in your classroom

About Anastasia - Anastasia is an early childhood teacher and the founder of Montessori Nature - a blog about Montessori living and learning and nature-based explorations. With many years of experience working in a Montessori environment and homeschooling her children, she directed her passion for all things Montessori and nature into creating educational resources. You can learn more here and browse her printables on Teachers Pay Teachers.