Learning the various land and water forms is an integral part of the Montessori physical geography curriculum. Not only is it important academically but it’s also a lot of fun for the kids. In addition, the activities are hands-on and they get to learn about several of the most fascinating topographical formations our planet has to offer.

In this lesson guide, designed for ages 3 to 9, we will cover some of the most common yet interesting forms of land and water, compare some similarities, and reinforce the lessons with a variety of activities and games. By the end, your children will not only be wiser but they will be motivated to learn about our wonderful world and do some exploring of their own!

This is an expansion lesson on the Montessori geography curriculum. Before continuing, you may want to have a look at our article on Montessori Geography and complete the activities in it.

In it you will have covered the following steps:

  • An introduction to the universe, our solar system, and the Earth
  • The globe of the continents
  • The continents puzzle
  • Physical geography
  • Cultural geography

A strict interpretation of the Montessori curriculum would also include:

  • Sandpaper globe
  • Continent globe
  • Puzzle map of the hemispheres
  • Animals of the world
  • Puzzle map of own continent
  • Puzzle map of own country
  • Introduction to the three elements

Here is a link to Moteaco for more resources.

Go into the wild

In accordance with Montessori philosophy, the impact of all learning is greatly amplified by exposing the children to reality. Thus, by checking out your local topography first you can make a big impression on the children’s desire to learn and inspire them to delve deeper into the subject.

If you have coastline where you live, talk about the different shapes and formations of peninsulas, bays, and coves. Moreover, remark on the surrounding cliffs and how the ocean has played a role through erosion in their formation.

Family outings are a great way for kids to become aware of the environment around them

For the inland dwellers, take a trip to the mountains or countryside and point out all the variety of hills and lakes in the area. Receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age probably shaped most of them. Consequently, you’d be surprised by how many land and water forms you’ll encounter. To make it even more personal, take pictures and print them out for the next lesson.


Introducing the land and water forms

There are two levels of lessons in this article, for 3-5 year-olds and 6-9 year-olds. For the little ones, starting with the paired land and water forms is simpler to understand and follows the Montessori guidelines. Some schools will leave out some of the shapes but we left them in for you to decide whether to use them or not.

You’ll notice there are several long and difficult words to pronounce in the list. Make this a fun game and you’ll be able to get them laughing about their strange sounds. As a result, you’ll help their absorbent minds turn these unusual words into active vocabulary with repetition and practice.

The paired forms:

  • island and lake
  • cape and bay
  • archipelago and system of lakes
  • gulf and peninsula
  • isthmus and strait

Clay and water trays

As children take in what they’re learning by feeling and touching, we begin this lesson with a crafts activity. This is a great opportunity to sit and have fun with your child making the pairs of land and water forms in the plastic trays with clay or plasticine.

After making the five pairs of trays, we select one pair and follow the procedures below:


First, you add some water to a pitcher and put blue food coloring in it. Pour the water into the container with the first landform, in this case, the island.


Say: “This is an island. It is a landform surrounded on all sides by water. Can you say island?”

Then have your child pour the water for the water form and repeat.

Say: “This is a lake. It is a water form surrounded on all sides by land. Can you say lake?”

Next, you say:

“Can you show me an island?”

Then, you say:

“Can you show me a lake?”

Then, you ask:

“What is this?” for each.

This video demonstrates the process perfectly:

Once you have gone through each pair its a good idea to review them all before moving on to the next phase of the lesson. Additionally, we should check for comprehension and pronunciation. If they have had any difficulties, don’t worry, the next part will reinforce what they have learned.


Implementing the 3-part cards

Now we move on to the nomenclature cards. If you have never worked with the 3-part cards before here is an article that explains how to use them.

They are designed to reinforce the learning and allow the kids to relate abstract concepts to concrete concepts. The cards are both graphically designed and photographic, relating each form with a famous natural wonder.

This is a fun matching game for the 3 to 5-year-olds

We start by arranging one pair of land and water forms trays at a time on the floor or a table. Next, mix up their 3-part cards in a basket or bowl and have them take out a control card. They should match them to each corresponding form.

After laying out the control cards, if your child is older, have them read the cards aloud. If not, you should read the names for them, just as a review. From here, follow the 3-part card procedures.

Some of the forms can be a little confusing for the kids, like the difference between a peninsula and a cape. For this reason, I found it best to show the graphic card with the photo card as they are very similar and explain the difference. A peninsula is longer and thinner than a cape, a river is wider and longer than a stream, etc.

The photographic cards

Once all the pairs of land and water forms have been covered with the graphically designed cards, move on to the photo cards. This is our opportunity to compare the photo cards both with the containers of plasticine and the photos we took on our family outing. They can talk about the differences and the similarities of each formation.

Having learned the principles of land and water forms with the trays, they should have an easier time associating the graphic forms with the realistic ones. You should notice an increase in attention and excitement as the photo cards have pictures of amazing natural wonders from all over the globe.


Advanced land and water form lesson

The older kids (6 to 9-year-olds) could easily review past lessons with the exercise from above. But they need something more challenging and that’s where the full set of land and water form cards comes into play. This list is meant as an advanced lesson and could be done over several sessions.


  • Island
  • Cape
  • Archipelago
  • Peninsula
  • Isthmus
  • Mountain
  • Hill
  • Valley
  • Mesa
  • Canyon
  • Cliff

Water forms:

  • Lake
  • Bay
  • Cove
  • System of lakes
  • Gulf
  • Strait
  • River
  • Stream
  • Delta

As stated in the 3-part card article, you should work in groups of five. Start with just the graphically designed cards, then use the plasticine and photo cards as expansion tools.

Every child learns at a different pace, so it’s very important to stay alert and observe his or her emotions. We have found some additional reinforcing activities for you to include should your child have some difficulties with the initial plasticine and nomenclature cards exercises.

 Further resources and activities

 Books and cards


This is a fun book we found on Amazon should you feel like using more story time activities to review the various forms.





This is a book by a renown Montessori author Mary Da Prato and uses the principles of Montessori to explain the exact steps to take when tackling this topic.





For even more advanced landform cards this is another good activity to include in your lesson for the 6 to 9-year-olds.



As an alternative to plasticine, a great hands-on and fun way of doing this lesson is using the same trays and fill them with sand and water to make the different forms. Kids love getting dirty and it’s a great way of getting them active during the lesson. 

Free printable: 5 pairs of land and water forms

In our free printables page, you can find a free set of land and water forms cards as well as the fun facts pdf. We hope you enjoy them!




133 replies
« Older Comments
  1. Avatar
    Bobbie Hallberg says:

    This would SO great for our family as we move all over every 3 years! Such a fun and interactive way of learning geography.

« Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.