Exploring nomenclature cards !

In child’s early development we observe a sensitive period when a child needs to « name things ». If adults respond to this hunger for words in an appropriate way, they will help their child build their vocabulary and develop language precision, which will last a lifetime.

Silvana Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being.

Picture books are an excellent learning support for young children. These colourful books help children discover the world, develop their concentration, sharpen their curiosity and enrich their vocabulary by naming the things they see. Picture books are omnipresent in shops. However, I am convinced that most of these books are not adapted to children’s needs and capacities. Let me explain this to you: Here are examples of pictures taken from two different picture books, one is about means of transport and the other about animals:

Pictures The pictures are not detailed enough for young children. This is, in my opinion, a serious problem, especially when you understand the power of an absorbent mind. Young children learn spontaneously from their environment. Sketchy images do not help our little ones understand the world around them and deprive them of many important details that they are capable of integrating in their brains. That is why my husband and I chose Montessori nomenclature cards for our daughter.

What are Montessori nomenclature cards ?

Montessori nomenclature cards are one of the basic tools of Montessori pedagogy. It is a series of cards linked by a common theme. Each image comes in a set of two cards (« the picture » and « the control card »). The image is realistic (usually a photo) with a white background. It is recommended to print the cards in large format so the child can spot the image’s smallest detail. We must remember to use a precise word to describe the picture! Let’s use the above picture books as examples: the word « boat » is used to name one of the pictures. However, this word can describe many means of transport: sailboat, catamaran, barge, liner, ferry… The same situation with the word « pig » which can designate a boar, a sow or a piglet.

When you start using the nomenclature cards with your child, I advise you to choose themes related to his or her daily life, such as fruit, vegetables, clothes, means of transport, cooking utensils or animals… before expanding to more distant and abstract concepts such as planets or continents!

Here are the themes I have already introduced to my two-year-old daughter:

  • Farm animals
  • Wild animals
  • Birds
  • Insects
  • Musical instruments
  • Fruit
  • Garden tools

My daughter, like all children, has always been fascinated by animals. It is therefore natural that we started with animal nomenclature cards (she was 18 months old at that time).

How did I introduce them to her?

As with all Montessori pedagogy activities, your child should be in a good mood: receptive, calm and not stressed. Moreover, the space dedicated to the activity must be free from any other objects so that the child is focused only on the activity in progress.

Before starting the activity, I told my daughter what we would do: « today, I will make you discover the animals of the farm ». Then, I showed her three cards at a time, describing each of them precisely and imitating the sound of the animal. To check that she had learnt the animals, we played the game « Show me… » : I put three cards in front of her and asked her to show me a goat, a cow, a boar… Every time she had memorized her cards, I added new ones and so on…

Activity ideas using the nomenclature cards

Once your child has well integrated the set of cards of a particular theme, we can set up the following activities:

  • Using the cards as a memory game
  • Pairing nomenclature cards


  • Combining Schleich and Holztiger figurines with images, this activity will help your child understand the transition to abstraction

My daughter really enjoyed the above-mentioned activities. They stimulate children’s sense of observation and help develop their mathematical skills (pairing).

They also allow them to exercise their ability to orient themselves in space during the pairing game. Several other activities can be imagined according to the age of your child. At the moment, we are using our farm animals nomenclature cards and the Schleich and Holztiger figurines because we are working on the notion of family. We are also playing a sorting game according to the animal’s habitat: water or land.

Nomenclature cards are not the end of your child’s learning process. They are only replicas of reality. All those beautiful images cannot replace exchanges, experiences and activities related to the real world. Let’s take my daughter as an example: she has been watching and manipulating animal / insect / bird nomenclature carts since she was eighteen months old. This does not mean that when she sees « a real » animal or insect for the first time, she will not be afraid of it. The ideal way would be to study the nomenclature cards and conduct living and dynamic experiences of real life at the same time. Marie-Hélène PLACE, author of many books on Montessori pedagogy emphasizes as follows: « to associate words with the objects they designate, the child needs to manipulate, observe, touch and feel real things ».

Here are some additional activities we did after using animals nomenclature cards:

Visiting a natural history museum


Feeding the animals and spend time with them


Observing the fauna and flora near us. You can find more details about it in my article: « Springtime happiness »

To complete our activity using the musical instruments nomenclature cards, we offered our daughter 4 audiobooks that are absolutely gorgeous:

  • The most beautiful lullabies in the world, Audio CD published by Didier Jeunesse
  • The lullaby classics, Audio CD published by Didier Jeunesse
  • The jazz lullaby, Audio CD published by Didier Jeunesse
  • Peter and the Wolf, Audio CD published by Gallimard Jeunesse

Here, I share two excerpts.

Our favorite (yes, we love to listen to them too) is undoubtedly the one with the jazz music. In the near future, my husband and I plan to complete our daughter’s collection with the CD « The Swing Café » (a trip to the origins of jazz) with the voice of Jeanne Balibar and we also plan to buy « Peter Pan & Wendy » published by Didier Jeunesse.

Soon we will introduce our daughter to the theme of garden flowers (because it is the perfect moment to do so), the human anatomy (human body morphology) and the geometric shapes.

That is what I had to say about the Montessori nomenclature cards. Do not hesitate to show them to your child and remember to choose well the theme!

And you, have you known this pedagogical support?

Do you prefer picture books or nomenclature cards? or both?

Would you like to buy some nomenclature cards on our shop?



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