Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs

Essential Guide To Picture Matching Plus 4 Games to Boost Memory

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Montessori picture-to-picture matching cards

I thought I’d surprise my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Annie, with a set of dog matching cards for picture matching, our next Montessori activity in the oral language sequence.

Annie loves dogs so much. Whenever we go to the playground or go for a walk, and we see a dog, she is so excited to see them, and she wants to hug them and play with them!

I said to Annie, “It’s pretty cool that there are so many different types of dogs. We can learn the names of the various breeds with matching dog pictures.”

Matching pictures is different because it involves just the sense of sight to match (no hands-on objects), an essential skill for young children to practice.

In this post, I’ll share the Montessori picture-to-picture matching lesson from my teacher training and four variations of a memory game I did with the kids in the classroom. I’ll also share how it went with Annie at home!

In This Post

Why are memory games beneficial for young children?

According to the Scholastic article, Cognitive Development in 3-5 Year Olds,

"Memory is the ability to acquire, store, and recall information or experiences across time. It is not until age 3 that children can reliably do this, although they remain better at recognition than recall, and they do not show the ability to spontaneously use mnemonic strategies to assist remembering for a number of years."

The article says that children’s memory can recall when they actively participate (rather than observe) and if the topic makes an impression. Children of this age can make a mental image of things which helps with their memory.

Montessori matching activities, such as picture-to-picture matching, are a fun way to help boost memory and cognitive development. 

In my previous posts, we have gone through the language sequence with classified objects, object-to-object matching, and object-to-picture matching

All of these matching lessons in the Montessori sequence help young children with:

  • vocabulary development
  • preparation for writing and reading 
  • concentration
  • order
picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, concentration, memory game

With matching pictures, children are further moving on to exploring abstraction with cards. The fun part about working with matching cards is that you can play memory and other card games! 

Matching cards are easy to prepare because you have to print out pairs of cards—no need to think about matching objects (unless you prefer to include them). 

Additionally, there are several card themes. You’re likely to find a topic or idea that genuinely speaks to your child. For instance, Annie loves dogs, and the matching dog cards were a big hit!

Matching cards and memory games can further develop:

  • attention to detail
  • focus
  • short-term memory
  • visual memory
  • further work with classifying things
  • noticing subtle differences and similarities
Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs

How to do the Montessori picture matching lesson

What you will need

You’ll need a tray or basket with identical pairs of picture cards representing different fields of study.

Here are some suggestions:
  • domestic pets (dog, cat breeds)
  • farm animals
  • zoo animals
  • art prints
  • musical instruments
  • flags
  • transportation
  • historical figures
  • patchwork quilt squares
  • unusual card shapes
picture matching, Montessori, dogs, safari ltd toob
picture matching with the dog objects (optional)

I made dog cards to try with Annie because lately, she has expressed interest in dogs. She loves them so much! 

There are 11 dog breeds in the card set, and they match the Safari Ltd. Dog Toob. Even though we’re just matching pictures, having the objects is optional and a bonus to delight your child! 

  • Dalmation
  • Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Boxer
  • Sheepdog
  • Collie
  • Great Dane
  • Beagle
  • Dachshund
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Bulldog


picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, concentration, memory game

Step-by-step: picture-to-picture matching lesson

Invite your child to do the activity, name the activity “Picture Matching,” and bring the basket of cards to an area rug on the floor or to a table.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs
randomize the cards on the mat

Place the basket in the upper right corner of the rug or table.

Remove all of the cards and place them at random below the basket.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs
match the cards

Select any card, hold it in your left hand, and observe it closely. Look for its pair and pick it up. Check that both are the same and place them together in the upper left corner of the rug or table. 

Complete all pairs, and with a left to right motion, point to each pair and name them.

Remove all of the cards from the right side of the pairs and return them to the basket.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs
this is a boxer

Optional: check how many pictures your child already recognizes. Remove them and place them back into the basket. If your child is interested, you can introduce further mastery of the remaining vocabulary words with the 3-period lesson.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs

Where can I find matching cards?

Buy them online

You can find matching memory card games online. Scary Mommy has a great list of examples of cards you can buy. We have the Life on Earth Memory and Matching Game. The illustrations are beautiful, and Annie loves them!

You can also download and print pre-made matching cards online. The ideas for topics are endless!

*I made matching dog breed cards. If you’d like to download them, sign up for the Resource Library at the bottom of this post. (To make pairs of pictures, print out two copies of the picture only cards.) If you’re already a subscriber, the latest password to the Resource Library is in my newest email.

Use pictures from old calendars

When I was a Montessori teacher, I used to get beautifully illustrated fairy calendars every year that I didn’t want to throw away. 

I made several matching cards with them using the small illustrations on the back cover and the full-sized illustrations. 

It becomes a small and large matching picture activity, and the kids love it. I still have these cards I made many years ago, and Annie got to play with them!

Collect doubles of post cards from museums

When you go to an art or science museum sometimes, they have free or inexpensive postcards you can collect. You can use these to make a set of matching cards.

Find photos or illustrations online to print out

I make my cards with royalty-free photos I find online. You could also find illustrations or clipart. Online images are great for matching pairs because you can print two copies.

Collect doubles of nature or kids magazines or old books

If you have a large collection of old books and magazines, you can go through them and cut out matching pictures to make cards. The tricky thing is that you need to have two of everything to make pairs.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs, memory game
Memory Game

4 memory games

1. Match the cards from a distance

Spread out one set of cards on a mat on the floor.

Spread out the second set of cards on the table across the room.

Go to the set of cards on the mat. Choose one card and place it on the other side of the mat. Remember the card you chose.

Walk to the table and remember which card you chose without peeking. 

At the table, pick up the matching card.

Walk over to the mat and double-check that you remembered and matched the correct card. 

Place the matching cards together on the other side of the mat. 

Repeat these steps for the remaining cards.

Picture matching, Montessori, matching cards, dogs
Playing memory: Matching dog cards

2. Memory (concentration)

Memory is the classic card game, also known as concentration. I remember playing this game when I was a kid! 

Turn the cards over so you can’t see any of the pictures and mix them up. 

Line up the cards in a grid pattern on the mat or table.

Choose two cards and flip them up to see the pictures. 

If they match, collect them in a pile in front of you. 

If they don’t match, remember the pictures and their locations. Flip them over again so you can’t see the pictures. 

Choose two cards and continue until you match all of the pictures.

*Fun Variation: We had matching dog objects from the Safari Ltd. dog toob. When we matched a pair of dogs, we collected them and then placed the matching dog object on top!

Note: When you’re child is ready for the moveable alphabet and reading, you can try the memory game with sight words. Check out my sight words blog post here:

4 Fun Sight Words Games To Further Reading Skills

3. What card is missing?

Separate the pairs of cards into two piles.

At the bottom of the mat, line up one pile of cards in a horizontal row.

Pick three cards from the other pile of cards and place them in a row at the top of the mat. 

Name the three cards at the top and say to your child that you will take away one card. Turn around and don’t peek!

Take away one card from the three at the top. Hide the card behind your back. 

Ask your child to turn around and ask, “what card is missing?”

If she guesses right, give her the missing card and find the card that matches at the bottom of the mat. 

Collect the pair of cards you guessed correctly. 

The game is over when you have gone through all the cards or until your child remains interested.

4. Picture Sequence Memory

The setup for this game is the same as the “what’s missing” game above. 

Separate the pairs of cards into two piles.

Line up one set of cards at the bottom of the mat in a horizontal row.

With the other cards, choose three cards and place them in a row at the top. 

Name the cards in order while pointing to them. 

Ask your child to remember the order of the cards. 

Flip over the three cards so you can’t see the pictures. 

Ask your child to find the matching three cards from the bottom and place them in order under the flipped over three cards.

Flip over the cards so that you can see the pictures.

Do they match? Are they in the correct order? 

Collect the cards you matched correctly.

Continue the game until you go through all of the cards.

To make the game more challenging, try four cards instead of three. 

memory game, picture matching, restaruant
Playing memory at the restaurant

Concluding Thoughts About Picture Matching and Memory

Annie loves playing memory!  She asked to play it several times a day, and we even brought a small set of matching cards to travel. We played memory at the table, waiting for our food to come out at the restaurant!

Annie is so good at the memory game, and she has beaten me at the game almost every time we play. I noticed that Annie learned and remembered the names of the 11 dog breeds a lot quicker because of playing memory.

I also noticed that Annie is attracted to cards and pictures. She wants to carry them around and talk about them. It’s fun to play games with them and learn new vocabulary!

Have you played the memory game with your kids? What other games have you played with matching cards? Leave a comment below!

More Montessori resources

lesson 7

You can also download the lesson plans for:

1. Beginning Oral Language Activities

2. Picture Story (Dictation) Plus 24 photos and the lined paper we used!

3. Naming – plus 140 labels for around the house

4. Classified Objects – plus 8 insect photo cards

5. Object Discrimination (Object Matching)

6. Object Picture Matching – plus 8 flower photo cards to go with objects

* The Three Period Lesson Cheat Sheet – plus 7 bird photo cards (you can use this method to remember vocabulary words from any lesson).

7. Picture Matching – plus 11 dog breed photo cards to match or play memory (print out two copies of the picture-only cards to make matching cards).

*I made matching dog breed cards. If you’d like to download them, sign up for the Resource Library at the bottom of this post. (To make pairs of pictures, print out two copies of the picture-only cards.) If you’re already a subscriber, the latest password to the Resource Library is in my newest email.

Montessori picture-to-picture matching cards

dog cards pin

15 thoughts on “Essential Guide To Picture Matching Plus 4 Games to Boost Memory”

  1. Pingback: Things That Go Together: 1 Easy Brain Game To Boost Cognition

  2. I absolutely adore this! This seems like such a fun and educational game to play with young children. When my niece was a toddler, she was very into different flowers. I wish I had thought of doing this with her! I am definitely going to keep this in mind for the future. Thank you for sharing this!!

  3. This is a fun activity that I am pretty sure the kids will love. I agree with you that this helps kids stay to develop their focus, memory, and attention to detail.

  4. Great activity for toddlers. Just got another idea to try with my 3 year old. I think he’s ready for this. Will also try playing it in the restaurant. Sometimes it gets crazy dining out, hoping these cards can calm my kids.

  5. This is another great post! My daughter loves dogs too but she does not know the differences between breeds/names yet. This would be a great exercise for her in the near future. Your resource library will be of great help. Thank you!

    1. I am so glad that the dog picture matching cards and the resource library is helpful to you!

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