Monday, 22 January 2018

Simplifying Montessori: 5 Ways to Set Up a Shelf Montessori-Style

In a Montessori space, the work available to your child should be set out clearly on some kind of shelf, rather than a toy box or bin. (If you do not have a shelf, or room for one, I have heard of boxes, the floor along the wall, or a table being used successfully.)

The work on these shelves should be arranged and organized in a way that is inviting and beautiful, helping to draw your child into the work.

With this model in mind, I thought it would be helpful to outline a few good rules of thumb when setting up a Montessori-style shelf.

1. Think of the work from your child's perspective
They will need to be able to carry the work to a workstation, whether this be a table nearby or a mat on the floor.

Will they be able to carry the work easily?
Will they be able to put it away for themselves?
Are they able to open it on their own?
Is it visually appealing and accessible?

For example: our small Perfection game, Benedict's favorite chosen work, has a small drawer which holds the pieces, but only if they are placed in just such a way. At first when I had this work out, Benedict would need my help to put the pieces away, until I realized a simpler option, which would encourage him to complete the cycle on his own, would be placing the pieces in a basket beside it.

 2. Remove distractions

Giving too many options before a child is ready for them, or not providing all the pieces necessary for a work in a way that is convenient and accessible for your child, will cause unnecessary distractions.
  • when a work is new, consider offering only a few of the possible matches, sets, or pieces, until you see that your child understands it and is ready for greater difficulty.
  • however, work should always be set out with all necessary pieces included so that your child can complete the work without searching. 
  • For example: if you have a geoboard out, but your child has to search for the elastics elsewhere, this will likely deter them from picking this work
I have been tempted to take smaller pieces away, such as the matching work pictured below, but have found it gets chosen much less if all the pieces are not available. In my experience, the children get used to the work that is out, and, if an attitude of respect for the materials is enforced, do not misuse and lose them.

3. Think baskets and trays

Rather than placing a game in its box on the shelf, such as the memory game pictured below, it is much more appealing and inviting for the work to be placed in an attractive bowl or basket.

Having everything grouped together in a basket, or on a tray, helps a child to know what they need for a chosen work, and makes it so much easier for them to bring it to a workstation.

Specifically, I have found it is also much more inviting for a puzzle to be placed out with the pieces removed and set in a basket next to it, than for it to be set out completed on the shelf.

4. Don't overcrowd your shelves

With my cube shelves, I like to only have one work per section.

Too much out at once can look crowded and be overwhelming for your child, reducing the chances they will be drawn to the shelves at all.

  • It is a good rule to have open space around each piece of work.
  • If you have many toys and materials, it is a good idea to rotate through them, rather than having everything out at once. 

I even use this idea with materials we have a large collection of, like blocks and small vehicles. Currently, I have a small selection of blocks out and a basket of only construction-related vehicles, rather than all that we have, to reduce dumping and to encourage more immersive play.

5. A place for everything, and everything in its place

Along with not overcrowding, you want to make sure that everything has a set place, and that your child knows how to return a work to order.

My children still need to be reminded to return a work to the shelf, but it is easy for them to see where things belong, as there will be an open cube on the shelf from where the work was removed.

Having a clear place for everything makes it more likely that your children will be able to return their materials to order on their own, which is a goal in Montessori environments.

Thank you for reading! For more posts in my simplifying Montessori series: Practical Life | Following The Child | The Work Cycle | The Value of Concentration | Obedience and Self-Discipline

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. And if you are interested in following along in our daily adventures, follow us on Instagram where I post daily.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer



    1. Thank you so much! If you have any other specific things you would like me to write about, I would love suggestions!