Montessori at Home

Montessori shelves inspiration

Montessori shelves inspiration. How to set up shelves in your Montessori home.

montessori shelves

The Montessori at Home series continues: We have spoken about The Prepared Adult, The Prepared Environment, How and why we choose Montessori at Home and Montessori Material the sandpaper letters. In this article we will discuss shelving. How to setup shelves in Montessori and why we use shelves, trays, and baskets.

What to look for when purchasing, DIYing, or repurposing a shelf.

Shelves should be toddler size usually 120cm (long) X 30cm (deep) X 40cm (high). Shelves should be open with no dividers. You may add a section for each subject.

Trays in Montessori

Trays keep materials organized and in one place. They also allow for independence in the child and the freedom to choose an activity.

Made from natural material preferably such as metal, cotton, wood, bamboo, glass, woven (reeds), cardboard etc. Trays should be horizontally placed so that the toddler can easily hold with two hands. The trays are better with handles. Light and easy to pick up.

Should have a lip or an edge (not flat trays) to hold the materials and prevent them from falling. I found Montessori trays at PNA. There should be a place for everything and everything in its place. Should have enough room to fit materials.

Easy to pack away. They are usually in dull or dark colours such as brown to help the materials to stand out. There should be enough space between the trays so that the little one can pick up and replace without knocking other things over. Label shelves if possible.


Books are placed outward facing with realistic (real looking) pictures. The book front page should be fully visible. The bookshelf should also be on eye level for the child.

Montessori Table (35cm high) and Chair (20cm high). Toddlers feet should touch the ground. A Montessori bookshelf maybe found online, in Montessori shops, Furniture shops, Facebook Marketplace and Second-hand shops. Another idea would be Montessori schools that maybe shutting down.

Unit study / Choosing a topic.

First step is observation. Sit down quietly while your child is at work / play with a pen and notebook. Write down everything you see subjectively. Do this for 5 minutes a day.

Consider the child’s age for developmental interests, look at your child’s sensitive periods. And set up the shelves according to this. Consider how long you are willing to work on these activities.

Unit studies are themes or topics that integrate a range of subjects and learning styles. They also improve the fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills. Shelves are pre-planned and pre-determined. It is important for the adult to be prepared.

Start the activity from beginning to end. Practise beforehand so that you can show the child. And start from the beginning or chronologically from the beginning to the end according to where your child is.

For example, if you want to do numbers and your child does not know number 1, you would not jump to number 10. It should make sense (logical).

Do not forget songs to go with your theme. You can also store your activities as themes, subjects, or unit studies.

Consider what sector or subjects you want to focus on. Add in artwork and nature work or field work (activities). Choose a topic or theme or you can use a planned unit study program.

Make available books, DVDs, Movies, Educational Apps, YouTube and programs and other interactive resources. Lastly a big dramatic final activity. Take note that young children have concentration spans of 20 minutes. Take a break in between.

Subjects / Areas of focus in Montessori

  • Mathematics
  • Sensorial
  • Practical Life
  • Language
  • Creative work – Art and Nature, Music.
  • Cultural subjects: Geography, history, science

I will write a post about subject areas soon.

Materials on Montessori shelves.

Materials and activities are placed according to the child’s interest, developmental interests, and sensitive periods. After observing the child, we lay out materials and activities in this interest.

Materials can be purchased or downloaded online. Once you know what you would like to display, after you have observed your child, you can download and print for free from online Montessori blogs, educational sites and or Pinterest. Materials should be complete with no pieces missing and clean up materials.  

Toy Rotation

Allow for toy rotation so it is a good idea to have different storage solutions for materials such as storage bins, Ziplock bags. When storing, add the full activity and label them.

Materials are stored in an attractive, undone way. Add 3 to 4 materials on each shelf level. That is 10 to 12 trays in total. Materials are laid out from left to right in the open on trays. Materials are simple, orderly, and organised.

We model for the child how to use these materials with SLOW hands. Less talk, slow hands and in a way that they can do. We can show the activity and step back allowing the child to try.

With no interruptions and only help when called upon. If the child gets it wrong, we show them again. When toy rotating, do not remove toys that your child is still mastering and expect lots of repetition.

Where to find Montessori equipment, materials, and activities in South Africa.

I purchased books and found letter and number flashcards from bookstores such as Readers Warehouse and CNA. Observing that printing can be quite expensive overtime, I began to write on paper.

ABC’s, numbers etc if you are good at drawing even better. I DIYed somethings and made the Montessori Sandpapers. You may also use the activities you download using a Tablet as paper.

  • Montessori blogs
  • Stationary shops: I found wooden trays at PNA; CNA has art equipment.
  • Art supply shops
  • Storage Supply stores: West pack has a wooden section: toys, puzzles, woven baskets, blocks, Cars.
  • Flea Markets: China Mall also has a wooden toys section, farm animals, woven baskets, and art equipment.
  • Furniture shops like Pine on 14th.
  • Homeware stores
  • Grocery stores: like Game have a wide selection. I found a Montessori broom at Game.
  • Nature: Botanical Gardens, Parks, around your complex, your back yard.
  • Second-hand stores: I find various materials at Cash convertors like glass bottles.
  • Online stores
  • Etsy
  • Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Montessori Groups and Facebook buy and sell groups.
  • Thrift stores
  • Montessori shops
  • Antique stores
  • Sustainable toy shops like
  • Lock shops
Great materials to have for a toddler are:

Montessori Sandpaper Letters

Montessori Sandpaper Numbers

Realistic Reading books

Metal Insets

Work / Activity Mats

Loose parts

Nature Picks

Nature / Art table

Counting rods

Rainbow counting bears.

Sand and salt trays

Blocks of different shapes (building blocks, alphabet blocks, plain blocks etc)

Geometric shapes

On our Montessori shelf last week,

Our theme was color and matching. On the top shelf, we had fruit and shadow matching, crayon and color matching and the rainbow. We got some paint samples from Builders Warehouse and did color matching.

On the bottom shelf we had cars color matching, write and wipe Alphabet (ABC) and number (123) Flash cards. (I got these flash cards from Readers Warehouse and CNA. My son is going through a writing sensitive period.

The last activity is watermelon counting cards. I downloaded the watermelon template online and stuck popsicle sticks to the counting seeds to make it easier for my son.

I add a reading tray on his shelf. We have My First Words sticker and activity book and 3 other basic reading books.

Things that I do not in toy rotate are zippy cars, tools, and geometric stacking shapes.

In conclusion

Shelves in the Montessori setup (Montessori at Home) should be organized, speak to the sensitive period of order, laid neatly and undone on trays or in baskets and kept in open shelving according to the different subject areas.

As well as the childs interests, sensitive period and developmental interests of the child after the prepared adult observed the child. Remember simple and uncluttered is always better.

montessori inspired shelves

More from MrsChettyLife: Do not forget to read the other articles in the Montessori at Home series:

The Prepared Adult, The Prepared Environment , How and why we choose Montessori at Home and Montessori Material the sandpaper letters.

The next posts will be focusing on the various learning areas in Montessori and how you may apply them at home.

Follow along on Instagram for detailed and everyday updates.

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