How Many Montessori Activities Should You Display On Your Shelf?

Floating shelves with toys

I had so much fun setting up my son’s first Montessori shelf and I learned a great deal from the experience starting with the optimum number of activities that should be on display.

The Montessori guideline for arranging materials advises a maximum of 12 activities on a shelf. The younger the child, the fewer activities should be on display. The number of displayed activities can be increased after observing the child’s level of engagement and interest with the displayed materials. Every child is unique and the activities you choose to display should reflect this.

Believe it or not, there is more to arranging Montessori activities on a shelf than just creating beautiful decor. I will show you how to select, arrange and display Montessori activities so you will be ready when your shelf arrives.

How To Determine The Number Of Activities To Display?

There are two reasons why determining the right amount of activities is important. By not having enough activities you will limit your child’s choices. Displaying too many activities will leave your child overwhelmed. There should be a happy medium and this will totally depend on each child.

The first step towards getting to your magic number is asking yourself a couple of important questions. The answers to these questions will give you a better idea of the amount and type of activities or materials you should display.

How old is your child?

Age will be a major factor in determining where to start. Here’s a table to help you get a general idea of how many activities to display at each age.

Child’s AgeNumber of Activities
Infants 0 to 6 months (non-mobile babies)

Start with 2 – 3 activities

6 months – 12 months (mobile babies)

Start with 3 and limit to 6 activities

12 months – 24 months

Start with 4 and limit to 8 activities

2 – 3 years

Start with 6 and limit to 8 activities

3 to 5 years

Start with 6 and limit to 10 activities

5 to 6 years and over

Start with 8 and limit to 12 activities
Number of Montessori activities to present at each age


Which sensitive period are they currently in?

The Montessori theory regards a sensitive period as a special time when children acquire a specific new skill. Knowing which Sensitive period your child is in will give you great insight into their world and will help you figure out which activities are most appropriate.

If, for example, your child is 12 months old and starting to walk they are probably not going to sit still and try their hand at puzzles. If your child is experiencing a sensitive period for reading, they might be more likely to sit still and concentrate. Being informed on Sensitive periods could go a long way in helping you adjust your expectations and managing frustrations.

How long is their attention span at the moment?

Montessori works at expanding a child’s concentration but everyone starts from a different vantage point. Some children are happy with one activity for long periods of time while others seem to flit from one thing to the next. Take your child’s abilities into consideration when setting up their shelf.

You want to ensure your child is happily engaged with the materials by avoiding too challenging or too easy activities. You will have to do some serious observation (I wrote an entire post about Observation in Montessori here)Opens in a new tab. to determine their happy medium but keep in mind that this is an ongoing process. You will constantly be fine-tuning the activities on your shelf based on your child’s needs and so there is never a wrong or right. It will sometimes be hit or miss so manage your expectations.

How To Select Your Activities?

Now that you have a clear idea of how many activities you are going to display, it is time to move on to the selection process. There is so much to consider but the two most important criteria are Category and Age.

6 Categories for Montessori Activities

Every Montessori activity falls under one of the categories below. If you keep these in mind when you select the activities to display, you should end up with a balanced shelf that aims at building a variety of skills. Pick two to three different categories when choosing your activities.

  • Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Language
  • Movement
  • Music
  • Practical Life
  • Arts & Crafts

See the table below to learn which activity falls under what category. A good tip is to sort and store all of your toys under these categories for ease of use when it comes time to rotate the shelf activities.


Hand-eye Coordination

  • Puzzles
  • Threading activities
  • Posting activities
  • Opening and closing activities
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Elastic bands and pegboard
  • Sorting activities
  • Stereognostic bags (Mystery bags)


  • Vocabulary baskets
  • Reading books
  • Telling stories


  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Dancing
  • Ball play
  • Sliding


  • Musical instruments
  • Playing and listening to music

Arts & Crafts

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Cutting with scissors
  • Playdough
  • Gluing activities

Practical Life

  • Care of self
  • Care of the environment
  • Cleaning up
  • Cooking and baking
  • Care of pets
Montessori Activity Categories

How to select age-appropriate activities

The sheer number of amazing examples of Montessori activities on Instagram and Pinterest left me overwhelmed and in no way closer to deciding which activities would be appropriate for my young toddler. There is no point in having a shelf full of Montessori activities and no one to interact with them.

Needless to say, I was extremely relieved and grateful to come across a wonderful resource from Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook – Simone, who is an AMI-trained Montessori teacher, has taken the time to compile The Ultimate List of Montessori Activities for Babies, Toddlers, and PreschoolersOpens in a new tab.. This list along with serious observation on my part was the only tool I needed to successfully select the appropriate activities to display for my son’s Montessori shelf.

Your goal should always be to meet your child at their individual developmental stage and not where you think they should be. Every child develops at their own pace. Don’t be worried or discouraged if your child is not interested in the activities prescribed for their age. You can revisit the activity in the future to see if anything has changed. Your child should inform your choices. This is what child-led learning looks like.

How To Display and Present Montessori activities?

Congratulations! You have figured out how many activities to select as well as which ones will be most suited. All that’s left to do now is decide what goes where and how to make it look presentable. There are 3 important aspects to consider:

1. Sequence

The activities should be arranged from easiest to most challenging starting from the top left and ending at the bottom right. This mimics the sequence we use to read which makes it the most natural sequence to follow.

A Montessori teacher will usually arrange the activities on her shelves to read like a story – with a beginning, middle, and end. In other words, the skill-building process should follow the correct sequence. The logical progression would be to present an activity that builds fine motor skills to hold a pencil before an activity that builds writing skills.

2. Independence

You also need to consider how your child will best be able to use the materials independently. This means little interference from the adult to give the child a sense of accomplishment and to help build their self-esteem.

Here are 4 easy steps to set your child up for success:

  1. Make sure the trays and baskets you decide to place the materials in can easily be handled by the child. They need to be able to remove and return the activity on their own. Trays and baskets with handles are ideal. You will still assist your young toddler when it comes time to return the activity but they should at least be able to help themselves to the item most of the time.
  1. Make sure to remove any unnecessary obstacles that will interrupt or hinder the accomplishment of the task for example missing pieces of a puzzle or a lid too tightly screwed on.
  1. Present the activity in an unsolved state. If you are presenting a puzzle you would remove the pieces and keep them on the side. One of the unique attributes of Montessori materials is that they only have one solution and so there is no need for adult correction. Once a child understands the end goal of the activity, they can practice on their own.
  1. Make sure the child has everything they will need to finish the activity. If you are presenting watercolors with a paintbrush and paper make sure to also provide a small container with water and a cloth to clean up any spills.


Last but not least is considering the ‘curb appeal’ of the presentation. The child should feel drawn in by the beauty of the materials and enjoy a rich sensory experience. They will also enjoy the feeling of calm the order provides, allowing for greater concentration. Less is more definitely applies when setting up Montessori shelves so be sure to remove anything that is distracting to the eye.

I hope you feel ready and excited to go and get your shelves in order!

Here are some articles about Montessori activities you might enjoy reading next…

Montessori Practical Life Exercises ExplainedOpens in a new tab.

Montessori Threading For Toddlers 1 – 3 years old

What Is Montessori Posting?Opens in a new tab.

Montessori Art Activities For Toddlers – How to get started

10 Montessori Activities To Improve Your Toddlers VocabularyOpens in a new tab.

A Montessori Mystery Bag – A complete guide for beginners

Related Questions

How often should you rotate your Montessori activities?

Since you are only displaying a couple of materials at any given time you should rotate the materials and activities regularly to keep your child engaged and challenged. This could be every week or every month depending on how much your child is still enjoying each activity. Don’t rotate everything at the same time – it is very disorientating for a child. Only swap out activities that your child is not interested in or that they’ve mastered already.

Read more about my easy 5 step process for toy rotation hereOpens in a new tab..

How do you introduce a Montessori activity for the first time?

When you introduce a new activity it can be helpful at times to give the child a slow presentation with hands only. Speaking at the same time is often distracting. Use the materials or activity in the same way as the child would use it and break the activity up into smaller steps. This applies specifically to Montessori Materials and not to open-ended toys like blocks, cars, or dolls. With Montessori materials, there is usually only one way to accomplish the task. You do not need to show your child how to play with a ball or blocks.

I would also recommend learning more about the Montessori Three Period Lesson – I wrote a whole article about this here.

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