I have been looking for the perfect Montessori shelf for what feels like an eternity. With the endless variety of shelves available I found it hard to narrow down my search. It was only after I had read up about what the ideal dimensions were according to Montessori standards, that I was able to quickly find the perfect shelf.
I want to share my newfound knowledge with you in the hopes that it will save you time and money during your quest to find the perfect Montessori shelf.
The ideal height for a Montessori shelf is 16 inches (40 cm) for infants, 24 inches to 32 inches (60 – 81 cm) for toddlers, and between 32 inches and 40 inches (81 – 101 cm) for an elementary level child. All shelves should be approximately 11.5 inches deep to accommodate the trays and baskets used in the presentation of Montessori materials.
|Age||Height (inch)||Height (cm)|
24 inches – 32 inches
60 cm – 81 cm
32 inches – 40 inches
81 cm – 101 cm
These dimensions should give you a good idea of where to start but there are some other factors to take into consideration when selecting a Montessori shelf. I will discuss those in a little more detail in this post so please read on.
The 5 Key Characteristics of a Montessori shelf
Before we get into all the factors you will be considering – you first need to know what makes a shelf Montessori. These are the five most important elements:
Height is the first factor to consider when choosing a Montessori shelf for your home because your child should be able to use the shelf independently and safely.
Firstly, the correct height means within the child’s line of sight. If the shelf is too high, your child will not be able to see the activity.
Secondly, the correct height would enable them to access the activities independently. If the shelf is too high the child will have difficulty removing or returning an activity without everything falling off the tray or out of the basket. Think about how you struggle to get something from the top of the kitchen cabinet.
If all you have is a shelf with multiple levels you can always choose to only display the activities on the lower levels where your child can safely reach. You don’t have to fill the entire shelf.
Depth is almost as important as height but is very frequently overlooked. The shelf needs to be deep enough to accommodate the trays and baskets you are going to use to display your Montessori activities. If the shelves are too shallow your child will find it difficult to fetch and return materials without your help. Make sure the shelf is approximately 11.5 inches deep.
Look for a sturdy shelf made from quality materials like wood or steel which adds to the weight of the shelf. Lightweight or poor-quality shelves will be unstable and most likely wobble every time your child removes or returns a toy or bumps against the shelf.
Keep the color and design as neutral as possible. You don’t want the Montessori materials and the shelf to compete for attention. Think of the shelf as a blank canvas that allows the activities on display to shine.
The shelf must be safe enough to be used by a child while unsupervised. Avoid furniture that can easily be pulled or pushed over. You must have peace of mind especially if the shelf is in the child’s bedroom. It might be best to anchor the shelf to the wall as an extra safety precaution.
8 Factors to consider when selecting your perfect shelf
#1 How old is your child?
The age of your child will determine the height of the shelf as well as how many activities it should be able to accommodate. The younger the child – the fewer activities needed.
0 – 12 months: The Infant Shelf
If your child is younger than 12 months they will ideally need an infant shelf. This shelf should be very low to the ground and be stable and heavy enough for a baby to pull themselves up. It should ideally only have a top and a bottom shelf (no middle shelf) to keep it simple enough for a baby to use. Once your baby has outgrown this shelf you could use it as a bench by the entrance.
12 months +: Toddler and Elementary Shelf
Your toddler will need a shelf that has a top, middle and bottom shelf. You could really use any type of shelf as long as it is deep enough to fit the materials and not too high for the child to reach. It should have enough space to display at least 8 Montessori activities.
#2 How many children will use this shelf
If you have more than one child and you only have room for one shelf you might consider having your children share a shelf. You will need a shelf with multiple shelves so you could dedicate each level to a different child based on their height.
#3 How much time does your child spend at home
This question is really to determine how many activities you will aim to display and this is influenced by how much time your child spends at home. The more activities – the larger the shelf required.
If your children spend the majority of their day away from the house and only really spend time playing at home over weekends – you might not need to offer the same amount of activities as you would for a child that spends most days at home.
#4 How much space do you have?
The perfect Montessori shelf does not need to take up your entire living room. Find a shelf that really suits the space and make it work. Don’t force a large shelf to work in a small apartment – it will only make your home feel crowded and that is not very Montessori.
#5 Bedroom or Playroom?
The reason this is a factor to consider is really about safety.
A shelf in a bedroom needs to be extra safe to use because your child will use it when you are not there. Montessori children are encouraged to sleep on floor beds where they can get out at any time which means their bedrooms need to be safe enough so you have peace of mind.
#6 What is your budget?
Montessori does not have to be expensive. The philosophies behind Montessori are more important and available to anyone at no expense. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this article I wrote: 6 Ways To Practice Montessori Without Spending A Cent! There is always a less expensive option and your child will not get less out of the experience. Just get creative!
#7 What type of shelf do you prefer?
Open shelf vs Cube shelf
There are hundreds of different shelves on the market to choose from but they all boil down to these two styles – Open shelf and Cube shelf. At first, you might think this is just a case of what looks best and that you just prefer the one over the other but there are some pros and cons to consider for each.
The open shelf style is most often used in the Montessori classroom which means they are widely available and specifically made for Montessori use – correct dimensions and good quality materials. An open shelf is very timeless and universal and could easily be repurposed once it is no longer needed as a Montessori shelf.
The cube shelf does a great job of drawing a clear distinction between activities which looks very neat and organized. Having a hard boundary between activities could be especially useful when you have a very young child who finds it difficult to only interact with one activity at a time or accidentally knocks over adjacent activities.
The only drawback of the open shelf (specifically made according to Montessori standards) is that it will be more expensive. If it is not a Montessori-specific shelf you will find that it might not be deep enough. A standard bookshelf will be too shallow.
The downside to the cube shelf is you might find it hard to fit a tray horizontally into the cube shelf. It is not ideal to have a tray sit vertically (with only one handle visible in the front) since it would make it very difficult for a child to remove or return the activity without any help.
#8 Open back vs closed back?
Open back shelves are great to use as a type of room divider as you will see in many Montessori classrooms. The open back enables children to access the activities from both sides while still offering some division. Open back shelves are harder to find but if you are not interested in using the shelf as a divider then you don’t need your shelf to be open at the back.
- Open Shelf Stacker Compartment Storage by Childcraft (Amazon Affiliate link)
- Birch 2 Shelf Storage Cabinet with Back by ECR4Kids (Amazon Affiliate link)
- Natural Birch Hardwood 8 Compartment Backpack Storage Cubby Unit by ECR4Kids (Amazon Affiliate link)
- 5-Piece Round Small Woven Baskets Set – 100% Natural Cotton Rope Baskets by NaturalCozy (Amazon Affiliate link)
- 5-Piece Paintable Wooden Trays with Handles by Multicraft Imports (Amazon Affiliate link)
How to decide what goes on The Shelves?
Less is always more in Montessori. Focus on selecting about 6 to 8 activities or materials that your child is currently interested in or trying to master. If in doubt, start with less.
Try to display a variety of Montessori activities that focus on building different skills for example:
Display each activity individually on a tray or in a basket (preferably with handles) along with all the components necessary to complete the activity.
I go into this topic in great detail in this post HOW MANY MONTESSORI ACTIVITIES SHOULD YOU DISPLAY ON YOUR SHELF so go and have a look if you are ready to progress to the next level of setting up your shelf.
What is Montessori furniture?
The Montessori prepared environment enables children to go about their day with greater independence and autonomy because their environment is specifically set up with their needs and capabilities in mind. This applies especially to furniture in both the classroom and at home.
Montessori furniture is sized specifically for children to use without the need for assistance from an adult which fosters self-confidence. Some examples include weaning tables and chairs, floor beds and self-care stations. Most of these pieces of furniture are made to fit children as young as 12 months.