The Montessori Shelf
You’ve seen it on every Montessori Instagram account you follow – the Montessori ‘Shelfie’ with the beautiful Montessori toy shelf and the toys displayed on it. And you have probably wondered what all the fuss is about and if the Montessori low shelf is really important or necessary. Does the Montessori shelf have benefits beyond its good looks? Read on to find out.
The Montessori Shelf also called a Montessori toy shelf/Wooden toy shelf/Montessori Infant Shelf or Montessori open shelf is an essential part of every Montessori classroom and home that follow the method. It is a low wooden shelf at the child’s height and is used to display toys or developmental aids according the child’s need and interest at that time. A unique feature of the low Montessori shelf is that it doesn’t have any doors and is designed in a manner that is open and accessible to even a slithering or crawling child. The rounded edges and purposefully done simple design ensure that your child’s fingers don’t get caught anywhere while accessing toys from this shelf.
The Montessori infant shelf is designed around the Montessori principles of order, independence and choice.
Children under the age of 6 are undergoing a Sensitive Period for Order and this means that they learn things better if the environment around them is in an orderly manner. If they know exactly where to find something when they are looking for it, they are likely to use it more. The Montessori open shelf helps feed the child’s need for order because it is a designated space for the child to find their toy and keep it back.
Dr. Montessori said, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”. Children yearn for independence and want to do things by themselves so they can be like the adults around them. Independence helps build self-esteem and confidence in the child. The Montessori shelf is designed in a way where even the youngest child can access their toys as soon as they begin moving. The display of toys at the low Montessori shelf at their level serves as a motivation for the child to slither/crawl or walk to it.
The display of their toys at their level in the Montessori Shelf also offers the child clear and limited choices. When children experience making choices from a young age, it builds cognition and makes them better at problem solving and decision making when they grow up. Making choices also builds confidence and makes children feel more in control of their lives which is another benefit the Montessori wooden shelf.
Some tips on using the Montessori toy shelf
- Don’t fill up the Montessori shelf with too many toys at a time. Display 6-8 activities at a time with enough gap between them so it is easy for your child to put their hands in and take out the toy of their choice
- Rotate toys periodically. When you notice that your child is not interested in a toy, put it in storage and take out a different one in its place. Don’t put out all the toys out at the same time as that is likely to overwhelm your child.
- If an activity has loose parts or pieces, display it all together in an open basket or tray on the Montessori open shelf – this keeps all the parts together and helps your child understand that they are a set and belong together
- Displaying toys in baskets on the Montessori shelf also helps your child to carry it to their workspace and put it back when they are done
- If you have a young toddler, make sure the baskets or trays that you display on the infant Montessori shelf are deep and have handles. You child who is just learning to walk will find it easier to hold this kind of a basket and the pieces are less likely to fall out even if they your child loses balance.
- If it is a stacker or a puzzle that requires assembling, leave it out unassembled but with all the pieces together in the basket, on the Montessori open self. This will inspire your child to take it out and put it together.
- On the Montessori shelf, don’t leave anything in closed boxes that your child can’t see – out of sight, out of mind. Your child is more likely to engage with toys that he can see.
- Set up your child’s work area near the low Montessori shelf - this could be a child sized table and chair or a mat that the child must lay out before taking a toy from the shelf. Having a work area defines the child’s workspace and appeals to their sense of order just like your work desk or cubicle in your office.
- Since the Montessori shelf is open and the toys are out on display all the time, they are likely to gather dust. This is a great opportunity to involved your child in taking care of their things – keep a duster nearby and show them how to take each material off the Montessori shelf and dust it and also to dust the shelf itself.