Your Montessori Toy Shelf: Set Up in 5 Simple Steps!

Are you thinking about setting up a Montessori toy shelf?

So you’ve heard so much about Montessori. You want to try and set up a Montessori toy shelf. But while searching, maybe you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you feel like you don’t know where to begin!

I also felt this way, trying to figure out how to set up a shelf for a young toddler for the first time.

I’m a trained Montessori teacher in three-to-six and have nine years of experience in the classroom. But now I’m a homeschooling mom spending my days exploring with my active two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Whether you decide to homeschool or not, setting up a Montessori toy shelf in your home can be beneficial to your children, and for your sanity!

Are you ready to learn more and to set up your shelf? Look no further because you have found the right place. I’ve put together a simple step-by-step plan to help you set up your shelf.

Our Montessori toy shelf journey

Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 7 months
Our shelf at 7 months old

We set up a Montessori toy shelf in our living room when our daughter turned 7 months old. Though, it was challenging in the beginning months. At about 10 months old, all my daughter wanted to do was take everything off the shelf! I knew this was totally normal. But reflecting on our experience, I had a tendency to put too many toys on the shelf at one time.

Although with time, we figured it out. It got easier. It started to make sense when and how to rotate her toys. The whole process is a learning experience but it’s also rewarding and a lot of fun!

Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 10 months
Our Shelf at 10 months old

I have experience setting up shelves in the Montessori classroom for 20 or more children. But setting up a Montessori toy shelf and storage system at home is a bit different. There are challenges, but it’s so worth it.

For instance, at home:

  • You’re setting up a shelf for your kids and not a classroom full of kids. The types of toys you put on the shelf may need to be rotated more frequently.
  • Only your kids will use the toys, and they may grow out of them quickly or never want to use them.
  • You may not have as much free time (or any time at all) to clean, declutter, and rotate toys on your shelf. Therefore, it’s important to be more creative with your time.
Our Shelf at 16 Months old

Why you should try a Montessori toy shelf

So you want to implement a little bit of Montessori in your home. Having a Montessori toy shelf instead of a traditional toy box is a great idea! Here’s why:

  • It’s easier for you to tidy up and keep track of your kids’ Montessori toys and regular toys at the end of the day.
  • Your home will have more of an organized, clean, and minimalist vibe to it.
  • You’ll be less overwhelmed.
  • Your kids will feel less overwhelmed because they’ll have fewer choices.
  • It’ll be easier for your kids to independently clean up their toys.
  • You can always take out a fresh toy from storage. I do this when my daughter is bored. Even if she played with the toy in the past, it’ll feel like brand new!
  • It allows your kids to explore with freedom, in a meaningful way.
  • It’s a great way for your kids to experience order; they learn how to put something away in its right place. I tell the kids, “everything has a home.”
Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 17 months
Our shelf at 17 months old

Here are the 5 simple steps to set up your Montessori toy shelf

1. Get a low two-tiered shelf

Our toy shelf is about 26 inches tall, 60 inches long, and 16 inches deep. If you prefer, you can use any shelf that matches the decor of your home. Just be sure it’s low enough for your kids to reach it independently.

Perhaps you already have a low two-tiered shelf somewhere in your home you could use. Further, you could build your own Montessori Toy shelf DIY!

Additionally, you can buy beautiful natural wood Montessori shelves and other Montessori furniture pieces. But they can be very expensive. It’s up to you if you’d like to buy them. Go for it! They’re gorgeous!

On the other hand, these gorgeous expensive natural wood Montessori shelves are not absolutely necessary. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have one.

The most important thing is that the shelf is low enough so that your young child can reach the toys independently. Also, make sure the shelf is safe, attractive to your child, clean, and clutter-free.

Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 2 years old, montessori furniture, montessori shelf diy
Our Toy Shelf at 2 and a half years old

Tip: small space idea

Try to integrate your shelf into your space as best as you can. For instance, in our living room, we have a small alcove next to the fireplace and television. We anchored a tall shelf to the wall and placed the cable box at the top shelf where our daughter can’t reach it. Then we put a matching low-tier shelf that fits into the small alcove. This little corner is our Montessori toy shelf!

2. Find a storage area

What do I do with all the toys, not on the shelf? Ideally, you want to use a closet with shelves to store the Montessori toys and activities you’re not using. We have a storage closet with shelves and we use clear plastic bins so that we can easily find what we’re looking for. We organize toys within the bins in clear zip-lock bags.

Yet this all depends on the space you have. Work with what you’ve got! It’s okay if you don’t have extra closet space. You just have to be creative with your space. For instance, you could use any corner or empty area of your home to neatly store your toys in bins, baskets, or boxes with lids.

Below are before, during, and after pictures of organizing and decluttering our storage closet when my daughter was 22 months old.

Montessori toys, storage closet, toddler, activities, 22 months, decluttering
Closet Before
Montessori toys, storage closet, toddler, activities, 22 months, decluttering, organization
Closet decluttering
Montessori toys, storage closet, toddler, activities, 22 months, decluttering, organization
Closet After

Tip: Get your kids involved!

When I rotate activities/toys and go through the bins in the closet, I declutter as I go along. I do this with my daughter! She loves to help and go through all the toys in the closet. This also gives me a clue as to what she gravitates towards and what I could toss, or put on the shelf next!

3. Pick out Montessori toys for your kids

What are Montessori toys? It really comes down to the real and natural quality of the toys.

For example, Montessori toys:

  • are generally made of wood or other natural material (not usually plastic)
  • have a cognitive or educational quality to them exploring with:
    • independence, meaning your child can take the toy off the shelf and do it herself
    • the 5 senses (visual, touch, hearing, taste, smell)
    • shapes and size
    • color
    • art supplies: paint, crayons, play dough
    • letters, numbers, and words
    • animals, botany, science
    • putting puzzles and blocks together (also Magantiles and Legos)
    • objects from nature (leaves, rocks, seashells, seeds, and so on)
    • practical activities, like putting on shoes, coat, buttoning, lacing, opening/closing containers, hand washing, scrubbing, and so on.

You’re probably familiar with Melissa and Doug’s toys. This is an example of a popular toy brand that definitely has a Montessori edge to them. Similarly, Fat Brain Toys and KiwiCo are other great examples of Montessori-style toy and activity brands.

Montessori toy shelf, montessori toys, activities, toddler, 2 and a half years old
Puzzles at 2 and a half years old

It’s totally okay and up to you if you want to put other toys on your shelf. They don’t have to always be Montessori-style. I’ve mixed it up. For example, we sometimes put plastic pretend-play toys and figures on our shelf but I keep this to a minimum. I discovered that my daughter prefers the more natural Montessori toys anyway!

You can turn anything into Montessori if you have the intention behind it. The most important thing is that your child is exploring hands-on and learning independence.

Tip: Make Your Own DIY Montessori Activities

Montessori toys can be very expensive. The good thing is, you can make anything into a Montessori toy or activity with stuff you have around the house. I found amazing ideas and inspiration from Hapa Family. Have fun with it!

4. Set up the toys on trays or baskets

With older babies and young toddlers, it’s okay to put beginning toys on the shelf as is. Though, when they begin walking and become more comfortable with the shelf, you can start putting toys on separate trays or baskets.

You want to have no more than 10 trays/baskets on the shelf at one time. If you go more than that, the shelf may end up looking cluttered and it can become overwhelming for your child.

I made the mistake of putting too much stuff on my daughter’s shelf. My daughter was not interested in the shelf and became bored. We remedied this by limiting the toys on the shelf. It made a big difference!

Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 2 years old
Magnetic pattern blocks tray set-up (2 and a half years old)

Tip: tray set-up idea

Instead of putting the toy on the shelf as it came in the box, break it into smaller pieces and put it on a tray so that it’s more inviting to your child. This way, she is not overwhelmed and it’s easier to work on it independently.

For instance, my daughter loves putting together patterns and puzzles. She loves these Magnetic pattern blocks. It comes with a plastic zipper bag with a lot of magnetic pieces and a handful of picture pattern cards.

To set up this toy, I choose one picture at a time and gather all the magnetic pieces needed for that one picture. Then, I put these pieces in a separate small tray. Eventually, we change up the pictures and pieces when she gets bored with it, as needed.

Control of Error

In this example, there’s an added bonus of putting only the exact magnet pieces needed for the picture pattern. Now you have control of error. In Montessori philosophy, this means that the toy is self-correcting.

This means, your child is given the opportunity to figure out on her own if she completed the activity the right way, without the adult correcting her. Hence, encouraging your child’s independence, confidence, and self-discipline.

5. Rotate the toys

How often should you rotate the Montessori toys? You will need to rotate the toys on the shelf on a regular basis. Otherwise, your child will become bored. How often you rotate the toys depends on your child. Further, the frequency may change over time. It could be every week to every three weeks, or as needed.

Additionally, you could change out one or two toys, here or there, or change them all at one time. I do both. About once per month, I change out all of the toys on the shelf. I remove everything off the shelf and put everything on the floor while I dust the empty shelves.

While I do this, I look for clues as to what my daughter really liked on the shelf, because she’ll start exploring with them on the floor. As I put all of these toys away, I look through toys and activities stored in the closet to put on the shelf next. I involve my daughter.

I replace all the toys we had on the shelf with all different ones. It’s wonderful to start fresh and my daughter notices right away with excitement!

Tip: Observe, Observe, Observe!

The best way to know what to put on the shelf next is to observe your kids throughout the day. While you’re watching your kids, ask yourself questions. You’ll start to notice patterns.

For example:

  • What worked and what didn’t work?
  • Do they have a favorite toy right now?
  • Which books do they take out mostly these days?
  • Is there a toy they never want to play with and why?
  • Did your child have an “aha” moment and is there a way to challenge her further?

Above all, you know your kids best!

Montessori Toy shelf, Montessori toys, toddler, activities, 2 years and 7 months, 31 months old
Magnetic dress-up toy at 2 years and 7 months

The Journey Continues

I will continue with our Montessori Toy shelf as my daughter grows, throughout our homeschooling journey. This shelf setup can also be used to organize your homeschooling lessons and activities for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and beyond.

I never thought I would homeschool our daughter. After all, teaching in the Montessori classroom was my life. When my daughter turned two-years-old during the summer of 2020, I started to research homeschooling.

We decided to homeschool our daughter, after reading about it and discussing it. There are good things and challenging things about homeschooling. But, we came up with many reasons to homeschool. I read Motivation for Homeschooling, which brings up big reasons why we decided to homeschool.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether you’re homeschooling your child or not, having a Montessori Toy shelf is a great way for your child to practice independence and confidence. It’s also a wonderful way to keep your home and kids’ stuff organized and beautiful.

Do you have a Montessori Toy Shelf or something similar? Tell us about your journey in the comments, below!

I’m a Montessori mommy mentor, trained in Montessori 3-6, M.A.Ed, and homeschooler. I’m here to inspire you on your Montessori at home journey! Let’s connect at Bright Little Owl.

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