Montessori children’s environments are carefully designed to encourage independence and concentration. Even small changes in a room can have a noticeable impact on children’s behavior.
Whether or not your child is in a Montessori school, setting up a Montessori-inspired play space at home is really simple, and may transform the way your child plays.
Here’s what to do:
I recently had someone ask me why our playroom, setup for my 1-year-old, is so “minimalist.” This totally caught me off guard because I had never thought about it that way. When I started comparing it to more traditional children’s rooms though, I quickly got what they meant.
Montessori spaces use more neutral colors than the bright colors often associated with young children. The goal is to make the space soothing, so that it fosters concentration. They also have far fewer things, both on the walls and to play with—you may find a small shelving unit with two or three shelves and just a few items on each shelf, with plenty of space between each toy.
If you want to make a Montessori playroom in your home, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of a bunch of toys, but you will likely want to put many of them in storage. Putting out just a few toys at once, and rotating them regularly, allows your child to really focus on what’s available. Rotating toys has the added bonus of keeping your child’s interest as you can regularly put out “new” things without breaking the bank.
When you offer limited options, it also becomes really clear which ones spark your child’s curiosity. I’ve often noticed that a once beloved toy has remained on the shelf for a whole week untouched. I then know that it’s time to put it away and put out something different.
2. Give everything a place
Montessori wrote a lot about “sensitive periods.” A sensitive period is a time when a child is especially attracted to and able to learn about something. Children have a sensitive period for order from birth through age five, peaking in early toddlerhood.
You can see this through young children’s love for routine and repetition (and their sometimes extreme reactions to something being done the “wrong” way or in the “wrong” order). Young children like order in their daily lives, and also in their physical environments, but they definitely need some help to establish that.
Montessori environments support this desire for order through giving everything a specific spot where it goes. You will not find big toy bins full of many unrelated things in Montessori play spaces. Each toy has a space where it belongs on a shelf. Toys including multiple pieces, like blocks or play animals, are often organized in small baskets or trays on the shelf.
You might think this would make it more difficult for the children to put their things away, but it’s really the opposite. It turns out it is much more satisfying to put something in the perfect spot where it belongs, than to toss everything together in a big bin.
Always finding things in the same spot is calming because it’s predictable.
3. Include open space
Montessori environments have plenty of work space, both on the floor and at tables, once the child is old enough to sit at a table independently. Having open space in the room also allows for plenty of movement, which is essential for young children.
4. Think low
The furniture in Montessori classrooms is child-sized and the materials are kept on low shelves so that the child can access them herself. For a toddler or older, you would also want to include a child-sized table and chair so the child has the option to play on the floor, or at a table for things like puzzles.
You may also want to have a high-up wall shelf to keep any of your own items, like a cell phone or cup of coffee, that you don’t want your child to play with.
5. Include nature
If possible, choose a room with natural light. Few things are more beautiful than watching a baby discover shadows by playing in the changing light from a window or watching a child mesmerized by the rain.
Windows also offer endless entertainment and opportunities to talk about what your child sees, whether looking out at a busy street or a quiet backyard. If the window is too high up for your child to look out of, try providing a step stool. Just make sure to ensure safety while you child is by the window.
It’s also wonderful to include plants and animals in the environment whenever possible. Hanging plants or herbs with edible leaves are a great option for babies in the “eat everything in sight” stage. House plants also offer toddlers and older children a chance to take care of something, as well as adding natural beauty to the room.
Babies and young children also love watching fish or other pets and toddlers and older can help feed and care for them as well.
6. Make it beautiful…for the child
So many children’s rooms have beautiful artwork or photographs hanging, but at a height where children can’t see them. Montessori spaces hang artwork at the child’s level. This way the child can really benefit from the beautiful images you select
For babies, it’s great to include simple black and white images. For older children, images from nature, family photographs, your child’s artwork, interesting maps, and art from different styles of painters or different cultures all work well.
7. Choose toys carefully
Unless you are homeschooling, there is no need to fill your home with “academic” work. It is great to choose a variety of toys that help your child develop in different ways though.
You might think about including toys that develop fine motor (small muscles), gross motor (big muscles), art and music, books, and open ended items (like blocks) for creative play. It’s also important to include toys that offer a varying degree of difficulty. You want a mix of challenging toys, like maybe a puzzle with more pieces than your child usually works with, and things that are easy and familiar for your her to play with when she needs a mental break.
In Montessori, we also look for open ended toys that engage rather than entertain. We don’t generally include things that light up or make noises. We also choose toys made from natural materials, like wood and metal, whenever possible to give the child more real experiences.
8. Create a cozy space
Lastly, it is great to include a cozy space, somewhere for your child to rest or recover from an upsetting moment. This is often a big floor pillow in a corner for a younger child. It could be a comfy chair by a window for an older child.
This might seem like a lot to think about, but the great thing is you can totally pick and choose what works for your child and your home. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You may decide to simplify, but keep your child’s favorite electronic toy. Or you may choose to have low, orderly shelves, but also keep a big bin of stuffed animals.
Do what works for you mama!