It can be a little overwhelming at the beginning when choosing to go with a Montessori-inspired set up in your child’s learning area at home. In some countries, you can even apply for subscriptions to have different Montessori resources and work sent to you every few months. For those of us living in Ho Chi Minh City, we must rely on our own investigation skills and lots of DIY projects to create a fulfilling Montessori shelf that fits our child’s needs. The good news is, at home the shelf is less of a focus than it would be in a classroom. At home, we often focus on practical life skills and get our children involved in our daily tasks. However, we want to make sure our child’s shelf is stimulating and meets their individual needs. So let’s take a look at some basics to set up your Montessori Shelf at home.

Open Shelf

In order to allow for accessibility, it is important for your shelving system to be low and open. Some people like shelving systems with partitions and others prefer the clean look of a totally open shelf - it’s up to you. Most importantly, the shelf should be low and allow for around 4 - 6 different learning activities to be neatly displayed. The goal is for your child to be able to approach the shelf, choose which toy or activity they want to work with, use it for as long as they are interested, then clean up and return it to the shelf.

Baskets/ Trays

While some people will place a toy or activity directly on the shelf, the best option is to have a low basket or tray to place the entire activity in. It is important that the sides of the basket are low enough so that your child can easily see what is inside, and to place only one toy or activity in each basket. While Montessori baskets or trays tend to be natural materials, there are many options including reusing cookie or chocolate tins or low cardboard boxes. Any of these can work as the main purpose is for your child to be able to independently take the basket to work with and easily clean it up and return it to the shelf. Organized baskets allow the child both independence and responsibility. They will quickly learn how to put their things away and keep them in order. As with anything, this must be modeled. If you clean up neatly and keep their things organized, they will follow - Order and Repetition are the keys!

Toy Rotation

Like your Montessori Bookshelf (front-facing bookshelf), we want activity shelves to be uncluttered, calming, and inviting. This means that not all of your child’s toys and activities will be displayed at one time. Instead, by observing your child, you can make conscious decisions about which type of toys or activities interest them and which are developmentally appropriate. Select around 4-6 different activities and display those on the shelves. If you see your child losing interest in an activity or if it is either too easy or too difficult it can be rotated out of the shelf. When rotating toys and activities, you don’t need to rotate all at once-especially if your child is still working with and interested in a toy. Additionally, it is up to you if you choose to rotate toys while your child is awake and present, or do it as a surprise while they sleep. With toy rotation, this does mean you will store the toys and activities not being displayed out of sight of your child. After a few rounds like this, we will go back to the first toys, now those items will become "new" toys for our kids. In this way, children always feel joy and enjoy the surprise of exploring "new" toys while parents don't need to buy new items all the time. An added benefit is that it's good for your wallet and for the environment as well since we are consuming less.


In Montessori classrooms, baskets and trays are organized on shelves from easy to difficult going from left to right and top to bottom. While this is not always feasible at home as we may have children of varying ages sharing one shelf, it is an option for you to consider as you organize your shelf. As with most Montessori activities, actions are carried out left to right and top to bottom to mimic the direction followed for writing and reading - and so shelf organization follows this order. However, if you do have multiple ages at home sharing the shelf, we recommend placing the toys and activities for your younger child on the bottom shelves while your older child can access the more challenging activities on the higher shelves. Again, it is all about accessibility: a baby that can crawl to the shelf will be able to independently choose an activity from the lowest shelf, a child that can stand and walk will be able to remove a basket from a higher shelf as well as return it to its place.

Front view of a 3-level shelf with baskets of toy and activities

Leave Activities ‘Undone’

Leave the activity on the shelf in its basket ‘undone’. This tends to draw children in more and gives them the opportunity to work through and try to complete the task independently first. For example, if you have a ring stacker, leave the rings in the basket next to the stacker so children can take the basket down and complete the stacking activity first, then disassemble before returning to the shelf.



As you read through this remember that you are NOT trying to recreate a Montessori classroom at home. Instead, you are trying to create a learning space for your child catered to their specific interests and abilities. You do not need to go and buy all new Montessori toys and activities to put on the shelf. Instead, we can often find things around the home that our children are interested in or repurpose materials we have to create engaging activities that aid in their current developmental stage. Keep your eyes open for an upcoming article with activities appropriate for different ages as well as how to create your own materials at home. We at Góc Montessori hope that you found this article useful as you set up your Montessori shelf at home.


Written by

Goc Montessori


>> Products mentioned in this article: Montessori Shelf

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