One of the ways that Montessori environments are different from other types of children's environments is that things are accessible as possible for the children. One way that this is done is through the use of open shelving. On these shelves work and materials are carefully organized to meet the specific needs of the children using this space.
However, there are so many children's shelving options on the market that it can be difficult to know what to look for when you are trying to find Montessori friendly options. Here are some tips that I try to keep in mind when looking for shelving:
- Accessible: You want something that is going to be accessible for your child. Infant shelves will need to be lower, for example, than a shelf for older children.
- Lightly Colored: I've seen Montessorians go both ways on this one. Many argue, and I agree, that lightly colored shelving allows the materials to stand out in a way that's harder with darker woods/shades. I have seen beautiful Montessori spaces with darker wood, so I think it can be pulled off, its just harder.
- Sturdy: You want something that can withstand a child or two using the furniture. It needs to be heavy enough not to fall over (or to be safely anchored) while in use.
These attributes can be found in a variety of shelving choices that are commercially available. Here are some of my favorites in a variety of prices and styles:
- ECR4Kids Open Shelving: Upside: available in a variety of sizes, corners rounded and heavy. Since this is specifically designed for children it can withstand some destruction. Downside: the price.
- Open Backed Shelving: Upside: specifically designed with kids in mind, can use from both sides. Downside: a bit small for the price
- Small Bookcase: Upside: great price, adjustable shelving; Downside: probably not the best quality, a little small
- Wide Bookcase: Upside: really great price and larger size, adjustable shelves; Downside: again, cheaper quality
- Custom Open Shelving: Upside: looks like they can make it to the exact size you want; Downside: price, time to make and shipping costs
- IKEA Besta Shelf: Upside: nice quality for the price, comes in a lot of sizes, wide and deep enough for bigger materials; Downside: you have to be near an IKEA or pay huge shipping costs, you have to put it together on your own, you might spend your whole life savings on all the Montessori friendly awesomeness at IKEA, not solid wood meant to last forever
- IKEA Kallax Shelving: Upside: nice quality for the price, these are flexible and can be used in a lot of ways/spaces, come in a lot of sizes; Downside: cube shelving can limit the size of materials -- I personally think they work great for infants/toddlers then become much harder to use for older children
- IKEA Lack Wall Shelving; Upside: really great price, very flexible in how you use them; Downside: you have to drill significant holes into your walls
- Modern Shelving: Upside: great look that can fit nicely into adult spaces, tall enough for older kids to use and grow into; Downside: price and have to be close to store/pay shipping
- Shelf and Book Storage: Upside: not a horrible price, solid wood and kid friendly, includes book storage; Downside: a bit small
Of all these choices, the IKEA Besta shelving is by far my favorite choice. It is my number 1 recommendation and if I had the resources I would replace all of my shelving with it. It makes for a great accessible and uniform space that I just love. But purchasing expensive shelves are not the only option for families. Thrift stores often have great pieces that can be used in Montessori spaces. Often with a little searching and a little TLC, thrift store shelves can look just as nice.
For our crafty friends, there are also great tutorials and ideas online for DIY versions, likes these:
Do you have a favorite Montessori friendly shelf? Anything I missed that should be added to this list?
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