Skip to main content

Montessori Toddler Trays -- How Do You Set Up Toddler Toys in a Montessori Way?


An important part of a Montessori environment is having an orderly and prepared space. The phrase "a place for everything and everything in its place" is often used. This means that toys and materials should be neatly placed on shelves instead of thrown into a toy box or bin. But, it also means that each tray should be neatly organized and accessible. 

This doesn't just make your environment look neat and organized, but it actually entices a child to the materials themselves. By having everything neat and organized, a toddler can see the material, and easily remove it from the shelf. It can also give clues to the toddler about what should be done with the toy or material. 


This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

When I first started Montessori, I believed that throwing everything onto a tray was good enough. However, over time I've come to realize it's more nuanced than that. Here are some considerations that I make when presenting materials: 


  • How heavy is the tray? Heavy work will spill all over as a toddler takes it out

  • How large is the tray? If its too large, things will again spill and dump all over

  • Is the tray itself organized? Dumping stuff onto the tray is not going to entice a child

  • Is the tray a hindrance? This is that fine line where you have to recognize that somethings do better in a basket, or alone on the shelf.
  • Is the work ready for a toddler to complete? What's the fun in having an activity that is already been done? The work on the tray must be {deconstructed} ready for a toddler to use.
     
Every one of these things has taken me time and observation to get right with Nora. I can present a material one way and she won't even look at it! Change up how I place it on my shelf and I set her up for success!

So, concrete example time! Here are some examples of how I place materials on Nora's {20-months} shelves. 

Puzzles: This is one area that I think is uniquely Montessori. Puzzles are not placed completed on a shelf! If you do that, then the child's work is done, and there's no reason for the child to use the puzzle. Instead, a basket near the puzzle frame with the pieces does the trick! If its a small puzzle I might put the frame and pieces on one tray. Otherwise I have them sit next to each other on the shelf. 


It works so well that I couldn't even keep Nora away while I was taking pictures of her work!


Multiple Pieces: Things that are multiple but related pieces, I just use a basket of some sort. Schleich animals, cars or blocks, for example, all go into manageable baskets. Same for things like bead stringing or classification cards


Sorting and Other Purposeful Work: These are things where there is a specific goal in mind. Maybe shape sorting, maybe placing rings on dowels, maybe stacking in an order. For these things, I don't necessarily set the tray or material up as the manufacturer intended -- at least not right away. In some cases, I may limit the pieces so its age appropriate, in some cases I may just take it apart. 

Let's use this shape sorter as an example. Here's how the toy is intended to be set up: 


While there is nothing wrong with the way the toy is intended to use, its just a bit too complicated for Nora. By separating it and placing the pieces on a smaller tray and placing the pieces in the basket, the whole thing becomes more manageable. She's less likely to dump it out and it can be easily restored. Eventually, I will get a bigger tray and use it as intended (and organizing it deconstructed like a puzzle).  


Other examples: 


For me, its been trial and error learning how to best present materials in my home. Observe your child and do what draws them in! 

How to you present materials to toddlers? Have you noticed that one way works better than another? 

Comments

This comment has been removed by the author.
Thanks for your useful advice on how to present puzzles. I have one just ready for my 15 yo child and was wondering how to put it on her shelves. I'll let you know if it works the same for us. :)
Christy McGuire said…
I am inspired to give some more thought to how things at arranged for my 2 year old. Thanks!
mommy PSC said…
I love this post ! My son is turning 16 months soon ! I just have some questions:
- how many toys can you put on the shelves at a time ? We have a shelf but it has many slots
- what are the basic toys that are must haves for this age range ? It would be pricey to get him everything :)
- I'm pretty new to montessori but how do you present the DIY trays (the discovery basket, smelling jar, etc) ? Do you also include them together with the toys?
Bridget Henry said…
I am currently setting up a playroom for my 7 month old :)
Love the Montessori way!
Where did you find that cute little puppy & kitten puzzle?
I'd love to get one for her!
Thanks so much!
Bridget
Unknown said…
I did not think of this. Thank you!

Popular Posts

The Ultimate Montessori Toy List -- Birth to Five -- UPDATED 2020

When you are interested in Montessori, it can be difficult to know exactly what types of products you should get for your home. Or which types of "Montessori" materials are really worth the price. There are no rules about types of products can use the name Montessori which can add to the confusion. Not to mention, every toy manufacturer slaps the word "educational" on the package for good measure! 2021 UPDATE: Please be patient with links this year, with supply chain issues things are selling out faster and restocking slower. I anticipate some of the specialty toys will not restock once they are gone. So, with this post, I'm going to try to help with this confusion! Here's a list of Montessori-friendly toys and materials for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  First, let's clarify that there is no such thing as a "Montessori toy." Montessori never created toys, but only works for classroom settings. While there are many work

Montessori Toddler: Favorite Toys and Activities 18 to 20 months

I've been putting off this post for a little while because I felt a little disappointed that I didn't have more to share. See, Teddy just isn't that into materials, especially those on the shelf. He tends to return to a couple of favorites over and over again and ignore all other attempts at shelf work. But, really that's my own adult feelings getting in the way of Teddy's own interests, and developmental path.  It's also me subconsciously valuing fine motor skills and stillness as more important than gross motor play and movement. I working hard not to do that, and want to normalize that all toddlers are different. All children have different interests and that concentration doesn't have to mean sitting still for long stretches of time.  This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you. With all that said, here are some of Teddy's favorites over the last couple of months. Favorite Montessori Toys 18 to 20 Months I'm listing the toys that have be

Our Kids' Montessori Gift Lists 2020

With the holiday season upon us we've been making lists and gathering gifts for the Kavanaugh children. It's always a fun process of observing my children, seeing what they would really be interested in and making some decisions based on what I see. This year is different because I'm also making decisions knowing that we are looking at a very long and quiet winter ahead. So that's influencing the amount I will buy and the specific choices I will/have made.  Henry and Nora are also at the point, being into the second plane of development, where they heavily influence the items on the list and what is ultimately purchased. So, you'll see that while Montessori influences what I will purchase and what goes on their list, so does their own preferences and personality.  This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.  Theodore Teddy is 14-months-old right now and as the fourth baby, we have so many toddler things. But, there are a few things I've still found tha