What are Montessori Infant / Baby Shelves?
For the first time parent who may wonder what are Montessori infant shelves and how are we supposed to use them?
The shelves promote independence as the child is able to access them by themselves, and they promote order, the child is able to see all of their materials and when they are slightly older will be able to put them back where they got them from! The shelves can be in the child's room or in a shared space such as a living room or playroom.
The shelves are:
- Low. So that the crawling infant can see the materials on the top shelf. So that the infant can use the shelves to pull to standing and cruise around them.
- Safe, solid and stable. We want the infant to use the shelve to pull to standing, for this reason they must be solid and stable.
- Wooden. Because we prefer to use natural materials where possible.
- Open. This is personal preference, I prefer open shelves that are light in appearance, let lots of natural light in.
- Beautiful. Add some interesting art work above the shelves not only to beautify the environment but to provide a point of interest above the shelves.
- Simple in design.
- Clean and not cluttered.
- Long Lasting. Can be used right through toddlerhood and even for preschoolers.
The materials are:
- Developmentally and age appropriate.
- Chosen specifically to follow the infant's interests. An example of this is Otto (top image, at ten months) like to bang things, so we have a little drum and xylophone. He likes object permanence boxes and activities with balls so we have the ball run.
- Purposeful. Carefully chosen.
- Functional. Beautiful. Made from natural materials where possible.
- Rotated to keep the infant's interest.
- Low in number. We perhaps have too many out at the moment. For an infant under 12 months, I would put out no more than eight activities on shelves like this but six might work better.
- Safe. If any of the materials have small parts, store them up high and only use them under direct supervision.
- If the child just throws all of the materials off the shelves, don't worry this is completely normal behavior. Observe the child and see what happens next. Often Otto (top image, at ten months) will remove all of the materials from the shelves and then... he will sit down and use them. One by one he will use the stacker, then use the puzzle and so on. It's lovely to observe.
- Model using the materials when necessary but do so with deliberate and slow actions. Initially just use movement and add words later. If you talk too much the infant will start watching your mouth not your hands.
- Observe. Observe. Observe. You may see that your child has no interest in the materials. Remove the materials and perhaps rotate them back in later. You may observe that your child doesn't have the coordination for the materials. Again remove the material and rotate back in when you think they may be ready.
- Leave materials on the shelves that your child is really into/interested in. Watch for repetition.
- Enjoy. When your child is concentrating and working hard with the materials, it can be a really beautiful moment.
- Allow the child to access the shelves and select and use the materials independently. Observation and supervision are important but you don't need to be playing with or using the materials with the child.
- I like to have the shelves in place from birth. The shelves give the child a target, something to move towards, which is particularly useful in the bedroom if you are using the floor bed. Often when the infant wakes they can then crawl to their shelves to play.
The shelves in the top two images are c/o Sprout.