Montessori classrooms and home spaces are beautiful, inviting "yes" spaces for children to explore, play and learn independently. They are child-friendly, thoughtfully set up to empower children in everyday tasks.
- Montessori homes do not need big budgets - they don't need to be filled with teaching materials like classrooms; they just need to work for our children's needs and meet their developmental interests
- Large living spaces aren't a pre-requisite - small but space-efficient Montessori homes work just as well
- Montessori homes don't have to look Pinterest or Instagram worthy - the goal isn't to impress anyone, it's to nurture our children
- Montessori is not just an education curriculum, it's a lifestyle - the hardware matters, but so does the heartware - the values we inculcate, the daily grace and courtesy lessons we provide our children
How I Montessori My Small 500 sqft Apartment to be Child Friendly
My family lives in a compact 500 sqft one-bedroom rented apartment. We had 3 circumstantial constraints:
- Lack of space - Careful planning was needed to utilise every usable floor space, every nook and cranny of the house. Because we lacked a balcony for fresh air and gardening, we had to intentionally make time for nature outside our home
- Furnishing - Furnishing comes very basic with minimal in-built carpentry (shelves/storage spaces). This meant we had to source for affordable and practical furnishing to meet our needs for organisation, yet keep it minimal in case of a need to move. IKEA was the panacea to this problem
- Inability to make permanent changes to the house - Some rentees are able to get around this fact by patching up drilled wall holes before they leave etc, but we're not a handy family. This meant we had to be creative with utilising vertical wall spaces and securing furniture to the walls without leaving lasting damage
These were my objectives I kept in mind when I Montessori-ed my small apartment home. They helped to guide my decisions, design and layout.
- Provide a "Prepared Environment" for my toddler, where she is empowered to succeed in everyday tasks
- Setup work shelves, with curated and rotated learning materials that align to my toddler's developmental needs and develop her interests
- Create a system i.e. a place for everything to keep our Montessori homeschool resource-packed yet clutter-free
Home Tour of My Small Montessori Space
- Living Room/Play Space
Many families have "playrooms". We only have 1 bedroom, which is reserved for resting/sleeping. We didn't have the means to set aside a separate play room so fusing the living room with my toddler's play space was our solution. In fact, that turned out to be the best decision ever.
It made play ubiquitous and authentic. It created the culture of playing whenever, whatever. Play wasn't something done or confined within 4 walls. A no-boundaries play space also meant that play happened spontaneously and naturally where my toddler was comfortable or inspired - which often meant in our presence.
Layout wise, to optimise space for movement and activities in the middle of the living room, all furniture were moved to the walls.
While front-facing book shelves are more attractive to children, the lack of space meant I had to make do with a shelf showing book spines. I made extra effort to read books to my toddler everyday starting from babyhood so reading became a daily habit, and positioned special books on window ledges or propped against book spines to draw her attention to certain books.
I also demonstrated how to retrieve and return books to the shelf repeatedly, as it's harder to do than front-facing shelves. Eventually my toddler recognised books by their spines, and had no issues taking and returning books on her own.
The bottom row of the bookshelf is designated as our open art area, where my toddler could independently select and use the supplies to create art or practise writing.
A trolley beside the bookshelf houses more art supplies, as well as puzzles and open-ended toys that don't fit on shelves.
We made a conscientious and painful decision to bless our bulky sofa away, so we could create room for a floor-based giant bean bag seat. It's more accessible and easy for my toddler to curl up into to peruse books, not to mention comfortable. More importantly, it's portable and multi-use (we often repurposed it in obstacle courses, an extension of Pikler play).
These are our Montessori work shelves, holding development-appropriate work trays and open-ended toys. A small whiteboard provides print exposure on a seasonal/thematic unit study we are currently exploring.
For instance, I laid out a wooden palette and Christmas-themed play dough for exploration on top of a work shelf. The play dough is placed in a glass container that my toddler can independently open and close.
As she is keen in learning to write, I also included a tracing activity tray in her work shelf.
Open-ended toys (nesting dolls, "Pink Tower" (natural wood version) and Grimms wooden blocks) populate the rest of the work shelf compartments.
Toys that complement are placed adjacent on the shelves e.g. barnhouse with animal figurines in a basket (middle row) and dollhouse with miniature furniture (bottom row).
By the window next to the bean bag seat is a wobbel board. My toddler enjoys practising gross motor skills and perching upon it/standing on it to watch activity below - like mail trucks or construction.
Sometimes I sit by her side to describe what we can see outside the window (weather, people, vehicles, buildings etc). These create authentic learning opportunities to teach rich vocabulary and match her understanding of objects to the real world.
We don't have room for an elaborate water and snack self-serve station, so we kept it simple. A wooden crate to hold an always-filled glass pitcher (post on introducing glassware to children here) and easy-to-open food containers/jars with snacks like fruits, crackers and nuts.
Note: Leave out as much snacks as you find permissible - some children may like to graze before mealtimes which affect appetite.
Since my toddler learnt how to open the refrigerator, she accesses fruits easily, brings them to me and we cut them together, so I rarely leave out fruits. It's more preferable to leave out less perishable food like crackers and nuts.
Within close proximity of the book shelf and art trolley is a child-sized IKEA flisat table and chair, which offers storage in the tubs. Beneath the table is usable space where I keep Magna-tiles in a basket, which she can easily retrieve to build structures on the table (or floor if she prefers).
We made the decision to place our electronic keyboard on the floor to facilitate my toddler's easy access to music. This meant from an early age she could toddle to the keyboard, turn it on independently and tinker with the keys. A ukulele is hung from a low wall hook for the same purpose. A wall shelf holds music books.
Note: Placing the keyboard on the floor results in restrictive and poor posture for grown-ups. This is an interim arrangement till we find a sturdy bench that my toddler could independently climb onto and seat herself. No regrets for this floor-level arrangement though, it really sparked my toddler's interest in music and brought joy to us seeing her independently attempt scales (yes scales!)
When we introduce other music instruments and DIY music makers (not pictured), we place them in a small basket next to the keyboard to strengthen the association that that is the music zone.
We have the IKEA toy kitchen for creative play, which has really taken off since my toddler turned 2. While Montessori advocates realistic practical life activities (e.g. helping to cook a meal) vs. pretend cooking, we like that this toy kitchen gives my toddler the opportunity to role-play what she's learnt in kitchen skills from us, and create imaginary recipes that boost her language development.
If you prefer a more practical, realism-based use for this kitchen, google "Montessori practical kitchens" for inspiration. I've seen IKEA hacks detailing how to swap out the faux tap for a functioning tap to wash their hands, or turned into snack and water self-serve stations.
I've also leveraged the space beneath the toy kitchen as storage space. Here's a round work mat with foldable upturned edges that is essential for sensory/messy play. My toddler pulls it out to play with sensory rice and returns it after use.
Beside the work mat is a plastic tub of sensory rice (with wooden alphabet letters and pom pom balls for independent hide-and-seek activity). My toddler can pull it out on her own some times, but if the rims of the tub gets caught, she would ask for my assistance. On sensory play that is messy, it's key to lay down ground rules like "sensory rice has to stay within the work mat" and allow freedom of exploration within these limits.
I repurposed Melissa and Doug wooden crates into holders for the toy kitchen tools. This makes it easy for my toddler to access her tools by pulling the crate out and picking out what she needs vs. rummaging through the cabinets.
I love that these tools are totally functional for play dough manipulation and even practical life activities like cookie shaping and potato mashing.
I also include nested cookie cutters in my toddler's toy kitchen for pretend play and size sorting work. Cloth baskets are very useful for holding lots of play food and take up little space.
Note that the Pikler Triangle is in its own "island" and furniture are all kept close to the wall except for my toddler's table, chair and wobbel board, which can be freely moved around the house. Positioning the Pikler Triangle away from the walls allows some space in the central area of the living room for my toddler to master movement.
My toddler is on the Pikler Triangle almost everyday, it's one of my best investments. Here's a post about encouraging Pikler safety if you're interested.
When it is sunny, I turn off indoor lights and move my toddler's table to the window side so she could bask in and work in the indirect sunlight.
We have 1 bedroom and our toddler fits with us in the same (enlarged - 1 queen + 1 twin) bed. This sleeping arrangement works great not only with our apartment size but also with our parenting preference.
We kept it very simple and minimalistic in the bedroom - a floor lamp with a step stool for my toddler who likes being in charge of the lights, a DIY cardboard house with a floor cushion which serves as a "calming corner" for our toddler, a floor basket to house all soft toys and a hanging woven basket (not pictured) to hold some essentials like a flashlight, night diapers, saline nasal spray, wet wipes and skin moisturizer.
When my toddler was younger, I freed up the lowest drawer in my kitchen drawers and designated it as my toddler's utensil drawer where I placed her cutlery (plate, bowl, cup), fork, teaspoons and kitchen tools (whisk, cookie cutters and small cutting board). She used these kitchen tools in our baking sessions (easy recipes I've tried with her here).
When she got older, she could climb up an improvised kitchen step stool (foldable chair) to access utensils from our drying rack so I no longer had to designate this space for her utensils.
I also placed dish towels on the oven door handle which is toddler-height. I taught my toddler to retrieve the towels to mop up spills and she does so now on her initiative.
Typically doorways hold coat racks and shoe racks, but I wanted to fit in a grooming self-care area for my toddler, as well as a space for her to independently put on her socks, shoes, coats, mittens, headwear (and now masks).
- Over the door shoe organiser for my husband's and my footwear - sneakers, slippers and day to day footwear. Only our boots don't fit so those are stashed away and only taken out when needed.
- Wall hooks to hang up our outerwear and baby carrier.
- Wall basket holds our caps and headgear.
Got more than I'd bargained for. I managed to free up so much space that we could even place our cleaning supplies (vacuum cleaner + swiffer) and air purifier in the doorway.
Items in the grooming self-care shelf varies seasonally but include:
- Hair grooming tools (comb and brushes)
- Eyewear (shades)
- Hair accessories
- Sunscreen bottle
For the other corner of the doorway, we placed a standing trolley and step stool. The step stool allows my toddler to sit on and try on her shoes and boots.
The trolley houses additional clothing items (or temporarily, things we need to bring out of the house) like scarves in the top section, masks and socks in the middle section, as well as my toddler's shoes in the bottom section.
A wire basket gives a neater impression as it keeps pairs of footwear placed side by side, and allows shoes to be stacked since the trolley section is shallow.
We practise minimalism with footwear - 1 pair of boots (for rainy/snowy weather), 1 pair of flats for short-distance places (like bringing out the trash) and 1 pair of sneakers (for regular activity).
2 sock baskets hold my toddler's socks on the left and the grown-ups' socks on the right. The accessibility to her socks and shoes led my toddler to master the practical life skill of putting them on in early toddlerhood and now she has also taken the initiative to pick socks for me and my husband as we prepare to head out.
Before my toddler's cardboard cleaning caddy gave way, we placed it in the doorway too, containing a sponge, coverall and squeeze bottle. This was useful for cleaning up mud and dirt we bring into the house with our footwear.
Doing so has allowed my toddler to develop a sense of order and heightened awareness of the cleanliness state of her surroundings.
It must be evident now that we have a lot of wall hooks in our small apartment home. These ones in the bathroom provide easy storage for clothings we need right out of the bath, since our main clothing closet is not located in the bathroom. My toddler's baby bath tub is also hung up. The pink towel next to the bathtub is my toddler's, which she can independently pull off the hook first thing out of the bathtub.
I help her to place her towel back onto the hook after use, though occasionally she brings her step stool over to do it herself.
I freed up an inbuilt sink drawer for my toddler's going-out clothes. Again, we practise minimalism as much as we can with her wardrobe.
Another one for her pyjamas, which takes up a lot of real estate seeing as it is our official homeschooling attire and we've stayed home for 9 months since the pandemic outbreak in Washington.
Another trolley in a corner space in the bathroom for organisation and storage of clothes, toilet paper rolls (middle section) and diapers (bottom section). This means my toddler has access to toilet paper rolls, which she changes for us when the dispenser runs out, and diapers, which we give her an option to wear alongside training underwear.
Beside our toilet bowl is my toddler's potty with a low-hanging mesh bag holding her training underwear. A pack of wet wipes is placed on our toilet bowl tank cover which she could use, in addition to toilet paper roll.
We have suction wall hooks for bath toys (stainless steel pots and pans set from IKEA and Squigz). Metal and silicone based toys complement water use and are not susceptible to mold, so I find them good alternatives to plastic bath toys.
Not pictured here but I place natural bar soap on silicone holders on the bathroom ledge, which my toddler can independently access to wash herself.
I made this makeshift system to hang up my toddler's baby bath tub, which helps it dry quickly and prevents it from taking up floor space.
This same elastic band idea is also used to create a hanging loop for hand towels. This brilliant idea is from Three Minute Montessori, who shares many useful life hacks for Montessori-ing in small spaces.
The benefits of attaching an elastic band to hand towels - Children can easily pull it to their height to wipe their hands dry, and upon release, it springs back onto the wall hook. I also occasionally upcycle old garments to turn them into hand towels. These DIY hand towels do not come with loops for hanging unlike store-bought ones, so elastic bands to the rescue!
Summary: Tips for Maximising Space Efficiency
As evidenced in above pictures, these are the easy and practical approaches I adopted to create a compact and highly space-efficient Montessori home in our 500 sqft apartment.
- Maximise vertical space
With limited floor space, it's key to utilise as much vertical wall space as possible. Wall hooks, wall shelves and wall racks do wonders in organisation and create usable space.
I use 3M wall hooks abundantly. There's almost no panel of wall in my apartment home that doesn't have a wall hook.
This is a low wall hook for my toddler's backpack. I guide her in packing her books and snacks to prepare for heading out. She would complete the activity cycle by taking the bag off the hook and bringing it to the door. When she returns home, she places her bag back on the hook, often without being told.
Here's another example of how I used a peg board and hanging cloth divider to arrange kitchen utensils.
- Declutter my house ruthlessly
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō taught me how to decide whether something should stay or go. The items that stayed had to spark joy in my life.
I found preloved items in pristine condition a second home on Facebook Marketplace. I made plenty of donations to Goodwill. For outgrown baby clothes and items, I passed them to mom friends, and friends of mom friends. It was really painful to part with many of those items, especially baby stuff that hold sentimental value. I had to remind myself that those items would be given a new lease of life and I was making space for things required for a new season in life.
- Be minimalistic in belongings
Open-ended toys grow with children and offer the most mileage/value as they can be played with in different ways matching children's developmental interests, abilities and imagination.
Nearing my toddler's birthdays and the gifting season, I create wishlists for my family and friends to know what to gift her. This has helped to keep our toys collection lean.
Where possible, I try to borrow books from friends/the library instead of buying.
- Child-size home furniture, where possible
I blessed bulky furniture - sofa bed, dining table and chairs - to neighbors in my apartment building and welcomed a low Japanese-style dining table and bean bag chair in their place.
This arrangement pleased my toddler who no longer had to bear with the confines of the high chair during meals. Family meals became longer, and more enjoyable. The bean bag chair also became my toddler's favourite spot to cosy up and enjoy a book.
- Make learning ubiquitous and subliminal around the house
Inspired by CHALK Academy, I added Chinese labels to name the high-touch areas in my toddler's play environment.
A print-rich environment promotes pre-literacy skills.
I chose to emphasise Chinese character recognition as my toddler is used to seeing English print in her environment and books.
This ongoing pervasive language learning made up for Chinese books I could not buy and fit into her bookshelf.
We couldn't introduce kitchen helper stools because they are bulky and take up far too much space. Though it's not ideal in safety, we started using existing foldable chairs as makeshift helper stools, under close supervision.
Learning to make do or repurpose existing resources creatively has saved us lots of space and money. It is also an important life skill which we hope our toddler picks up through observing us and how we think.
This is an example of how we improvised to create a festive atmosphere at home when we do not have space for a Christmas tree and want to be minimalistic in decorations.
We placed them on wall hooks and on top of the work shelf where they are visible and decorative.
Outdoor play is important to a child's development and the best sensorial classroom for children. Living in a small apartment without a backyard (or even balcony) means my toddler misses out on interactions with nature.
Therefore I make it a point to regularly bring my toddler outdoors. I bookmark nature spots in our vicinity and we get there by foot. This helps us stay active, enables my toddler to recognise our neighbourhood and experience things and people along the way.
Montessori Home Inspiration
These bloggers inspired me with how they practised Montessori in small spaces too.
- How We Montessori has an insightful article about Montessori in small living spaces
- Three Minute Montessori created a wonderful prepared environment for her children in her small rented apartment
- Coffee and Toast Mama created a child-friendly Montessori home in a small apartment
Have fun and good luck in creating a Montessori home which your children will love and benefit from!
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Note: I am not trained in Montessori, so all of the above information is derived from my own research and understanding of the Montessori method as well as my education and experience working with young children. Also, none of above links are affiliate ones; I do not earn commissions when you click on them.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.