I had the opportunity to walk into a few Montessori classrooms. There was a striking commonality -- Montessori classrooms are beautiful, inviting spaces. There was an air of calm, with Montessori children independently exploring and engaging in different tasks. The serenity felt quite surreal and immediately brought to mind this quote.
Play is the work of the child.
-- Dr. Maria Montessori
After I read The Montessori Toddler which showed handpicked Montessori home examples by author Simone Davies, I was even more inspired to review and revamp my toddler's play environment. Four things were apparent from the book:
- A Montessori home doesn't have to created with big budgets
- Large living spaces aren't a pre-requisite
- Montessori homes don't have to look Pinterest or Instagram worthy
- A Montessori home just has to be set up with the child's needs in mind, applying the Montessori principles.
With that, I began my journey to design a Montessori home for my toddler in our 500sqft apartment. I wanted to achieve these goals:
- Providing "The Prepared Environment" for my toddler, a place that facilitates her independent play, learning and exploration.
- Setup of a Montessori work shelf, with curated and rotated learning materials that align to my toddler's developmental needs and develop her interests.
- Creation of a system -- a place for everything so it was easy for my toddler and me to restore everything to its place.
Overcoming the Space Constraint
Living in a 500sqft rented apartment, careful planning was needed to utilise every nook and cranny of the house. These were the things I did that helped to free up usable space, compartmentalise things and turn my apartment into a child-friendly Montessori home:
- I maximised vertical space, big time.
I used 3M wall hooks obsessively (and sometimes excessively). There were hooks along the doorway to hang up everyone's outerwear, bags and socks; in the bathroom to hang up toiletries to free up the low drawers for my toddler's clothings; in the bedroom to hang up jackets on cold nights and quiet toys for my toddler to play with on early-rising mornings; in the play area to hang up musical instruments and my toddler's artworks; in the kitchen to arrange our utensils and free up our severely limited kitchen tabletop space.
- I decluttered my house ruthlessly.
I used the tips learnt from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō to help me 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.
- I child-sized my home furniture.
I blessed away my sofa bed, dining table and chairs to neighbors in my apartment building and welcomed a low Japanese-style dining table and bean bag sofa.
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 sofa became my toddler's favourite spot to cosy up and enjoy a book.
- Living Room
To optimise space for movement and activities in the middle of the living room, all the furniture were moved to the walls.
Against the left wall are my toddler's toy kitchen and work shelf; the middle wall, the electronic keyboard (for my husband and toddler's use), music bookshelf and bean bag sofa; the right wall, my toddler's bookshelf with books in the top two rows and open art supplies in the bottom row.
I placed the Pikler triangle and wobbel board away from the walls to allow some space in the central area of the living room for my toddler to master movement. She could usually be seen climbing the Pikler, sliding down, hanging from the rungs, running around the Pikler and balancing on the board over there.
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.
An example of leveraging 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 to.
I freed up the lowest drawer in my kitchen drawers and designated it as my toddler's utensil drawer where I place her cutlery (plate, bowl, cup), fork, teaspoons and kitchen tools (whisk, cookie cutters and small cutting board). She uses these kitchen tools in our baking sessions.
I place kitchen towels on the oven 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.
In the doorway, I freed up space (by placing my husband and my shoes into a over the door shoe organiser) to set up a self-care station for my toddler. There is a mirror for my toddler to check her appearance, knob rack to hang up her headgear and outerwear as well as a wall shelf for eyewear, hair accessories and going-out essentials such as sunscreen.
Sock baskets are hung up at the doorway, one basket for my toddler's socks and the other for my (+ husband's) socks. My toddler has access to her socks and spends much time here practising the art of donning and taking off socks. She even takes socks for me and my husband as we prepare to head out.
A box and wire basket hold her shoes. The everyday shoes (sneakers and flats) are placed in the wire basket on the outside while special occasion shoewear like snow boots are placed in the box on the inside.
I repurposed a musical chair (gifted by family) as her shoe trying chair. This is a place where my toddler can sit comfortably to put on clothes, socks and shoes independently.
There is a corner in the doorway for my toddler's cleaning caddy, a swiffer (which we would adjust to her height when she uses it) and our vacuum cleaner. I typically place a sponge, coverall and squeeze bottle in the cleaning caddy.
My toddler uses her cleaning caddy to help clean the windows and scrub the table. Through these practical life activities, my toddler has developed a sense of order and heightened awareness of the state of her surroundings.
A wall hook holds my toddler's towel for face and hand drying. I used two hair ties to make a loop so my toddler can easily hang up the towel on the hook.
This low drawer contains my toddler's PJs, diapers/training underwear and moisturisers.
Because I ran out of drawer space for my toddler's clothes, I hang up a netted bag for my toddler's going-out clothes such as leggings, pants and sweaters.
A basket on a low wall hook holds a book (rotated) for my toddler to read as she sits and waits on the potty.
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.
An incredible amount of learning takes place outside the home, which cannot be replicated back at home.
Montessori Home Inspiration
- 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
I wish you luck in creating a Montessori home you'll be proud of and one which your children will love and benefit from!
For more Montessori inspiration, follow my Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook Group.
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.
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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.