montessori baby shelves

when i was pregnant with frankie rose, i was obsessed with getting her nursery just right and was tweaking things through my first contractions. we needed a place to feed, change diapers, sleep, read, get dressed, and play — a tall order for 50 square feet. for toys and stuffies, i designated a single wood crate and that has worked really well for us through the first seven months of her life. when frankie was born, the crate was practically empty. it contained a few rattles that i made and one or two gifts from friends. not surprisingly, the crate has filled up. it’s not overflowing (having a designated container for toys is a great way to control how much you buy/accept), but now that frankie is sitting really well on her own and clearly interested in the colourful crate, i’ve started to rethink how i’ve organized her toys.


for starters, the crate is no longer this neat. it is also on castors, which has meant i can wheel it out to the hallway or living room as needed, but frankie is on the brink of mobility and she pulls on the crate a lot, expecting it to be sturdy, i think, and then it, of course, doesn’t support her at all and she face plants. next, while she doesn’t have many toys, the crate can’t help but be a little jumbled. pierre and i can easily dig to the bottom to choose a specific toy for her, but, at seven months old, she can’t do that. just like i need to be able to see all my clothes if i’m going to wear them, frankie needs to be able to see her toys if she’s going to play with them.

i’m very interested in a few branches of alternative education, waldorf and montessori education in particular. frankie rose will be starting at a montessori daycare next september and much has been written about creating a montessori environment at home (the book montessori from the start is excellent and contains a whole chapter about setting up a montessori nursery). i didn’t go in for the whole floor bed thing for frankie because there wasn’t space in her room for the double-sized mattress that’s recommended, but i incorporated some montessori design into her room from the get-go. side note: i love that there is an actual field that combines education and design. not only are these two of my biggest passions, but being able to play the “for her development” card every time i ask pierre to help me change something in frankie’s room is clutch.


a major element of a montessori home or nursery is the low toy shelf, meant to display a rotating selection of toys that the child can access independently. the child can see what’s on offer and make their selection. the shelf is also supposed to be very sturdy because the child will be drawn to the play space and will likely use the shelf as he or she is learning how to pull themselves to standing. so one of my projects this week was to put up and curate a low toy shelf for frankie rose.

we have these two beautiful shelves hanging in our basement — rescued from a neighbour’s wood pile and sanded down and oiled by pierre several years ago. they were hidden under laundry supplies and a well-loved cd player downstairs and i’ve always wanted to use them in a more public place in the house. i only needed one for frankie’s room for now, since she wouldn’t be able to reach the toys on a second shelf for a number of years, so i had pierre repurpose the one in the laundry area.


the shelf is 48″ x 12″, fitting on this wall behind her door perfectly, but, in hanging the shelf behind the door, we wouldn’t actually be able to open the door to enter her room. (saying “but it’s for her development” wasn’t going to convince pierre to squeeze through a sliver of doorway.) so i came up with the idea to turn the shelf into a corner shelf, shortening the length on the wall behind the door and utilizing this short (24″) wall, which is the side wall of her bedroom cupboard.

of course, i wanted this done yesterday, and pierre was good enough to oblige me, heading out to home depot to buy a square, cutting the board on a 45° angle, screwing both pieces into the wall, and then macgyver-ing the boards together because glue takes way too long to dry in my mind.


now, the fun part! let’s look at what’s on frankie’s montessori toy shelf.

french letter/animal blocks these were a gift from my brother and his girlfriend and knocking them around is one of frankie’s favourite activities. the set contains a lot of blocks for a seven-month-old, so half the set is upstairs and the other half is downstairs. (i moved the wooden crate to her downstairs play area and it holds a few surplus toys for when we are in the basement.)

soft alphabet letters in a haze of nesting, i made these by hand last winter. about half the letters are downstairs, too.


stuffies the steiff bear was a gift from my parents (i had a similar one that i was very attached to — it was so well loved that it’s not even recognizable as a steiff, or as a bear for that matter.) the jellycat bunny was a gift from my oldest friend. the orange wool cat was made in montréal and purchased at the one of a kind show last december. we bought the peppa lovie from the gorgeous baby store aniel in copenhagen last summer.


soft rattle friends haze of nesting, as above. sophie the giraffe and some kitchen spoons, which she likes to shake around.

grimm’s tower also purchased at aniel in copenhagen. pierre and i are both working hard to help frankie master this toy right now. pierre’s teaching her to take the rings off and i’m teaching her to put the rings on. she gets so focused that she topples over, which has resulted in some tears.


miscellaneous wooden toys, rattles, beads the wooden porcupine grasper, string of beads (officially a stroller chain, but we use it for all kinds of purposes), and the molecule-type toy are all grimm’s. the wooden barbell was a merrily, merrily find and the rattle was a gift from my aunt and uncle, made by painted turtle, local to them in muskoka.

nesting boxes this was a gift from our german neighbour, made in “west germany,” so obviously a vintage toy. frankie’s not too interested in this yet, but maybe in a few weeks.


baby books on the opposite wall, frankie has two long picture ledges and another wooden crate full of books (plus a stack downstairs), but i am going to rotate a selection of books for her in this basket, too. right now the basket contains our go-to board books. in the future, maybe this basket can contain library books; the three week loan period is the perfect amount of time for objects to remain on her shelves.

bead maze i found this at the thrift store today, where i picked up two of the baskets, too. she has the larger ikea one downstairs, which is a bit sturdier, but it’s pretty much the size of her right now, so i think she’ll like this smaller one for a while.

i’m really happy with the new set-up and so excited to see frankie rose grow more independent over the next few weeks and months. i’m really interested to see which toys she’ll play with most and how she will engage with them. i also know how sad it will make me to retire some of her “baby toys” like her rattles and graspers eventually; i’m a little bit stuck between wanting her to stay exactly as she is and wanting her to crawl already!

also, this is it for toys, besides the few extra things i’ve mentioned (like keeping half her wooden blocks downstairs). does this look like enough for a seven month old? too much? should i take some things away so that there are things to rotate in or will switching up the books every few weeks be enough of a change?

10 thoughts on “montessori baby shelves

  1. I really enjoy your blog and love what you’ve done with your wonderful home!! And I LOVE the idea of a toy shelf at baby height!! (But do put safety plugs in the electric sockets). I just had a small toy chest for my first baby (plenty big for all he needed but it wasn’t “self-serve” until he was able to just tip the whole thing over into a messy pile – a shelf is GREAT). Despite being space challenged in the east end as well (and vocal about it!) – we can’t control the tsunami of toys from birthday parties and grand-parents now. It is a constant battle. We didn’t need more space – just the right space. For us a playroom area in our basement is key (when they were younger I had a few things in a bin in the living room and cycled things in and out). The kids rarely play there (they’d rather drag whatever the game is to wherever we are – which is sweet except when it’s Lego – that stuff can HURT you) – but it is a central “dumping” ground with shelves, bins and boxes to corral everything and from there I can purge into a hidden “landing zone” (I just don’t do it often enough!). I think our minimalism is triggering hoarding in them – so this way if they ask for something that “vanished” within a grace period – I can get it back. Any gifts they get that I know they don’t really love I set aside unused for an annual donation to Toy Mountain during Christmas. “Ages and Stages” (a consignment store on Danforth by Coxwell) is great! Now that the oldest is 8 – I let him come with me and trade in a pile of things for one new toy (bought from store credit). It’s a chaotic but fabulous little place. But you don’t have to worry about your little one fighting back to keep something she’s outgrown and hasn’t touched in months… yet! Enjoy these amazing baby days!!! I sound like all the annoying people around me when I was on mat leave… but truly – this stage flies by so very, very quickly!

    1. hey, thank you so much for your kind words and advice!

      we have this same problem with family as well — despite many of them having visited our home (and seen how small it is) and despite us being SUPER vocal about preferring experiential gifts or no gifts at all, the STUFF just keeps coming. right now it’s easy for me to donate/pass on anything that i don’t think is appropriate or that she doesn’t need, but the time will come when she’s old enough to open her own gifts and want to keep everything… i can only hope she embraces a minimalist lifestyle alongside us and is willing to trade in eight okay toys for one really good one.

      i have popped into ages & stages and i love merrily, merrily (a little closer to woodbine) and it’s great to see so many little shops on the danforth thriving these days.

      we also have a little “play area” in our unfinished basement, which has very few toys, but is the largest open space for her to just roll around in. if she rolls once in her bedroom she basically hits a wall, so i put a big 8′ x 10′ wool rug downstairs on top of a bunch of foam squares and she does most of her “tummy time” down there.

  2. Thanks for the tip on Merrily, merrily! It’s much closer to home! My recently retired pediatrician (and he was amazing – I might just tear up mentioning it) was at Coxwell/Danforth so Ages and Stages drop-offs were easy to squeeze in! And I LOVE the online shopping option!!!

    Much as I ask for gifts of “experience” (please God don’t make me see that Angry Bird movie again! Why are no grandparents signing up for this!?) – there’s a new baby in the family and its soooo tempting to buy stuff her mommy would rather I didn’t. Those foam squares are great and ideal for tummy time and rolling! We used them for years (also to make a play space in the basement). I think a small kid’s room is fine – it should be cool/fun/cozy but not necessarily big. Having previously lived in a big, new house nearby with a dippy backyard – I can say a big backyard is more important and useful than a big bedroom. (I found your blog when we first started looking to ditch a pleasantville-type new house to move back to a small house with “echoes of life” – i.e. small and old – with a big yard and no en suite – sigh – fair trade-off in the end!).

    Btw! I was at a work-related event at the Bell TIFF Lightbox this week and admired the amazing lights in their bar area… Seemed familiar – then the penny dropped – they are your angel lights. You take lovely photos but I have to admit – they are much more stunning in real life.

    1. that’s cool! we bought those lights when we were still planning to do a major reno here — we envisioned them hanging above a kitchen island. but the whole reno (would’ve been an extension and second storey addition) got scrapped and we were stuck with these expensive, custom pendants. there’s no overhead lighting in our dining room, so we asked eclectic revival to convert the pendants from hard-wired to plug-ins and then i tried to make the cords look cool instead of terrible… the designers at l’ouvrier on dundas (no idea if that place is still open) did something similar and that’s where i got the idea. oh, also, everything probably looks way better in person! i shoot photos with a super old iPhone, haha, so i’m not winning any photography awards over here.

  3. I have just discovered your blog thanks to The Minimalist Mom, and I’m really glad that I did!

    We live in a house that I used to think was small, but it has 3 bedrooms and I have come to realise that it is more than adequate for our family of 3 (even with another addition coming along next year).

    When my son turned 2 last month I had the same dilemma with presents. What ended up working fairly well for us was to suggest certain ‘collections’ that people could add to. Things like matchbox cars, or animal figurines – we already have places to store them so it didn’t feel like we were really overwhelmed with new stuff. Consumables (like crayons, paint etc) are also good suggestions for people who want to buy something physical. That’s if people are willing to be given ideas of course!

    1. congrats on the pending arrival! and thanks for checking out my site. those are great tips (adding to a collection, arts & crafts) — i will definitely have to try that when she’s a bit older. i don’t know your particulars, but i agree three bedrooms is plenty big for a family of soon-to-be four. that being said, i grew up in a three bedroom home with my parents and brother and always felt like we had NO space. i hardly ever had friends over because there was no space to play (as a young kid) or hang out (as a teen). now when i visit my parents, the same house feels gigantic to me. so i think when we put the work in to live with less stuff, your space just opens right up. good luck!

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