The furniture in a room speaks volumes. The furniture tells us the uses of a room, whether the room is formal or relaxed, if we are to zone out or tune in. The furniture in a room will also communicate to the little person in your life, inviting them in, engaging them in the goings on or telling them to stay away. Of course, as montessorians, we hope to provide an inviting environment, one which allows for freedom of movement and increasing independence. The use of shelves are a good example.
The abundance of low shelving is a striking feature of montessori environments and one of the first changes I made in our home was to work out some sort of shelving system. At that time, due to a lack of money to buy new furniture, I used some cardboard boxes on the ground and placed a few works on top. Not ideal but it was a start. We then purchased some Kallax shelving from Ikea which is an affordable but not hugely attractive option. I have also discovered that the cube design can be a bit restricting when it comes to using trays. This is what we currently use but I hope to be able to buy/make some beautiful wooden shelves and use the Ikea ones for storage. But why are shelves so important in a montessori environment? Hopefully I can answer that question.
Shelves serve two purposes in the montessori world. There is the obvious one of storing materials. But why not just use toy boxes or chests of drawers? Shelves hold the upper hand over these other options because they allow for an ordered and beautiful arrangement of materials, rather than having everything jumbled together in a box or drawer, and this combined with having the materials within sight instead of hidden away makes them much more inviting for a child. You know the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”? Well it’s true!
The shelves must also be low enough to be accessible to your little person. This leads us onto the second purpose. Materials arranged on a shelf makes it much easier for a child to access everything they need completely independently. It is also clear how the materials should go back once the work is finished, allowing a child to maintain the order of their environment, again completely independently. This builds confidence in the child, as well as aiding in developing an internal sense of order.
All in all, shelves are definitely a worthwhile investment! If you would like to read more Kylie from How We Montessori has a post about shelving and the NAMC blog has some useful posts on the prepared environment at home and the main principles of the montessori prepared environment. I would be interested to hear about the shelving solutions you have come up with.