March 12, 2023

How To Set Up A Montessori Playroom

Giving your child a Montessori play area provides a safe space for them to explore and satisfy curiosity. When gathering Montessori playroom ideas, it's crucial to consider layout, furniture, décor, toys, and activities, such as water play. While there is no one way to do it, some tips and guidelines exist when embarking on a Montessori playroom set up

Set up a Montessori playroom at home by doing the following:

  1. Select a designated space for the Montessori playroom
  2. Pick a simple, neutral palette for decor 
  3. Consider accessible furniture options
  4. Select toys and materials
  5. Arrange minimalist stations
  6. Establish a storage system

Select A Designated Space For The Montessori Playroom


The first step to setting up a Montessori playroom is deciding on a designated play space. Ideally, there would be one dedicated room. But, practically, this is not possible for all families; often, a room can be divided too.  

The objective is to find a safe space for the child to explore. So even if it is a section of your open plan main living area or sectioning off part of the dining room, it should be clearly defined as the child's space. 

Montessori-inspired playrooms typically have two main sections:

  • Toy room
  • Movement Area

What Is In A Montessori Toy Room?

The Montessori toy room is an open space framed by open cubbyhole-style shelving. The area or shelving is typically broken down into sections inspired by Montessori classrooms:

  • Fantasy play
  • Practical life
  • Sensory
  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Cultural

This area does not have to be particularly large as long as the toy to space ratio is maintained to keep a clean, minimalist asthenic. It is a quiet space for children to explore.

What Is In A Montessori Movement Or Physical Play Area?

Montessori encourages physical play and movement. This area is relatively simple and quiet for babies, with a soft rug, mirror, and hanging toys. 

But for toddlers and preschools, the space can become loud and vibrant as the children spin, climb, jump, and dance. The items in this section encourage children to use their bodies, such as a slide, balls, and a rocker. 

The movement area can be part of the main toy room. Parents and caretakers designate a specific open space for this louder, physical play, especially when the child is only a baby. 

However, some families keep this room separate from the quieter toy area due to space constraints or simply being easier to manage. Popular areas to use as a movement space include:

  • Converting part or all of the garage
  • Using attic or loft space
  • Using part of a basement
  • Refurbishing an unused dining room

Splitting the spaces once the child has reached toddler age lessens the worry of the toy area getting knocked over or disrupted. It also allows the children more freedom, as they won't be told to "watch out" as they spin around in circles or climb. 

Pick Neutral Palette For Montessori Playroom Décor


Montessori is a minimalist aesthetic, full of clean lines. It is not busy or cluttered. The purpose of the playroom is to encourage children's natural inquisitiveness, not overstimulate and overwhelm them. Thus, the color palette reflects these ideals, shunning the push toward bright, bold colors and reaching for neutrals or soft hues.  

Also see: Girls Room Color Ideas

Popular choices are creams with contrasting beige and wood tones, including unpainted furniture. For those who need brighter touches, select muted pastels, such as lilac, pale blue, or a faded grassy green, to contrast with the cream or pale browns.

Montessori Playroom Furniture Must Be Child Accessible


Montessori playroom furniture must be child accessible. Look for shelves with cubbyholes holding baskets or bowls for various exploration and play at child height. The best furniture has features that can grow with the child or is multifunctional. But even when buying essential pieces, the key is that the child can confidently use them at their current size and strength. 

There is a plethora of options out there, including furniture specifically aimed at Montessori, with curved, sanded corners to reduce the risk of injuries. However, it is essential to only select what you need for your space. Less is more, so choose only what fits your needs and floor area. 

Items to consider:

  • Play rug or carpet
  • Montessori shelving, with cubed dividers
  • A basic work table or light table
  • Chair(s) or cube chairs that can double as a stool
  • Stool
  • Cushions or bean bag for a reading nook
  • Easel 
  • Cover-facing bookshelves

The furniture should encourage activity in the movement area but still suit the clean, minimalist aesthetic. These can be bought in sets or as individual pieces, such as:

  • Pikler triangle or similar climbing frame
  • Slide
  • Climbing plank
  • Nugget (play couch)
  • A rocker that doubles as a climbing frame

Select Montessori Toys And Materials


Montessori encourages open-ended toys over entertainment. For example, unpainted wooden building blocks rather than plastic ones that make noise or light up when stacked. Or a wooden train set that must be manually pushed rather than a battery-operated plastic model. 

Montessori also uses everyday materials for exploration and learning. For example, a hole punch or clothes pins (pegs) could be "toys" at a station. Measuring cups, eye droppers, mixing bowls, and ice trays are other examples of everyday objects that children can use for play and learning. 

Arts and crafts are also essential materials to gather. These can range from standard materials, such as crayons and paints, to using unusual objects, such as leaves, bottle caps (if no longer a choking hazard), rice, and dried beans. 

However, crafts can also be textiles. Weaving is a popular Montessori activity, for instance. Threading beads onto a string or buttons (if no longer a choking hazard) is another. Fat knitting needles make it easier for younger children to begin knitting. Hook rugs and sewing thread through holes are other textile activities that allow for a wide range of textures. 

Altogether, these toys and materials feed into the playing philosophy of Montessori, as mentioned above. Some encourage fantasy, imagination, and creativity, while others are practical or learning based. However, the child is free to explore and enjoy them in their own, unique way. 

Arrange Toys And Materials Into Minimalist Stations


Montessori playrooms should encourage a child to be neat. Once they've finished an activity, they should put it back in its place before moving on to the next. However, for a child to learn these skills, the set up of the playroom must encourage such behavior. Toys and materials must be organized and set up for easy access and equally simple tidying up. 

Each cube or cubby on the shelves must have a purpose. Rather than dump a bunch of fantasy play items, such as trucks and dinosaurs, into one tub, the baskets would be themed and have their specific cubby. 

Trays can help organize smaller items or give children a way to interact with the item in an orderly manner. For example, a child can start a puzzle on its tray, so if they decide to take a break before it is finished, it can be put back in its cubby for later without needing to take it apart. 

Screenshot 2023 03 12 at 16.02.23

Bowls and silicon ice cube trays can be excellent ways to organize smaller materials such as pipe cleaners, beans, beads, and cotton balls. 
It is good to have at least one cover-facing bookshelf where possible rather than only showing the spines. It makes it easier for children to locate their favorite reads.

Screenshot 2023 03 12 at 16.06.07

Establish A Storage System For Toys And Materials


Montessori playrooms do not have all the toys available at once; thus, you need a storage system. There are strategic choices even in the movement and physical play area. Some of the decisions of which items are currently out are aged and development based. But even within the child's age, development, and interests, rotation must be made. 

How and when you rotate the toys and materials is a personal decision. Some people do it on a strict schedule. Others will turn based on what the child is shunning and showing little interest in or the opposite, such as fixating on certain toys and wanting to encourage the child to widen their exploration gently. Then there are the folks that switch it up as the mood takes them and their kids. 

Regardless of personal rotation preferences, it is an infinitely easier process if inspiration is taken from the Montessori philosophy of being organized and neat, and Montessori material should be stored in the same place as possible. If items must be separated, try to group them into as few areas as possible for your sanity. For example, small items under the bed and larger ones in the garage. 

Even better, the boxes and tubs should be categorized to reflect the playroom. Thus, books are with books, crafts with crafts, and mathematical toys with each other. If a child has aged out of a toy or book, but you think it might be helpful later (such as having another child), keep it in a separate storage box from the items in rotation. 

The more organized the storage system, the less of a chore rotating items will be. Instead, it can be quick, fast, and maybe even fun. 

It also reduces the temptation of cramming too much into the playroom, defeating the purpose of the simple, minimalist aesthetic.

The Montessori's clean and spare look isn't a style statement. Instead, it serves a practical purpose in encouraging children's engagement and focus in their play.

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An interior design professional with a Master's degree in Architecture and 14 years of practical experience.
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