How to choose the best Montessori bookshelf

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Playtime is the most crucial part of your child’s development. And why shouldn’t it be?! This article will show you how Montessori bookshelves not only brighten and organize your rooms but also subconsciously guide your children through playtime.
Timber Tiered Bookshelf by Fox Wood Co.

Table of Contents

Using a Montessori bookshelf in your home is an easy way to support your child’s natural desire to learn! It has been scientifically proven that children learn quicker and retain more information while playing compared to teacher-led instruction. Children who are afforded play opportunities build strong emotional, psychological, and problem-solving skills. And more importantly, they develop a natural curiosity about the world, which motivates learning

When buying your Montessori bookshelves, it’s essential to know what to look for and what Montessori bookshelf best suits your little one.

Let’s dive right in!

What is a Montessori bookshelf?

A Montessori bookshelf is perfect for organizing a playroom or any part of your home. Montessori bookshelves make it easy for children to access their books without the help of an adult. For a bookshelf to be Montessori style, it is usually:

  • low to the ground
  • open
  • front-facing
  • made from natural materials.

How I do use a Montessori bookshelf?

Book rotation is a key part of using a Montessori book shelf successfully. Limit the number of your child’s books that are on display and rotate books periodically.

Different book rotation ideas

You can rotate all books at the same time, or rotate just a handful of books at once. Book rotation can be done in a few different ways. Choose a method that best suits your child and family’s lifestyle. Some options include:

  1. Choose a time each week or month and rotate the books. Children love routine and will look forward to this ritual.
  2. Rotate books based on observation. Watch your child and the way they interact with the books you have on rotation. If you notice that your child is not interested in a certain book, or is developing a new skill or interest that you can support with a book – rotation time! Likewise, if they are reading and interacting with the book frequently, you may choose to leave it in rotation until their interest decreases.
  3. Rotate books based on holiday, seasonal or topical themes. Some parents prefer to rotate using a random collection of books, while others find rotating to a theme makes the task of rotating easier. Afterall, if you make it easier for yourself, you’re more likely to keep it up!

Whichever option you select, make sure you choose books that are developmentally suitable and try to include a variety of different books, without providing an overwhelming choice. There’s no set number of books you should display, instead select a number that is suitable to your space and family’s lifestyle.

This video shares some further tips on how to display books on your Montessori bookshelves.

Storing books when they’re not in rotation

Books that are not in use are best stored out of sight from your children. This can be inside a drawer, on a higher shelf in a separate space, or in lidded storage tubs. It is useful to store books according to age/developmental level, theme or and season. This is helpful for more structured rotation methods, as you know where to find particular books. Nicole from The Kavanaugh Report has shared her beautifully simple approach to storing out-of-rotation books.

Why is a Montessori bookshelf useful?

There are so many benefits for children that make using a Montessori bookshelf and the book rotation method very worthwhile. Firstly, this helps parents with newborns, toddlers, and elementary kids to keep their rooms tidy and neat – who doesn’t love that idea! Children can access their books easily, and it allows them to engage more independently when choosing a book, contributing to the responsibility when reading and tidying their rooms.  

There are many other benefits in addition to creating a tidy, accessible space:

  1. Focus. A small selection makes focussing easier for your child. If you practise observing your child, you’ll likely see that when they are presented with limited activity options, they engage with the activity more deeply and for a longer period of time. The same principle applies to books!
  2. Creativity. By providing a smaller selection of book, your child is encouraged use their imagination and creativity to engage with the book in new ways. This mom shares a great example of her boy repurposing books into ramps for little cars!
  3. Repetition. Presenting a smaller selection of books provides the opportunity for your child to hear the same words more frequently. While repetition can be tiring for us adults, it’s so beneficial for our children to learn.
  4. Budget. You will need to purchase far less new books to add to your collection. When the out-of-rotation books are stored out of sight, old books easily become new again. You can also include library books in rotation as an extra money saving hack!

Buying guide: how to choose the right Montessori bookshelf

When buying a Montessori bookshelf, you need to consider the following things to buy the perfect shelf per your desire and needs. We’ve created the below criteria to help you compare bookshelves and find the best option for your family.

Size & height:

AGE HEIGHT (INCHES) HEIGHT (CM)
Infant Shelf (0 – 12 months) 16 inches 40 cm
Preschool/ Toddler Shelf (1 – 5 years) 24 – 32 inches 60 – 81 cm
Elementary Shelf (5 – 13 years) 32 – 40 inches 81 – 101 cm

Infant Montessori Shelf:

This is for children up to the age of up to 12 months; the shelves should be low on the ground, stable, and heavy enough for babies to pull themselves up. You only need a top and bottom shelf (no middle shelf is needed). Keep it simple for the baby to use and get access to.

Preschool / Toddler Montessori Shelf:

This is for children from the age of 12 months up to the age of 5 years. Your toddler will need a bottom, middle, and top shelf deep enough to store their books, but not so deep that it hides the covers of the books.

Elementary Montessori Shelf:

This is for children from the age of 5 years up to 13 years old. Your child might need a bit more shelves than the toddler, bottom, top, and a few middle shelves. The shelves should be deep and wide enough to store their books, giving them easy access to what they need.

  

Flexibility

The need for flexibility will greatly depend on your individual home circumstances. For example, I live in a small three-bedroom apartment, so selecting furniture that has dual uses or options for repurposing at a later date is important to our family. Choosing a flexible Montessori bookshelf can help you adapt and reuse as kids grow up and their needs change. For example, turning an infant bookshelf into a table, or adding a rail to convert it into a closet.

A Montessori shelf reused as a table Image from Liberated Montessori

Style/type of Montessori bookshelf

You need to find a shelf that will suit your space and the age/development level of your child. There are various designs to choose from. Let’s take a look at the best Montessori bookshelf designs.

Low Montessori book crate – great for nurseries and infants:

Suitable for displaying a small selection of books, easily accessible by infants. Many of these designs feature handles so can be moved by an adult easily to different rooms.

Montessori book storage idea for infants and toddlers
Image from IKEA

Tiered Montessori Bookshelf – great for toddlers and young children:

Front-facing bookshelves up to 32 inches all are ideal Montessori bookshelves for toddlers and young children. This style boasts a little more packing space for our book lovers. This bookshelf is designed to display your little one’s favorite picture books with easy access. Books fit securely into the sleeves. The most ideal front-facing style for using the Montessori approach.

If you need storage, there are many options with storage bins integrated, suitable for storing out-of-rotation books.

Tiered front facing Montessori bookshelf
Image from Fox Wood Co.

Movable bookshelf – great for small or multi-purpose spaces:

The Jolie Vallee Kids Bookshelf with Wheels features a great minimal design that doesn’t distract from the books. It has a taller shelf area, which is ideal for a movable bookshelf as the books won’t fall off. The downside is that the books are more covered, making it less Montessori-aligned. Still, a fantastic option if you need a bookshelf on wheels.

Bookshelf with reading nook – great for multi-purposes spaces

I absolutely love the design of the KidKraft Wooden bookcase with reading nook. When you are setting up a reading nook, this is an all-in-one option for you that comes at a really competitive price. The cubbies can be used to display books and the built-in seat allows your child to set up and read independently. It’s only 23.5″ tall, so suitable for younger children. The Martha Stewart corner book nook (pictured) is also a beautiful option, although it has a higher price tag. 

Wall-mounted bookshelves – great for under windows and for repurposing later on:

Bookshelves on the floor are great; if space is an issue, this is a perfect choice. Lots of flexibility to place the shelves in a configuration that suits your room. They can also be repurposed in the future for toy storage or even hanging clothes (flip the shelf upside down to create a clothing rail!).

Montessori book display idea using picture ledge on wall
Image from Home Edit

Revolving Bookshelf – great for display and storage:

This is the bookshelf we have in our home – The Bookworm Revolving Bookshelf. Due to a small space and limited places to store out-of-rotation books, we needed a large bookshelf that we could use for storage and display. While it’s not a “perfect” Montessori bookshelf, it’s suitable for us, and the simple design means it can be repurposed as Bear gets older. It’s very safe and stable, too.

We use the side display shelves for our book rotation. While he is small, he can’t turn the shelf, so we just position the shelf with the display area to the front of the room, allowing him to explore that selection of books.

When we no longer need the change table, we will have a lot more space in his room. When this happens, we will change to a traditional front-facing bookshelf, and repurpose the rotating bookshelf for our home office.

Rotating Montessori bookshelfImage from Fox Wood Co.

Strength

Montessori shelves should not be too long as they become unstable. Shorter shelves or even centre panels on longer shelves to make them more stable. This will also help the shelves carry more weight and give more stability if assembled to the wall. Be sure to read information about how much weight the bookshelf can carry, and only ever load it to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Safety

It’s crucial that your child can access the shelf safely while unsupervised. You do not want your baby or toddler to get hurt when trying to reach for a book they would like to read. The best is to anchor the shelf to the wall for extra safety precautions; this can be done by mounting the shelves into the wall. Check the specific recommendations for your shelf.

Read these steps on how to secure a Montessori bookshelf to the wall.

Another overlooked safety consideration is paint! Choose a shelf that is painted with non-toxic paint for wood.  

Ease of assembly

I always like to read reviews before purchasing to ensure that the product I’ve selected is easy to assemble. Most flat-pack furniture is pretty good these days, but it’s worth verifying that the shelf will be easy to assemble for you at home, and easy to transport in the future.

Some brands have useful instructional videos you can watch on how to assemble your Montessori bookshelf. For example, Sprout shares how to assemble the Lexico Book Display Shelf.

Budget/Price

Montessori bookshelf prices range between $30 to $6,000, with $200 to $500 being the most common price range. If you are looking to spend on the lower end of the price range, verify the product’s safety.  

Other Montessori bookshelf features

Consider if there are other special features that would make the shelf work for your family.

For example, if you are purchasing an infant shelf, you might want to choose one with burnished edges for your baby’s safety.

Lockable castors can be added for movability on bookshelves, which makes it easier to move around if this is a requirement for your home.

Some designs allow for the addition of extra shelves, so you can adapt the shelf to your child’s age, height and needs.

Montessori bookshelf buying guide summary

When choosing a Montessori bookshelf, the most important thing is to consider how the bookshelf will function for your family’s unique lifestyle. Choose a shelf that is attractive to you and use our buying guide to ensure you have ticked off all the important factors.

  1. Size & height: is it the right size for your child’s age and ability?
  2. Flexibility: will it adapt to your space and child as they grow and change?
  3. Style: do you like the style? Does it suit your taste and the functionality you want from the bookshelf?
  4. Strength: can it hold the number of books you need?
  5. Safety: does it meet safety guidelines and use non-toxic materials? Can it be fixed to the wall for safety?
  6. Ease of assembly: what do other purchasers say? Read reviews and make sure it’s going to be easy and safe to assemble.
  7. Budget/Price: does it fit our budget? More expensive doesn’t equal better, as long as you’ve checked the safety of the product.
  8. Other features: does it have any special features you need? This could include hidden storage baskets, a rotating mechanism for small spaces, or handles or castors for easily moving between rooms.

I hope this guide has been useful in supporting your Montessori at home journey. 

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