Happy Wednesday! I've posted a few photos showing Xavier's Montessori-inspired play shelves over on Instagram, and have gotten lots of questions about them, so I'm excited to describe them in detail here on the blog! Let me preface this post with this: I know roughly nothing about Montessori. Truly! Several years ago, I volunteered for two weeks on a mission trip in Louisiana. One of the components of the mission trip was hosting a daily day camp for all the neighborhood kids, and I remember one of the other volunteers was in charge of the activities for the littlest littles - like 2-4 year olds. She was a Montessori teacher by trade, and had all these little tots doing very specific tasks on the screened-in porch. I just remember them putting cotton balls in muffin trays with tweezers and crazy stuff, but they were all SO quiet and SO enthralled in their activity! That's pretty much my only experience with Montessori, ha!
Fast forward a few years and now I have a baby of my own. We have been very minimal with toys from day one, just because of my newly-embraced minimalist mindset, but we did have a big basket of toys that Xavier started playing with one he could sit up, around 5 months. I pretty quickly noticed that he would dump the basket, throw all the things around, then get bored and want something new, which was frustrating. Entertaining a baby is NOT the easiest thing in the world when they get bored of ALL their toys after ten minutes. So, I hopped on the trusty ol' Pinterest, and started searching "baby activities 6 months" to try and find some fun things I could do at home with him. These Pinterest searches led me to some great blogs, including The Kavanaugh Report and How We Montessori, as well as some helpful Instagram accounts, like Momtessori. In particular, this post from The Kavanaugh Report got me started. There is a TON of information out there about Montessori, and it was super overwhelming. I couldn't even think about floor beds and weaning tables and special "Montessori" toys and all that jazz - I was just trying to entertain my very curious, very active baby and maybe find time to eat and shower. And, I wanted to use what we already had and not have to go out and buy a ton of new stuff. So that post was super helpful and led me to setting up Xavier's first play shelves when he was 5 months old.
The basic idea behind the play shelves is to encourage creative and imaginative play. You put just a few things that your baby can easily reach and grab all on his own. I was amazed at the difference once I set up the play shelves. Xavier went from "playing" by himself for MAYBE ten minutes to sitting quietly in front of his shelves, picking everything up and examining it, for close to 30 minutes. 30 minutes of solo playtime for a 5 month old felt pretty good! As he's gotten more active and mobile, he rarely stays in one spot for longer than 10 seconds it seems like, but we've incorporated several Montessori-esque areas throughout our home so overall, he plays really well independently and doesn't need constant entertainment.
Also, speaking of entertainment, I think that's the biggest difference when it comes to the Montessori mindset. Most whirling and beeping and singing (read: annoying) baby toys are meant to entertain baby. But once they figure out all the things the toy does, they're probably going to get bored. I know Xavier did! As Hayley Morgan mentioned in the latest Wildly Co. newsletter, "imagining is a different brain process than being entertained." And maybe it's crazy to believe a 5-month old is capable of imagining, but I like to believe that fostering that creative spirit can start from day one! So that's what we did.
We started with just the shelves in his room, especially before he could crawl. We would just hang out all day everyday in his room for the most part, and he would play with and explore all the things on his shelves. Now, we also have play shelves in the living room, some dedicated Xavier-friendly cabinets in the kitchen, and I've put things he can pull down and play with on the lowest shelves in my office.
To set up Xavier's play shelves, I used the armoire we already had in his room, and took the lower doors off so the shelves were exposed. I moved the shelves to very low heights, so he could easily reach the toys on them when he was sitting in front of them. I put just a few age-appropriate toys on the shelves, like a few books, Sophie the Giraffe, etc., and tried to focus on things that were really open-ended, like Matt's boy scout patches, a wooden ring stacker and some kitchen utensils, vs. things that simply entertain (like the singing, light-up music toy, for instance.) As he's gotten older, the toys on the shelves have changed to meet his changing tastes, so now there's a stack of dress-up hats a chunky wooden puzzle, for example. The biggest thing I've tried to keep in mind is simplicity. Just like I get overwhelmed when I walked into an overcrowded store, I imagine he gets overwhelmed with too many options. On the shelves in his room, I keep just 8-10 things and group small items into baskets and bowls (all of which I've thrifted!).
On the living room shelves, he has 7 baskets (again, thrifted), filled with different things. The shelves are minimal, uncluttered and inviting, which is key!
These are truly all of his toys! And they keep him entertained. As I said, I'm no Montessori purist, but I DO think there's something to be said for this method of education + play. Xavier absolutely loves to grab things himself, and I love that we are fostering a little independent + creative thinker. In future posts I'll be sharing specifics about what he plays with, and where I've picked up Montessori-esque pieces for our home! XO!