Key Elements to Consider When Setting Up Montessori Work Shelves

You can probably find hundreds of blog posts out there about how to set up Montessori work shelves, so we’re not going to just repeat all of the basics you can find everywhere else. These are the things you learn from years of doing it in both a Montessori classroom and a homeschool setting — tips and tricks straight from an experienced Montessori teacher!

Stability on the Tray

Are the materials going to slide around on the tray? Practice carrying the tray around and see if anything shifts or topples over on the tray. A simple fix is to add some rubber shelf-liner or a piece of felt to help everything stay where it belongs on the tray. If that doesn’t work, you may want to rethink some of the materials on the tray.

Ease of Use

Just because *you* can easily use the materials on the work tray does not mean a child will be able to use it. You can test the work with your non-dominant hand to mimic the fine motor skills of a toddler. Slightly difficult to use is okay — it will help to the child to build upon that skill. Impossible to use is not okay — you need to switch out that material because no child will choose a work that’s impossible to complete.

Younger Siblings Impact Shelf Order

All of the other blog posts on this topic will tell you that the work on your shelves should be ordered from left to right, top to bottom, with the most concrete/easy work at the top left and the more abstract/difficult work at the bottom right. That’s all fine and dandy if you have children of the same age/abilities… but it flies right out the window if you have a mobile infant or toddler who is experimenting by putting things in her mouth or scattering lots of tiny objects. In that case, put the materials with smaller pieces on the top and reserve the bottoms of your shelves for work that’s suitable for the younger sibling.


Transfer works need to make sound — otherwise they’re too boring! Mix materials to get that sound element — jingle bells are great for this purpose. You can read more about the importance of sound HERE.

Desired Workspace Proximity

Is the desired workspace for that material nearby? If you have lot of materials on the shelf that you’d like your child to do at a table rather than on a work rug, make sure the table is just a few steps away. If you have a lot of materials on the shelf that are meant for a work rug, leave plenty of open space in front of that shelf and make sure your work rugs are nearby. Your child isn’t going to hunt for the ideal work space — she’s going to use whatever’s closest. Similarly, if you have a material that is too difficult to carry, set it up as a stationary work. Floor tables are perfect for this — the work stays on that work space and is used there.