Montessori-inspired DIY Toy Shelf for Abe

montessori-shelf1words Little known fact about me: I went to a Montessori school from the time I was two until I was four. I don’t remember much about it; I remember that we weren’t allowed to talk about things that weren’t real, like Superman, inside the building; we had to wait until recess. And one time I wanted to sing a Christmas song when we were doing music, and the teacher wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t Christmas time. And then there was the day when I couldn’t get my overalls done back up after I went to the bathroom, and no one would help me because it was Montessori so I was supposed to be all self-sufficient. I had to spend theΒ whole day with my overalls unbuckled. Umm. Also probably there were nice things about Montessori school. I think one time we went on a field trip to McDonalds and got to see, like,Β behind the scenes.

I don’t remember what the shelves were like at my Montessori school. But probably they were low open shelves so the kids could see and reach everything, because I’ve learned from the internet that that, along with hardcore policies against assisting preschoolers with clothing, is the Montessori way.

Despite the Overall Incident, there’s a lot about Montessori methods that appeal to me. I’m hoping to incorporate some of that fabulous independent work stuff they have going on into Abe’s life as he gets older, because I sure could use a toddler who can do things independently while I do school with his older brothers. And, for now, a low shelf like this so that Abe can see all his toys, get them himself, AND help clean up easily makes a lot of sense.

So we built him one. We kept this really, really simple….it would be a good first woodworking project for someone (or maybe a good regain your confidence after screwing up your baby’s doll bed project). We pretty much measured the wall where the shelf was going to go, measured Abe’s Little People house (the tallest thing we wanted to fit on there), and then Dave made a plan in (uhh, geometer’s sketchpad?). Here’s the plan and the cut list: abes shelfSo the vertical divider goes right down the middle, but then we put the shelves at varying heights to add some visual interest (the spacing between the shelves is 12 and 15 inches in ours).

72″ x 29 1/4″ sheet of 1/4″ plywood
Everything else is 1×12 whiteboard planks
1 – 72″ (top)
1 – 70.5″ (bottom)
2 – 28.5″ (sides)
1 – 27.75″ (middle divider)
2 –Β 34.875″ (shelves)

We stuck with our usual division of labor. Dave cut and sanded all the wood, then I stained all the boards (I used Minwax’s “special walnut” instead of my beloved dark walnut this time, because variety is the spice of life and all). I’d planned to stain the plywood back, too, but then at the last second we decided to paint it so we could go with the cheaper grade of plywood (once we’d decided it on it it seemed like a great idea to add a little color, too). I picked the color in about 20 seconds once we decided that; I grabbed a sample of Martha Stewart’s Milk Pail. Benjamin Moore is always my favorite paint, and these days I always go with it for wall colors….but when I’m at Home Depot and don’t want to make a special trip for paint for a small project like this, I try to stick with the Martha Stewart colors. We’ve used tons of them in all three houses we’ve had and always had good luck. It’s hard to see the color here since it’s at the back of the shelf, but it’s a really pleasant soft green….I might use it somewhere else sometime, too. I used a little roller to paint the plywood; it took two coats, but there was plenty of the sample left over when I was done.

Once the stain and paint were dry, Dave put the whole thing together. He used the Kreg Jig (affiliate link) to make pocket holes for the frame (6 pocket holes for every place where the wood comes together) and screwed everything together. Then he used around 20 1 1/2 inch deck screws to attach the plywood to the frame.

The finished shelf is really sturdy but also pretty lightweight. And, as you can see, you can fit a lot of toys on there.

montessori-shelf3 montessori-shelf1


Getting pretty close to finished in Abe’s new room! He’s been sleeping in there for a few nights now (well, for a few beginnings of nights anyway. It’s a start). New light fixture is going up tomorrow, and we still need to bring over all the art from his walls. And I have one more little new thing project to finish up. Funny how “move all of Abe’s stuff down the hall to the new room” changes into a whole big THING.

Complete tutorial on how to build this simple, Montessori-inspired toy shelf

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Montessori-inspired DIY Toy Shelf for Abe — 18 Comments

  1. i love it, but what i really love is that little baby bum in a diaper- love kids wandering around in diapers…. seriously the cutest thing. well, at least at that age anyhow.

  2. I really like the tone of the shelves. I’m a bit devastated from hearing about the overall incident now. As an early childhood major, we are conditioned to worship all things Montessori. Actually I’m not sure if I’m more bothered about the overalls or not being able to talk about imaginary things. Either way I like the varied heights of the shelf and all the toys are very Montessori and vintage awesomeness!

    • Montessori’s kind of weird because it was developed with kids living in tenements at the turn of the century, and now it’s largely middle and upper class kids whose parents are spending lots of money on preschool. So deemphasizing imaginative play makes more sense in some contexts than others, but I think my particular school was a little more into rigidly clinging to Montessori principles than it was into making sense for the kids who were actually there. But, I mean, during recess we could talk about Superman all we wanted ;). Oh! Also, Santa was on the list of things we couldn’t talk about inside, so basically they were telling a bunch of three year olds that Santa’s not real, which was a little confusing. My mom had to be like, “huh. I guess they must mean the ones at the mall. Sometimes those are just his helpers.” A quick thinker, my mom is πŸ™‚

  3. Very nice! I just wish there was a way to keep all the toys organized at our house as they always end up on the floor, although our son loves having them at arms reach! πŸ™‚

  4. The shelves are wonderful! But really, they wouldn’t help you with your overalls?? That makes me so sad! haha. Aaron was home schooled. But he loves the idea of Montessori school. He talks about it all the time. We’ll see πŸ™‚ We. will. see.

    • They really wouldn’t help. Or at least that’s how I remember it. But I remember both that happening and my mom commenting on it when she picked me up, so I’m pretty sure there’s something to it. Just don’t send Evelyn in overalls, and she’ll be fine ;). Really, my bet is that most montessori schools are not as rigid as mine was.

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