If you’re wondering what to put on Montessori shelves for a 3½ year old, you don’t need to worry. There isn’t one right way, and you can always change your shelves if an activity doesn’t work. In case you might find it helpful, I’ll show you what’s on the shelves in my living room for my 3-year-old granddaughter, Zoey. I take care of her 3 afternoons each week. She attends a Montessori school in the mornings.
Like most Montessori homes, mine is always a work in progress. My shelves change according to Zoey’s needs and interests. The shelves I’m showing here are a mixture of afterschooling and homeschooling. Check out my post on afterschooling to see more specific ideas on how to prepare a home environment for afterschooling a preschooler who attends a Montessori school.
The shelves I’m showing you today can change at any time. I do keep many of the same activities from the 15th of one month to the 15th of the next month when I change themes, though. Don’t worry about the exact activities on each shelf. I don’t want you to think that these are what should be on your 3½ year old’s shelves. If something is helpful for you, that’s awesome. But I hope you feel comfortable in going with your own child’s needs and interests. That’s what’s most important.
Note: Shelves for a 2½ year old, 3 year old, and 3½ year old will often be very similar. Don’t worry about the exact age. I mainly show our shelves every half year to give you a variety of activities and to show a couple of different themes and seasons. Right now, I mainly have out zoo-themed and spring/summer-themed activities.)
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How to Prepare a Montessori Home Environment for a 3½ Year Old – YouTube Video
What’s on My Montessori Shelves for a 3½ Year Old
Here’s my Montessori home environment in the late spring. If you’re interested in a particular activity below, just click on the link. It’ll go to a blog post or resource with more details. (Note: Zoey’s had Montessori tot schooling, so your activities could be quite different if your child is new to Montessori.)
Between a comfortable armchair for reading together and Zoey’s shelves is a Montessori book basket that we use instead of a book shelf. We have a few of these in our home. Because of our zoo theme (a great theme for toddlers and preschoolers),I’ve included One Gorilla, a counting book that Zoey absolutely loves. I think she’s always been fascinated by the primates’ eyes in the book. I typically have some Pete the Cat books (favorites with even the adults), I Spy art books, manners books, and some classic books, (Note: These aren’t all Montessori-style books, but they’re wonderful books!). I also have the new We’re All Wonders book, which Zoey and I both love.
Our rug container for Montessori Services rugs is an umbrella stand from China. I like to have some special items like this to give preschoolers a sense of beauty and to help them learn to take care of their environment. Of course, if a preschooler isn’t ready to handle something like this carefully, it shouldn’t be part of the environment.
A Montessori school generally has a shelf for each curriculum area. I used to have two shelving units, but I purchased a third one a few months ago. One shelving unit is for my theme of the month, although you don’t need to organize any shelves that way if you don’t want to.
Top Zoo-Themed Shelf
- I often have books and a culture card on my top themed shelf. You can see links to all my activities in my free zoo printables and Montessori-inspired zoo activities post.
Middle and Bottom Zoo-Themed Shelves
- You can see links to all my activities in my free zoo printables and Montessori-inspired zoo activities post.
Top shelf in the Educational Toys, Sensorial, Math, Music, and Movement Area
- playdough math activities for summer (I have free playdough math activities for each season.)
- Super Sorting Pie (Zoey absolutely loves this. I got it for our eat-a-rainbow theme, but I left it out because she loved it so much.)
- basket of Color Matching Cards from Montessori Print Shop (I use these free printables as a substitute for the Montessori color box 2 and often use them in themed activities.)
- metal inset (plastic inset) work
Middle shelf in the Educational Toys, Sensorial, Math, Music, and Movement Area
- Carnival of the Animals activities (Note: If you order anything from Maestro Classics, you’ll get 17% off with the coupon code MONTESSORI at checkout!)
- DIY or inexpensive sound cylinders (mine are from the Montessori By Mom Making Music toolbox)
- ball basket (Zoey’s had a ball basket since she was a baby. Now she uses balls to play catch with her grandpa.)
Bottom shelf in the Educational Toys, Sensorial, Math, Music, and Movement Area
- It’s not out right now, but I love the Melissa and Doug Locks and Latches Board (This is more advanced than the Melissa & Doug latches board, which is wonderful for toddlers.)
- rhythm instruments for music activities
- handbells and musical notes
- themed exercise and counting dice inserts which Zoey loves and uses frequently (free printables)
Shelves in the Practical Life, Language, and Cultural Area
I use one shelving unit for practical life, language, and cultural activities. Many of the cultural activities include language activities in them. The materials aren’t organized by curriculum area on a specific shelf, though. That’s more a matter of which tray fits better on a particular shelf. Organize your shelves in whatever way works best for you, too.
- Pocket Hugg-a-Planet Earth and Moon (It’s good to have some type of globe available in your home. This is a fun one. For geography, I’ll be bringing out Little Passports activities, too, throughout the year.
- World Map with Safari Ltd. Animals (You can find animals for the various continents with their TOOB keys in this post.) A Montessori world map is nice but not essential for home use. Mine is just an inexpensive map with animals that I’ve had for a long time.
- I typically have a Montessori nature tray. Because of our zoo theme and plant work, we don’t have a nature tray out at the moment. We will have one again soon.
- Grace and Courtesy: a picture guide for children and adults by Alicia Olson (great if you have a child who attends a Montessori school). It stands up, so I like to keep it open to one of the pages, such as this one that says, “I treat materials gently.”
- a window washing tray with a Montessori Services squeegee, which Zoey loves (I always keep these on our shelves.)
- animal bag clips (I might have gotten mine at the Dollar Tree a few years ago) on a stainless steel bowl (It’s amazing how much Zoey loves this activity!)
- using an eggbeater to make soapsuds
- paper box with typing paper (this is actually a Nienhuis paper box that I kept from when I had a Montessori school in the 1980s)
- Multicraft tray with crayons, colored pencils, and stencils for tracing
- Basket with Montessori Print Shop toddler alphabet cards (made into a book) and So Awesome wallet cards
Zoey can get water independently using a Montessori Services clear acrylic tray, glass pitcher, and small glass that I keep on her work table. I only have one child-size table, so we move it to the dining room when she isn’t working at her table in the work area.
More Shelves and Other Primary Areas
Zoey’s snack shelves are in a cupboard in my kitchen. Cutting a banana, coring an apple and spreading peanut butter on the apple slices, making ants on a log, and table washing have been fun activities for her. I’ve changed a number of the items on the shelves from Zoey’s toddler snack shelves because she can get her own snacks out of the refrigerator and freezer. Many of the items here are for Zoey to prepare her snack (for example, washing berries in the strainer or using the cutting board with a nylon knife to cut her snack).
I have a number of Zoey’s activities in my dining room. In addition to her snack and meal table (and work area) with flower arranging activity, she has a Melissa & Doug cleaning set and a bucket for big spills and water recycling.
Next to the cleaning set is her Little Partners Learning Tower with easel. I move her Learning Tower for food preparation activities at the kitchen counter, I always have a magnetic learning activity on the Learning Tower shelf. Because of our zoo theme, our current activity here is the Melissa and Doug Wooden Animal Magnets in a Box (the zoo animals only) and the matching magnetic letters for the beginning sounds. You can see phonics ideas and resources here.
This isn’t part of our shelves, but Zoey also has a DIY sensory table (could also be used as a water table) to use on my patio or indoors next to the patio doors. I typically change the sensory bin according to season or holiday. It won’t be found in a traditional Montessori school, but it’s wonderful for homeschooling and afterschooling. It promotes concentration and repetition and is a nice, calming activity. It can also be a fun way to introduce educational concepts in a way that’s not duplicating what your child will do in a Montessori school.
Right now, we’re using our DIY sensory table as a special planter for seedlings and transplanted plants. You can see our work with seeds and transplanting plants here.
Because Zoey attends a Montessori school 5 mornings each week, I don’t want her to spend too much time with classic Montessori materials outside of school. Even though I have some Montessori materials, I want those specific activities saved mainly for her school times. (Note: if your child attends or will attend a Montessori school, you don’t need to buy any classic Montessori materials. In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t.) If you have a Montessori homeschool, you’ll want to buy Montessori materials and/or make your own Montessori materials. I homeschooled my now-adult kids through high school, and I have LOTS of posts about Montessori homeschooling. You’ll find many of them linked to in this post on how to set up a Montessori homeschool classroom.
So, I keep most of the Montessori materials in my office where Zoey spends limited time each week. I have them next to my cabinet of Spielgaben materials, which I use for preparing Montessori-inspired activities.
Here are some Montessori materials that could be good for your 3- or 3½ year old:
- pink tower (upstairs between my two shelves right now), brown stair, and red rods
- cylinder blocks and colored cylinders (full size)
- red, blue, and yellow color tablets (color box 1). Add more colors as your child is ready for them. I like these DIY color tablets using a Montessori Print Shop printable for introducing colors to a young child whether or not the child will be attending a Montessori school.
- Mystery bag (I have one from the Montessori By Mom Building and Blocks toolbox)
- Binomial cube
- DIY or inexpensive sound cylinders (mine are from the Montessori By Mom Making Music toolbox)
Zoey’s environment at her own home also has Montessori-friendly shelves, although with more toys than educational materials.
3½ year olds are lots of fun. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just do the best you can to observe and meet your child’s needs … and have fun! 🙂
Learn more about Montessori at Home or School: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy!
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