What is a Montessori bookshelf and how are they different? Montessori bookshelves are designed for use in Montessori classrooms and homes. They are typically designed to be low to the ground. They are designed to be easily accessible to children so that they can independently choose and handle the books they wish to read. Keep reading to learn more about Montessori bookshelves and how they are different.

The Montessori Approach to Learning

Montessori education is a child-centered educational approach developed by Maria Montessori (1870-1952) in the early 20th century. There are five principles at the core of her method:

  • Respect for the child
  • The child has an absorbent mind
  • The child experiences sensitive periods in which neural pathways are open to learning new facts and ideas
  • Optimal learning requires a prepared environment
  • The child is capable of teaching themselves, as well as other children

Dr. Montessori understood through observation that children have the capacity to learn through Interacting with their environments. She also recognized that children gravitate to the subjects that interest them. Having access to a prepared environment is fundamental for optimal learning, especially during the sensitive periods when neural pathways are opening to new experiences. Montessori classrooms are mixed-aged. This is because Dr. Montessori recognized that younger children can learn from older children. And even without her observation that children have absorbent minds, I think most of us are aware of the sponginess of a youthful brain. The Montessori bookshelf is designed with all of this in mind.

Bookshelves: A Brief History

The origins of the bookcase can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. Shelves were fashioned from clay and stone. They were used to store scrolls and tablets. In medieval Europe, books were luxury items and were often kept in chests or on shelves at monasteries and libraries. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg led to greater availability of books and a corresponding need for storage. In the 17th and 18th centuries, bookshelves were crafted from wood, metal, and glass, with more decorative designs. The rise of industrialization in the 19th century brought mass-produced bookcases. Today bookshelves come in a wide variety of materials, designs, and sizes, and are used not only for books but also for storing and displaying a variety of other items. So, what makes a Montessori bookshelf different?

A low angle photograph of light gray wooden bookshelves filled with what appear to be textbooks. There are at least nine levels of shelves. In the back of the photograph toward the right is a young light-skinned woman with long brown hair, wearing a long sleeve white crop top and high waisted denim jeans. She is also wearing white sneakers. She is seen standing on a ladder looking at a book from one of the higher shelves. In the front left part of the photograph five shelves away from the young woman on the ladder is a light skin young man wearing a light colored long sleeve sweatshirt and faded denim jeans. He is only visible to his knees. He is facing away from the camera reaching for a book on the sixth shelf. He may be standing on a stool but it is not visible in the photograph. The shelves are all approximately 3 feet long and 18 inches tall and they are all filled with books. The back of the frame is a white wall or very bright window.
Today bookshelves come in a wide variety of materials, designs, and sizes.

©LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com

Montessori Bookshelves: How are They Different?

Montessori bookshelves look a bit different from the traditional ones used in libraries, offices, and bookstores. This is because Montessori bookshelves are designed to be fully accessible to young children.

Montessori Bookshelves: Built Low

Montessori bookshelves are designed to be low so that children can easily access the materials. This allows them to take an active role in their own learning, as they can choose which materials they want to work with and explore at their own pace. Additionally, the low bookshelves promote independence, as children are able to reach and handle the materials without the need for adult assistance. Furthermore, low bookshelves prevent accidents, as children are less likely to knock over the shelves or pull books down on themselves. Overall, the low design of Montessori bookshelves is an important aspect of the Montessori method, as it supports children's natural curiosity and autonomy.

A photograph of a Montessori classroom. From the back left frame to the front there are two natural wood bookcases visible there is also a light blue metal rolling cart with three shelves visible in the back left frame. markers on the top shelf and then wooden trays on the second in lower shelf in front of the rolling cart is a plant in a wicker basket which is situated next to shelving that is at more of a vertical angle in the photograph. In the front right part of the frame there is a wooden table with red and blue feet and wooden stools. In the back of the frame there are four windows with dark frames visible. The windows each consist of nine separate panes of glass. The walls and the ceiling of the classroom are white. The floor is light natural wood. It is a very bright classroom
Montessori bookshelves are designed to be low so that children can easily access the materials.


Montessori Bookshelves: Arrangement

Books are typically arranged on shelves in a way that is easy for children to access and understand. The books are grouped by subject or theme, and the titles are facing outward so that children can easily see and select the books in which they are interested. The books are also arranged with simpler books on lower shelves for ready access to the youngest learners. More complex books are on the taller shelves, which are within the reach of older children. This allows children to gradually progress in their reading skills as they grow. Optimally, books are organized by category (picture books, early readers, chapter books) and/or genre (adorable baby animal books, mystery books, fantasy books). The books are labeled with colorful tags, pictures, or illustrations, and are often front-facing, which helps children find suitable books and identify their favorite books more readily.

Center frame against a gray wall is a pink and tan brown bookshelf. There are two shelves on the pink on the top shelf is a Smurf book and a Dora book on the bottom shelf is a book called Katie the candy cane fairy and what appears to be a Barbie book which makes sounds The covers of the books are very colorful.
The books are labeled with colorful tags, pictures, or illustrations, and are often front-facing.

©ellinnur bakarudin/Shutterstock.com

Montessori Bookshelves: Aesthetic

Montessori bookcases are designed with a focus on visual appeal. They are typically made of natural materials such as wood and have a simple and uncluttered aesthetic. The shelves are arranged at various levels. These levels create an interesting visual display that encourages children to explore and engage with the books. The books are often arranged by color or size, which further adds to the visual appeal. Additionally, the bookcases are often designed to be accessible to children of all sizes. The lower shelves are for younger children and the higher shelves are for older children. Overall, Montessori bookcases are designed to be both functional and visually pleasing.

A photograph of left frame moss green wire and mesh chair with an open book on it see. To the right of the chair is an open bookcase consisting of six cubes. Four cubes are fully seen in the frame. Two cubes are only 1/3 visible. The bookcase is white and red. On top of the bookcase are some plants. There are also plants in the cubes some sitting on top of books. The wall behind the chair in the bookcase is sage green and has a pattern. Almost like paneling but not really. It’s difficult to describe. However it is aesthetically pleasing.
Montessori bookcases are designed to be both functional and visually pleasing.

©united photo studio/Shutterstock.com

Montessori Bookshelves: Other Uses

The open design of Montessori bookshelves allows for easy access and visibility of the items stored on them making them a versatile organizational tool. Beyond books, Montessori bookcases can be used to store toys, puzzles, games, and art supplies. when using bookshelves for these items, it is suggested that they are limited in quantity and rotated often. In this way, children are neither overwhelmed or become bored, respectively.

oday bookshelves come in a wide variety of materials, designs, and sizes
Montessori bookcases can be used to store toys, puzzles, games, and art supplies.


Montessori bookshelves are different from traditional bookcases in their accessibility to young children, their pleasing aesthetic, simple design, and versatility.

Up Next: