Lydia’s Montessori-Inspired Play Space

Montessori-Inspired Play SpaceHi, friends! We rang in the new year by repainting Lydia’s “play space.” (Seriously: we finished it up on it on January 1st. We’d been meaning to do it for months.)

“Play space” is what we’re calling the long, awkwardly narrow room by the kitchen because we’re not quite sure what else to call it.

We never really knew what to do with the space before kids. It used to act as a sort of living room, but we always ended up doing most of our “living room” stuff downstairs (entertaining guests, watching movies, etc). Now this is where Lydia spends most of her time (after the kitchen, perhaps), and we’ve decided to gear it to her everyday needs. But “toy room” didn’t sound quite right for the new space because toys only play a small part of Lydia’s daily play experience. (The room also features a large reading nook and craft area).

Lydia’s play space has very little to do with “Becoming Peculiar,” but I’m just so darn pleased with the final results I had to share.

Here’s what the room looked like before (several months ago):

gallery 01The walls were still the dull beige the former owners painted them (and I’ve never been a fan of beige.) Years ago, I’d decided on a medieval/Pre-Raphaelite look for the room, but that was difficult to pull off (a) on a tight budget and (b) now with a kid in the house.

So I decided to spunk things up a bit with a new coat of white recycled paint (inexpensive and eco-friendly), some bright/funky decor for the walls, and cheerful curtains from Ikea.

After months of gathering materials and planning, here’s what we came up with.Montessori-inspired roomThe view when you just walk in from the mudroom. The framed alphabet art and pillow are both from Ikea. The two tables are from thrift stores and have only been primered so far — I plan to paint them a light aqua.Montessori toy shelvesI’ve talked about our toy shelves a couple of times already (7 Cheap and Awesome Items to Add to Your Toddler’s Toy Shelf; Preparing the Environment for a Low-Media Toddler). Storing toys on low, open shelves is inspired by Montessori principles, wherein children are encouraged to do things for themselves as much as possible.

I try to rotate toys every few weeks to limit what’s available at a given time, giving toys some time in storage to “freshen up” in their appeal. These are ALL the toys Lydia can access at a time. I like to have them openly visible to keep things organized and make them more appealing.  I store collections (like blocks, tea sets and plastic animals) together in thrifted baskets or on wooden trays. Her play dough and accessories are on a tray together, too.

The easel is from Ikea and one of the best purchases we’ve made — she uses it every day. It cost a mere $15 and seems sturdy enough. (The chalk is kept in the basket underneath.) The other side is a white board, but we usually use it for paper and paint. It has a shelf for holding paints and brushes.

For the wall above, we painted an old thrifted frame black and used it to frame some of Lydia’s original artwork. Doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

Reading Corner / Book Nook with rain gutter shelvesI’ve also written about our reading nook (made from gutters) before (Preparing the Environment for a Low-Media Toddler.) We’re still thrilled with this setup. The only change here is the addition of the wooden letters above the shelves (from Hobby Lobby, 50% off). We also re-painted the wooden chair (which Ben built) to match the decor. (The sheepskin is from — where else? — Ikea).

Care of Self Table (Montessori)I’m also really proud of our Care of Self Table (another Montessori-inspired idea). it was our solution to the problem of how we could enable Lydia to easily wipe her face, brush her hair, and (eventually) brush her teeth independently. We wanted easy access to a mirror and a nice, low shelf. It’s also right outside the bathroom, so we can grab some water from the sink as needed.

Care of Self Table (Montessori)Ben designed and built this himself after I described what I wanted. (I helped paint!) We resized and framed an old mirror and secured it to the wall above the shelf. We currently keep a small hairbrush and a tray with cloths (which I periodically dampen, as necessary) on the shelf. During spells of the sniffles, I can add a box of tissues or handkerchiefs so she can blow/wipe her own nose.

We keep a wire basket underneath for used cloths.

And another source of pride and joy: Ben picked up this lovely antique dresser from the side of the road. FOR FREE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe drawers were really hard to pull in and out, so he built new drawers for the inside (with new-fangled slides) using the original drawer fronts. So it has all its original charm without the difficult-to-open drawers.

We store Lyida’s art and craft supplies in here (beads, yarn, glitter, etc). She can open the drawers herself and loves to help herself to an “activiwy” at her leisure.

tableLydia, using her awesome Melissa and Doug triangular crayons from her craft dresser. The table and antique child-sized chairs were thrifted and repainted. (Like I said, we still need to paint the tables.)

There you have it! Hope you were inspired! And be aware that the room is rarely this tidy, and the rest of the house is not nearly as well-coordinated in terms of decor.

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  1. I love this glimpse into your home! Positively lovely!

  2. I love it!! I want that room for myself hahaha

  3. That room is AMAZING! Can you come do my house? Please? We do toy rotation and thanks to your blog, we also do a shelf of sorts. Ours is just stackable milk crates though. I really wih we had a room like that on our main floor. We have a smaller space than you have in our basement, but I don’t feel like Ana is old enough to play down there by herself yet so we don’t play down there often. I’d love to make it like your space though. I love how your space really enables Lydia to do so much for herself. I’ve tried to do that for Ana but am not as creative as you are. I haven’t read Montissori, is that one of their principles?
    Michele recently posted..Night Weaning – The Key to Fertility?My Profile

    • Thanks, Michele! Lydia would NEVER play downstairs by herself, and I wouldn’t expect her to. Maybe when she’s older, but right now she’s too young. So I totally get that.

      Yes, I think that’s one of the key principles in Montessori education — encouraging and enabling young children to do things independently. The idea is that this encourages a sense of competence and self-worth. Kids are instinctively interested in imitating adults and learning to do things for themselves, so Montessorians try to create an environment that enables this. (They also have a certain approach to teaching children these skills, which I’m not very good at implementing.)

      I think I should share some photos of our bedroom, to even things out and demonstrate how NOT attractive some of our rooms are! :)

  4. This is so functional and beautiful, I love it! Great job. I really love the little trampoline! And I think the self care station is my favorite! How useful!
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  5. It is a very well-thought space for your little one! I especially love the care of self station!
    Sixtine et Victoire recently posted..10 Things To Know About MontessoriMy Profile

  6. I love this! My son is 11 months old and I really want to set up his room so he can enjoy it. I will definitely be borrowing some of your ideas. I especially love the way the books are displayed and within easy reach.

  7. I LOVE this! I so wish that I could do interior design, but I seem woefully inept. Our living room is spacious and I thought I did a good job, but it seems like when I have people over they always seem to sit on the floor instead of our couch. . . I must be doing something wrong. Anyway! I love your ideas and the montessori inspiration.

  8. Kathleen, I want to come over and play in that space. It’s sooo cool. I especially the love the little mirror!! I’ve pinned it, and when I have the space and the child to put in it, I’m going to definitely use it as inspiration.
    Amy Rogers Hays recently posted..Words for the New Year: A Gift from my FamilyMy Profile

  9. Love the pictures and the way you’ve planned this play space. The rain gutter book shelves look just perfect there and are a great sample to share with our community too!

  10. Do you have issues of her coloring on walls or smashing play doh everywhere?
    I keep my girls things up because I know what would happen if they had access to
    All those things

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