I’m so excited to share our Montessori-inspired, mid-century modern home with you! Although we are not following any formal homeschool curriculum yet, our home is a place where our kids are constantly learning while playing! After relocating several times and working irregular hours, my husband and I became minimalists who crave organization. Since neutral designs are calm and relaxing, we also fell in love with mid-century modern furnishings. The layout of our home is also inspired by Dr. Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy.
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When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I promised that we’d never let toys take over our home. Yet, not long after our daughter was born, our home was filled with unused baby gifts and impulsive purchases. (We did live across the street from Target for a couple years!)
Two years ago, when we moved into our current home, I wanted to be more deliberate about creating a playful yet educational environment. However, excessive options and colors can be distracting and overwhelming for young children. I noticed that my kids couldn’t find the things they needed, and they weren’t even playing with most of the things we owned. Furthermore, since we are teaching 2 minority languages at home, the environment really needed to be decluttered for our Chinese and Korean learning materials to be noticeable.
After donating several boxes, rearranging (and rearranging!), and being more selective about our purchases, our space is less cluttered compared to photos in this post! However, I feel like we still have too many unnecessary things. Since it’s impractical to replace everything, not everything is Montessori per se. But I do feel like our homeschool “classroom” is gradually improving to meet my kids’ developmental needs. For reference, my daughter “老大” (lǎodà / oldest child) is 4-years-old, doing basic math, and reading Chinese at a 1st grade level. She also can read Korean and will start learning to read English soon. My son “老二” (lǎo èr / second child) is 17-months-old and doesn’t do any of that yet :).
What do Montessori and mid-century modern mean?
Before I delve into the specifics of what’s in our rooms, I think it’s important to first define Montessori and how it marries well with mid-century modern design. Montessori’s fundamental principles are to:
- Create a prepared learning environment
- Encourage curiosity with sensorial materials
- Allow a child to learn without interruptions
- Learn in a natural environment (eg, people of different ages, practical life skills)
- Develop a sense of order
- Help a child become independent
Mid-century modern living aesthetic is characterized by:
- Clean simplicity
- Low furniture (eg, accessible for children!)
- Ample windows and open floor plans
Our home has an open concept plan so that the kitchen, dining room, and living room are one shared space. I’m grateful for this, because:
- We have plenty of natural light.
- The kids can easily get from one place to another; they aren’t restricted by walls.
- I can see my children from almost any vantage point.
Well, that was a long introduction! Let’s dive into the details of the following:
- Play area
- Reading spaces
- Art storage
- Practical life skills
I have included links to where you can find items and notes about recommendations.
1. Preschool play area
The kid’s play space is a nook behind our living room.
From left to right, in this space we have:
- Baby Care Play Mat, Large, Sea Petals – Grey – Very soft and comfortable
- Haba wagon – This is great throughout toddlerhood; wheels are adjustable to roller faster or slower.
- B. toys sensory blocks – These are not necessary.
- Melissa & Doug Easel (adjustable height!) – Love love love. This is a must-have.
- Growing Up Green Bamboo Step stool – If you have toddlers, I recommend getting step stools of different heights.
- Cubeicals Organizer, 6 cube, white – We have several of these throughout the house!
- Grimms Large 12-piece Rainbow Stacker – This is an open-ended Waldorf toy rather than Montessori, but it’s used daily for creative play! It also comes in small 6-piece size. Admittedly, my husband and I do feel like our house is getting a bit colorful! The kids do love this rainbow, but sometimes I wish I got the natural rainbow stacker instead.
- Grimms Rainbow Friends – Another open-ended Waldorf toy; this one was not necessary.
- La Joie Muse Cotton Rope Baskets
- Melissa & Doug Firetruck and Firefighters – Both of my kids frequently play with all of the vehicle toys!
- Melissa & Doug Schoolbus
- Melissa & Doug Wood Vehicles & Signs
- Grimms Rainbow Nesting Bowls – I wish I got the natural version instead per Montessori, but both kids enjoy it.
- Jensen CD player – Highly recommend! My daughter can switch our music as she wishes, and both kids dance to this everyday!
From left to right, this area has the following items:
- Room & Board Perch table and chairs – I love the design, but it is too high for children under 2. In hindsight, I wish I could get a weaning table so my son can climb on and off independently. However, we got this when my daughter without thinking about future children!
- White wall shelves – I love these bookracks because my daughter’s Chinese and Korean workbooks are front-facing and easily accessible.
- My First Calendar – All About Today Wooden Board
- From Jennifer Reversible Tracing Map – We love everything from this Etsy shop!
- From Jennifer Reversible Printed Alphabet Board
- From Jennifer Reversible Cursive Alphabet Board
- Clear mini Command hooks
- Mini clothespins
- Pretend clothing flashcards from my website
Here’s what it looks like with the kids!
2. Homeschool reading spaces
This is the main bookcase in our living room. Since Chinese & Korean are our minority languages, these shelves only have books in these languages to encourage my daughter to speak and read it. When she starts to read English, we will add English books to the mix. The board books in the bottom two baskets are generally for my son, and the rest of the books are generally for my daughter. However, they are welcome to look at any book they want!
Item details for the above photo:
- Room & Board Woodwind Bookcase, walnut
- From Jennifer Wooden Geometry Cards + Box
- From Jennifer Reversible 1-10 Number Board
- Grimms Rainbow Stacker – I have removed the pole and the smallest piece to make it safer for my son. However, I wish instead that I got a natural Montessori-friendly stacking toy such as this one.
- Rope baskets
- Montessori sound cylinders
- DIY Felt Hands Math Activity from my website
Since it’s often hard to find books when only the spine is showing, we have select books on display throughout the house. On the main bookshelf, I have a few baskets so that the front cover is visible. I also have a front-facing bookshelf in a bathroom as shown below.
You may recognize our bathroom bookcase from my post about reading tips! Since kids often spend a lot of time on the potty, we spend a lot of time reading there! We used to have books all over the floor until we got a front-facing bookcase that is similar to this one from Pottery Barn Kids. (Looks like we need to get more toilet paper though!)
In addition, we also have a ledge where we rotate different books for display. Sometimes we keep the ledge clear, so the books are extra intriguing when they’re out. For us, this has been a great way to re-introduce forgotten books!
Extra books are stored in my daughter’s bedroom closet in two Cubeicals shelves. Below is a peek at one of them. Every few weeks, I switch out books from the main shelves with books in the “storage” shelves.
3. Playroom art storage
I try to discourage paper hoarding and paper waste, so my daughter is only allowed to keep artwork that fits in this basket. Once it’s full, she decides which pieces are her new “favorites” and recycles the rest. I also have a limited amount of paper in the tray, and both kids are encouraged to use old scrap paper first.
Certain art supplies are freely accessible to the kids:
The supplies are stored in baskets and divided by paper cups. Although I have removed duplicate colors, there are still too many options for my son’s age. Rather than mastering one skill, he’s busy switching back and forth between the different markers and crayons. However, my daughter has the focus and maturity to explore the various mediums in a meaningful way. My son always wants to copy his big sister, so I have decided to leave these options out for now.
The rest of our art supplies are stored in our dining cabinet! We are minimalistic with our diningware, so the cabinet contains craft supplies, old paper roll activities, and other learning activities!
Here’s a photo of my family playing with our pretend play food cards on our dining table. Since we don’t have space for other tables or desks, we use it for playful learning and artwork!
4. Montessori practical life skills
Normal, daily chores are some of the most important skills that children can learn from a young age. My son thinks the Swiffer is a fun toy! We shortened the handle for safety, and he sweeps everyday with a smile! This is also great exercise; my son even makes a game out of it and uses the Swiffer to play “hockey” with his other toys.
In addition, my daughter helps fold her own laundry and hangs up her own clothing. Both kids are encouraged to wipe their own spills and pick up things they drop.
I also expect my daughter to help with dish-washing, and my son likes to think he’s participating. For adults, these are tedious tasks, but for children, this is essentially water play! For access to the counters and sink, step stools are important for helping kids become self-sufficient. Kids can push them around to get to what they need. I hear great things about the Learning Tower from other families, but we love our Serena & Lily step stools. For us, the tower is too bulky and pricey for short-term use.
All of the kids’ dishware is kept in one unlocked cabinet. My son is excited to get bowls and cups for himself and his sister! We also store kitchen toys and pretend play food in this cabinet. However, we do not have a pretend kitchen because we don’t have the space for it. Also, I am happy that we don’t have one, because it encourages the kids to use their imagination!
5. Exercise/Outdoor play
Children need constant movement! We have one TV in our living room that is normally off when the children are awake. We limit screen-time, because it causes children to be idle and distracts them from hands-on learning among other negative effects.
One of my favorite splurges from this past Christmas is the Pikler Climbing triangle, rock wall, ladder, and slide. Both kids get so much use out of it, and it’s perfect for getting energy out when we aren’t able to play outside! This set is fold-able, and it’s easy to put away.
Currently, we have the Skip Hop playmat to cushion the floor, but I really don’t recommend it. After having it for a couple of years, it is a pain to clean because so much dust falls in between the crevices. We will be getting rid of this soon. Instead, I would recommend a one-piece playmat as shown earlier in this post.
I also get a lot of questions about the bookcase here from Crate & Barrel Kids (formerly Land of Nod). I love the mid-century modern style! However, if you are considering it, I recommend only putting books at the top and not the bottom. The high lip is an obstacle and thus our kids get frustrated because they cannot take out books independently. We will soon get another bookcase for our books, but the bottom shelf is better for balls, plush animals, or other large objects.
We also keep a basket of balls in our living room! It’s a great way to encourage movement when we’re at home, and we have fun playing soccer and catch with the kids! My daughter knows that we aren’t allow to throw overhand indoors. My son can’t throw very far yet, so no concerns there.
Although this post focuses on our homeschool learning environment, we usually spend half of the day outdoors! And we are lucky to live near parks where the kids play most days of the week!
Thank you for visiting our mid-century modern, Montessori-inspired homeschool space! Over the next year, I hope to DIY and purchase more Montessori classroom materials while living as minimally as possible. I also hope to add some plants that the children can take care of.
Feel free to follow me on Instagram to see how the kids use the space and what changes we make. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions or give feedback in the comments!
Updated 2/25/18: Many readers have asked for advice on how to declutter and which resources to prioritize keeping and investing. I have found the following articles to be very helpful:
- The 20 Toy Rule from ErinSpain.com
- Montessori and KonMari from Three Minute Montessori
- Putting Things Away and Tidying Up – What A Toddler Can Do from How We Montessori
- The Best Montessori Sensorial Materials from Sugar, Spice, and Glitter
- Montessori Materials Review from Sugar, Spice, and Glitter
Simplifying our home has given my children the necessary space to learn. It’s the very first step in my post about 10 ways to encourage your kids to love reading!
Happy learning, friends!