Recently I have wondered why this item is not listed as a material to support gross motor development. It is also not on any lists of what to buy in preparation for baby. Yet, it has definitely been one of our top three most used and most important items in supporting his development of gross motor movement in the last 7 months. What am I talking about? Wait for it…


Shelves are a big part of Montessori both in the home and in school. In an authentic Montessori school, materials are stored on child sized shelves that the child can reach. The shelves provide the child with order, and lead to independence because he can take a material and return it when he is done. The same principle applies to a Montessori home. The shelf provides order for the child. He can see the toys available to him and when he is old enough (once he is slithering. For  us this was around 5 months) he can go to it and choose a toy. Once he can walk, he can also put the toy back when he is done with it. It forces the parents to limit the toy options and allows them to observe what the child is drawn to.

These are the main reasons for shelves in Montessori environments but based on our experience I think they are a huge (I dare to say the best) material for the development of early gross motor movement.

Here is an example of how our shelf has supported the development of slithering and then crawling

At 5 months and 4 days. This was one of his first instances of purposeful movement. (click on picture to make bigger and read text)

I am capable!

I am capable!

Several things that you may not be able to tell from the pictures:

He had been spending a lot of time on his tummy. He had explored each item on the shelf before. I would bring them one at a time and keep them close to him. He would reach for it, and explore it with his hands. Sometimes passing it from one hand to the other.

From observing him, I knew he was ready to move. He could hold his neck up and had been doing the swimming exercises (core down with hand and legs in the air) for a while. He also slithered a bit but never purposefully. So I stopped bringing items to him. I would put him down within view of the shelf and the mirror. He had the option to watch himself in the mirror or head for the shelf. I knew what his favorite items were by now so those were the ones on the shelf. I waited patiently.

It took him 9 minutes+ to get to the shelf and touch the basket. It would have taken me less than 9 seconds to give it to him but think of what I would have taken away from him.

As an adult, think of how many times we are in situations like this. We have a goal that seems so far away, so beyond us, but we have to push on and make our way there. There are usually obstacles and distractions on the way but we have to keep our eyes on the goal and keep pushing. Then we reach our goal! Oh the sense of accomplishment. How awesome to start experiencing that feeling of capability at such a young age. To know that you can set a goal and reach it. I see how capable he is already and know that those early experiences made a difference and laid a foundation for self-confidence.

Resist the temptation to have to many things on the shelf. I use the baby’s age to limit myself. So at five months, no more than five items. Our shelf has four compartments so we were actually limited to 4 items on the shelf. As you can see from the picture, I stored some books, the rainbow and a picture on the shelf because I knew he could not reach them yet. Once he started pulling up, I cleared most of those items.

Apart from being his favorite objects, the objects on our shelf were developmentally appropriate. You can visit this post to learn about materials to support the development of gross motor movement around 4-7 months which is when slithering and or crawling can start. I don’t think I mentioned shelves!

Come back on Wednesday to see how our shelves helped with pulling up and standing and on Friday to see what we have on our shelves at 9 months and why we chose them.

Note: The pictured shelf is 1 feet x 4 feet. It doesn’t have to have the compartments but I like that it does.

As always I would love you to share your comments, questions and any thoughts.

p.s. Welcome to all the new readers from around the globe. I also honored that you would take the time to visit. Please  join the conversation and subscribe.

p.p.s. I use way to many exclamation marks 😀

Live a Good Life!


Bee · February 5, 2015 at 7:13 am

So helpful! I did not realise I would need shelves or rather that they would come in handy this early. We’re at five months and she can slide backwards easily now. She gets frustrated when she’s trying to reach something in front of her but is finding herself sliding back. My Mama instinct says ‘help’ and I usually do but I’m going to work in holding back.

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