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by Tim Seldin and Lorna McGrath

An excerpt from Montessori For Every Family, published by DK Press, 2021

In most families, there are hobbies, interests, and activities that can be messy, need to be left in place to continue to work on later, or where special tools and supplies can be kept on hand and are easily found as needed. A messy space like this could be a spare room in your house, in the basement if you have one, or in your family garage.

It could be a craft and art studio for sculpting or making pottery or an area for woodworking with a workbench with tools arranged on shelves or hanging from a pegboard. It might be a room where you keep your paints and an easel, a photography or video studio with lighting and backdrops, or a space for tools to work on your cars or bicycles.

Keeping order in mind as you plan and organize the space is key to reducing frustration when you can’t find a tool you need or something you’ve just created gets knocked over. When there is clutter and disorder, accidents are more likely to happen and safety to be compromised. It also becomes more difficult to concentrate on the project at hand.

In a Montessori-inspired home, we want to think about what kind of space is needed for your interests or hobbies with all members of the family in mind. Your children are likely to want to be around you as much as possible, as well as needing a space where they can do the things that they prefer. So the idea is to think about the activities that your family members enjoy and consider which ones can be done in the same space.

Many families do not have a spare room, a basement, or even a garage that could be turned into a messy room. What are you to do then? Of course, everything depends on the ages and interests of your children, which may be very different from child to child, but the basic concepts remain the same. Our goal is to allow children to do activities that may be too messy to allow in their bedrooms, the kitchen, or the living room. When you live in a small apartment or home, you have to think outside of the box. You may make an exception to the general rule, and create a small area in the child’s bedroom where you lay down a protective heavy plastic covering on the floor and allow your child to paint, work with clay, glue models together, and other things using a washable covering to protect the surface of the kitchen table. The goal is to encourage children to feel that they can explore hobbies and interests while having your house (or backpack) become a mess.

Real-life story: When Jennie first went to school, she was fascinated with the art materials in her Montessori class. She loved to paint and draw with the beautiful beeswax crayons and colored pencils that were part of the classroom environment. When she would come home, she would often ask her mom if she could have an art studio. Jennie and her mom bought her a set of simple water paints and brushes, a small tabletop easel, and a stack of water-paint paper. They set up a little art studio with tile on the floor that could be easily cleaned if any paint spilled. Mom also bought some picture frames made from matte board so Jennie could hang her favorite paintings. As time went by, Jennie moved from water paints to charcoal and pastels and finally tempera and oil paints. but her interest in drawing and painting never faded away. Today, Jennie has grown up and has a career in science, but she still enjoys painting and loves going to art galleries.

Real-life story: I started noticing my son’s school backpack was full of what I considered trash. Broken rubber bands, the inner ring from a roll of tape, bits of string, etc… for and he just said that he needed them. Then, I started noticing items moving from the recycle bin to his bedroom. Egg cartons, milk jugs, cardboard boxes of all sizes… was looking like a recycling center in his room. I would ask him what they were. He kept saying he “needed” it all, so I walked out, took a deep breath, and went with it when what I really wanted to do was put it all back in the trash and have a clean house! Then, one day, he emerged from his room with a giant “smoothie shop” that served all types of smoothies (made out of cardboard and “trash”). This shop was so amazingly detailed and each bit of “trash” served a thought-out purpose. He used amazing grace and courtesy to take our orders and serve us smoothies. We all drank some delicious smoothies that day, and I silently thanked all of his Montessori teachers for teaching me to follow his interests… even when those interests looked like “trash!” —Tara, mother of John 9 years old

Lorna McGrath, M.Ed., is Director of IMC School Accreditation, Program Director of the Montessori Family Alliance, and Senior Consultant of The Montessori Foundation. Lorna has 41 years of experience in the field of education, teaching children from 18 months through 6 years old and from 12 through 18 years old in both public schools and independent Montessori schools. Lorna is a Montessori teacher educator, conference presenter, and school consultant. She can be reached at

Tim Seldin is President of the Montessori Foundation and Chair of the International Montessori Council. His more than40 years of experience in Montessori education includes 22years as Headmaster of the Barrie School in Silver Spring, Maryland, his alma mater from toddler through high school graduation. Tim was Co-Founder and Director of the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies and the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. He earned a B.A. in History and Philosophy from Georgetown University, a M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Supervision from The American University, and his Montessori certification from the American Montessori Society. Tim Seldin is the author of several books on Montessori Education, including How to Raise An Amazing Child, The World in the Palm of Her Hand, and his new book, Montessori for Everyone, co-authored with Lorna McGrath.