The Hows and Whys of a Montessori Children’s Wardrobe

How to use a Montessori children's toddler wardrobe

Montessori children's wardrobes come in all shapes and sizes (#montessoriwardrobe) but the purpose remains the same.  The aim of the Montessori children's wardrobe is to support:

  • independence - the child can easily access their clothing.
  • order - everything has a place, the child can easily see their clothing, the child knows where everything goes. 
  • choice - the child is able to choose from a small selection of seasonally and developmentally appropriate pieces of clothing to wear.
  • problem-solving skills - in selecting the clothing and in self dressing the child will encounter problems to solve. 
  • child's sense of self - the child builds confidence and self-worth when they are able to do care of self activities successfully and independently. The child can feel a sense of accomplishment in simple tasks like choosing their own outfit or putting their own clothes away. 

All of these support the child's developing will and path to self-formation. 

"As in every area of personal care, independence for the child is our ultimate goal. Independence in dress has many faucets. We do not want this independence for the child in order to free adults from dressing her. Our primary aim is not even to get clothes on the child. Our purpose in teaching the child to dress herself involves her self-formation. It is how the child feels about herself after she is dressed that is of ultimate purpose." - Montessori From The Start.

Using a Montessori Children's Wardrobe the child can:

  • select their own clothing to wear - from a limited selection of appropriate clothing. They can also change their clothing themselves if necessary or add a sweater or leggings if it gets cold. 
  • independently get dressed - as much as possible and is age and developmentally appropriate.
  • put away their clean laundry - I don't mind if things are half folded as long as they are in the right spot.
  • help maintain order - they can tidy and be responsible for maintaining their own space, a three-year-old may not be big on tidying but at least with a child-size wardrobe they can help.

If we provide a laundry hamper the child can also put their worn or dirty clothing in the hamper when getting undressed and can also carry their own clothing to the laundry on wash day. As the young child is in the sensitive period for order, this is a really good habit to start.

When choosing or designing our child's wardrobe we can consider clothing and accessories such as:

  • hats - school hats, beanies, sun hats
  • tops - t-shirts, sweaters
  • bottoms - shorts, trousers, leggings, skirts
  • dresses
  • underwear and socks - tights, leg warmers
  • seasonal clothing - swimmers, snow gear, gloves, mittens
  • uniforms - for school, sport
  • bathrobe
  • shoes
  • backpack

We can also consider:

  • child-size hangers - from around three children can learn to hang up their own clothing, especially those with wider necks or stretchy fabrics. 
  • low chair - some children may find it easier to get dressed in a seated position especially for pulling on pants or putting on shoes.
  • soft rug - or lambswool, many children like to sit on the floor while dressing.
  • hamper - for dirty washing, make it small enough the young child can carry it to the laundry on laundry days. 
  • mirror - to check on self-dressing, acrylic mirrors are light and child safe and can easily be attached to the side of the wardrobe.
  • hooks - for hanging coats, backpacks, hats, scarfs. 
  • baskets - for storing loose items like hats, socks, or underwear.
  • pictorial labels - so younger children know where things go, this is especially useful if you are using lots of drawers or baskets that the child can't easily see into. 

I like to have a combination of hanging space and shelves in our child's wardrobe. We hang tops and fold pants and underwear is kept in baskets. However, I know many families with young children simply use baskets or drawers and fold all items. Folded items can go straight onto the shelves or in the drawer or go into baskets or trays. Some families keep coats, shoes, hats, and backpacks in the entryway, mudrooms, hallways, others will keep these in the child's room. 

Montessori From The Start recommends storing clothing in order, starting with the first items to go on at the top and progress downwards. Following this socks and underwear would be stored on top, then shirts in the middle and pants on the bottom! I have never thought of doing this but it makes sense! 

In reality, this is what our Montessori children's wardrobe looks like. My child here is 3yrs 9 months and is 102cms tall. He started using this wardrobe at around 18 months old. It is currently winter. In the spring and summer months, I would remove the coat and woolens and have more t-shirts and shorts out. 

Montessori child size wardrobe at three years australia

Troubleshooting - Dumping Clothing

Montessori From The Start and The Joyful Child both suggest starting with two clothing options. Just two. Then we can follow the child. If the child struggles to decide between two options perhaps we can remove the choice. If the child happily and easily makes a choice, then over time we can add more. 

The main issue I've had with the wardrobe is my child at around 3 years, emptying the wardrobe completely, throwing the clothes on the floor. As a result, I reduced the clothing to only a couple of options until this behavior eventually stopped. Reducing the number of clothes in the wardrobe: 

  • reduces the options he has to wear and it makes it easier to find the clothes he is looking for.
  • reduces the appeal of clothes for dumping or transporting, if the child wants to dump things they can then look elsewhere.
  • reduces the number of clothes you have to pick up and put away.

"In clothing, as in so many things for young children, less is more. If you stay with the basic amount needed, you not only make your child's goal of independence more attainable for her, but you also make your own life simpler." - Montessori From The Start

Troubleshooting - Child Doesn't Want to Dress Themselves

As much as possible I let this go. It's not a big issue and the more importance we place on self-dressing the more the child may resist. I would continue to offer the choice and help the child dress, only helping as much as necessary. There are plenty of other ways in the child's day that we can provide choices and provide opportunities for independence and autonomy. 

The child who has their clothing accessible and is confident and independent in other areas of their life is much more likely to self-dress than a child who doesn't have these options or opportunities. 

How to use a Montessori wardrobe

Further reading:

Resources: Montessori Children's Wardrobe (UK & EU), similar AU here and here, similar US here. Remember low baskets, child-accessible drawers, DIY options or Ikea-style hacks can work just as well. 

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