Creating a Montessori Bookshelf: Insights from a bilingual Spanish Montessori Educator

Posted by Habbi Habbi on

In this post: Interested in building your own Montessori bookshelf to support Montessori learning at home? Here we speak with Karem, Spanish-speaking mom and Montessori homeschool educator to two bilingual children. She tells us more about her approach to raising bilingual children, using the Montessori method for supporting Spanish learning, and her Spanish Montessori bookshelves!

Table of contents: 

  • Introductions to a bilingual Montessori mom 
  • Montessori approach 
    • What is the Montessori Method? 
    • Using Montessori Bookshelves to Learn Spanish
    • Montessori and Habbi Habbi books
  • Setup: How to put together Montessori shelves?  
  • Location: Where to put a Montessori bookshelf? 
  • Rotation: How do you rotate and choose what to put on your bookshelves?


“My role as an adult in Montessori learning is to observe and organize an environment for my child that enables exploration. I love that Habbi Habbi books provide not only exposure to bilingualism but also nurture curiosity about other cultures - in a way that is so fun.” Karem Schmitz | Bilingual Montessori Mom and Educator | @HolaMontessori


Introductions to a bilingual Montessori mom 

Hi, I’m Karem. I’m a Spanish teacher with a Master’s in Montessori Education. I’m originally from Colombia. I came to the United States six years ago. I married my husband shortly after, and now we have two kids.

I started teaching Montessori when we decided to homeschool our children. I chose Montessori because we believe the methods provide what we think is best for our children. I share our Montessori journey on Instagram (@hola.montessori), starting from when my children were infants.


What does the Montessori Method mean to you?  

It is important to follow the child. As the parent and educator, I try to think about how I can give them elements that they can use to improve their skills and practice at that moment.

We also try to bring people into our home to support learning. Montessori would say you have to build a community; don’t teach alone. I believe that is crucial to incorporate in our teaching.

How do you apply Montessori and your bookshelves to language learning?

Right now, we are focused on the alphabet - both in English and Spanish. And we use the Montessori method, using things like sandpaper letters and other tactile materials to get familiar with the letters. 

I also try to incorporate the things that are around in our environment, like Maria Montessori says. For example, this week we are learning the letter “e” - so I have set up an “e” shelf that has other objects that might be related. For example: 

  • I put objects and toys that start with the letter “e” like “elefante.” 
  • Emotions also starts with an “e,” so we also added our Habbi Habbi book “El libro de las emociones” 


How has Habbi Habbi been a part of your Montessori homeschooling?

We use Habbi Habbi books as part of our learning in Spanish. I have used them in different ways depending on different ages and stages. When we first started using them, we would read together for vocabulary to incorporate it into daily life. It’s important not to overstimulate your child. Sometimes we would just look at one or two pages so it’s not too much at one time.

Early on, we used the books and didn't rely on the Reading Wand as much, because I am native in Spanish, so I'd just used my own voice. Then when my son was two, I began modeling how to use the Wand. He would try to use it by himself. He was also exploring his own voice and making sounds as well.

Now that he is almost four, he can use the Wand proficiently and also tries to teach his sister with the books, just like I was teaching him.


Let’s talk a bit about your Montessori bookshelves. 

I have three Montessori shelves:

  • One large shelf is under our window in our common room 
  • One really small one in our living room 
  • One shelf in the kids’ room 

Maria Montessori says you should incorporate certain amounts of activities or elements based on children’s development. When they are very young, include six elements. When they are three years old, you can include nine or ten elements. And I always try to ensure there are distinct places to put each activity on the shelf.


Setup: Can you talk specifically about how you set up your Montessori shelves? 

My general principle is: 

  • Top shelves for new activities that I want to bring to the attention of my kids 
  • Bottom shelves for things they use frequently 

For example on this shelf below …

On the top shelf, I chose something that’s very engaging. They are very into construction at the moment. I have a Waldorf rainbow and little colorful peg people. It is not technically Montessori, but a lot of Montessori environments use it because they engage the child through independent play. We also have a couple of matching cards about trees and plant life next to the plant.

On the bottom shelf, I have loose pieces for building. It helps to improve writing because children use their fingers and fine motor skills. I have a tray for numbers and balls to work on math and counting. I also have a tray with colors of autumn- brown, red, and orange- since it is autumn.

We also have our Habbi Habbi Careers book because he was very interested in community helpers. Next to the book, I have cars and little peg people that he can use to continue working with the book. 

Note: Some Montessori schools put activities in different places based on difficulty, but that’s not something everyone has to do. I try to do something that works for me. For example, I put objects on the bottom that my little girl can touch, that we can share together.


Location: Where is the best place to set up a Montessori bookshelf?  

Every family uses their home differently - so it will depend on each. Our principle is - put the shelves in areas where they will stay all the time - so they will see and use them. 

For example, I have one in the living room with a carpet and a little sofa so they can take books and rest. The one in the bedroom has carpet and pillows that they can move around to wherever they want to get comfortable. 

I also try to show excitement and involve them on what they want to put on the shelf.

Rotation: How often do you rotate your Montessori shelves? 

I don’t have a specific time. I believe in observation. If they don’t use the items on the shelf too much, then I just move their books around, maybe something from the top down to the bottom. Sometimes I take everything off and bring in another set. Sometimes I just switch a few books at a time.

I also bring them to the library so that they can pick books out for themselves. This changes up what books we have available. 

I also try to choose relevant books. Recently, my son has been emotional. I was talking to him about it, explaining how we have been reading “El libro de las emociones”. The book has more information, and we can use it to talk about how he feels and help him learn more about how he is feeling.

I never try to push my children or put too much on my shelves. I consider my Montessori bookshelves as “invitations to read and play.” If they say no, I just leave the book out and that might work for them to read it later. 



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