How to Create a Montessori Style Yes Space for your Baby & Toddler

If you are desperate for your child to start playing independently, but have concerns over safety a Yes Space might be just what you are looking for.

The play space you are going to create should be a place where your child can play uninhibited.  You want them to feel safe and confident in this space.

A yes space is somewhere where children can play independently without interruption. Here a 5 year old girl plays with some wooden blocks

What is a Yes Space?

Whilst the idea of Yes Spaces have been adopted by Montessori educators, it’s actually Magda Gerber, founder of the RIE method who was the original advocate.

As you read on, it will be easy to see why the Yes Space has become synonymous with Montessori. Many of the ideas are very similar.

Magda’s definition of a safe play space? It’s one where if your baby was left on her own all day, she would be hungry, upset, and need a new diaper when you returned but she would be physically unharmed.

– Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child the RIE Way.

Independent Play is not the same as playing alone

Whilst a Yes Space should be technically safe enough so that your child could play alone all day, obviously this isn’t something you should do in reality!

What I think is often misunderstood about independent play is the idea of leaving your child alone in a room and expecting them to just get on with it.

The mini courses I have available via my substack page ‘How I drink my Coffee Hot’ will help you understand the importance of play spaces and how to foster independent play. 

Yes Space Safety Considerations

  • Furniture needs to be secured to the walls to avoid the risk of it falling on your child.
  • Just like you would in a baby’s room, avoid placing furniture near windows.
  • Check cords on blinds and replace/ put out of reach in order to avoid strangulation.
  • Make sure any electrical sockets have the safety plugs, if it is recommended in your country or if not, block the sockets off . Also check that the electrics in the room are safe.
  • Remove decorations such as bunting that could also cause a strangulation hazard or put it up high and out of reach.
  • Check that any houseplants you have in the room aren’t poisonous
  • Depending on the location of your play space and the age of your child, you may wish to consider a baby gate. For example, if you have a baby or young toddler and the play space is near to the kitchen, you may wish to use a baby gate for now to avoid any accidents.
  • If you have a mirror in the room, make sure it is acrylic
  • Ensure that the room is in good condition: are carpets and flooring in good repair (and clean), is there any peeling paint that needs removing? is any of the old furniture you’re using splintering?

7 Benefits of the Yes Space

  • experience pure uninterrupted play.
  • develop independence and independent play.
  • choose, to make their own decisions on what to do and when to do it.
  • develop concentration.
  • experience freedom of movement
  • experience greater feeling of calm since they will be less frustrated at the environment they are in.

age appropriate toys are an important consideration for a yes space. In this photo a 5 year old boy plays with a Mario figure and magnetic tiles. The tiles would not be suitable for younger children due to the magnets

Yes Space Checklist

When it comes to play, you need to check that you have:

Age appropriate toys

Consider the needs and developmental stage of your youngest child. If you have any children under the age of 3, ensure that any choking hazards are removed from the room.

In addition, check that your child can do the activities left out independently – if toys or activities are likely to cause frustration because they can’t do the task independently, then don’t put them out for independent play.

You can keep smaller items or tasks that need guidance as invitations to play which you would be around to supervise.

Safety recommendations on toys are there for a reason and I do recommend sticking to them.

Limited items

The image shows the square IKEA kallax shelves that have been used to display toys

Avoid overstuffing your play space with lots of toys. Children are much more likely to just ‘dump and run’ if there is too much on offer. It’s confusing and overwhelming!

“Remember that a supportive environment is sometimes distinguished more by what objects are left out, than by what are included.” 

Susan Stephenson, The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three

Avoid items that need close supervision

There are a lot of beautiful open-ended toys that definitely inspire lots of independent play. However, you do need to ensure that the items left out in a yes space are ones that don’t require you to intervene at regular intervals. Again, this partly depends on the age of your child. Here’s some examples:

  • A Pikler triangle – great for gross motor play, but be mindful of unsupervised use, particularly with very young children who could fall or get stuck between bars.
  • The Grimms Wooden Rainbow – is a beautiful, beautiful resource but if you have a toddler who likes to throw things, then it’s not going to be suitable to be left out unattended.
  • An art table – an art space is really nice to have but if you can’t trust your child to create without smearing paint on the carpet and drawing on the walls, you need to remove them from temptation. There will be more information on art trolley ideas in the next two phases of the toolkit.

Practical Considerations

A 5 year old girl is playing at a sensory table, underneath there is a grey and white chevron messy mat and a dustpan and brush to tidy up any spills

When opting to have a Flisat Table or art corner as part of your space, think about purchasing a messy mat or using an old picnic blanket to avoid ruining your floors.

When adding mats or rugs to your play space, also check that they are non-slip or add an anti-slip underlay.

Provide easy access to child-sized dustpan and brush so that your child can help to tidy up the space

The overall layout

When you first put together the play space, consider the flow of the environment – will children be able to move freely from one area to the other or are there subtle barriers in the way.

The 6S Rule of Yes Spaces

The 6S rule of a Montessori Yes space: safety, space, simplicity, supervision, siblings and survey

 

A ‘yes space’ will allow you to get on with other tasks (close by to your child) without you having to intervene every couple of minutes.

The more your child can play uninterrupted, the more likely they are to play for longer periods independently.

 

Yes Space Summary

Yes spaces allow your child to:

  • experience pure uninterrupted play
  • develop independence and independent play
  • choose to make their own decisions on what to do and when to do it
  • develop concentration
  • experience freedom of movement
  • experience greater feeling of calm since they will be less frustrated at the environment they are in

More Joy, Less Overwhelm.

Easy Montessori ideas are just one way to make days at home with young children easier. Sign up to my low-cost membership ‘How I Drink my Coffee Hot’ for access to all 10 mini courses. Topics include:

  • The Importance of a Daily Rhythm
  • How to fill your Child’s Cup
  • The True Meaning of Play
  • Your Role in Play
  • The Steps to Independent Play
  • Simplifying Play at Home
  • Creating a Playful Home Environment
  • The Role of Outdoor Play
  • Raising an Independent Child
  • The Path to Seamless Transitions

Click here to find out more

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.