These days you can get all manners of special furniture and educational toys from an online store. But it hasn’t always been so. The concept of childhood as a separate category didn’t really take off until the 20th century. Before that kids were treated like little adults. But everything changed with the ideas pioneered by Maria Montessori and other humanist educators.
Children’s furniture in Ancient times
First attempts at introducing elements resembling modern furniture for kids were made by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Archaeological finds and historical records reveal that wealthier families often ordered smaller pieces of furniture for children, including chairs and beds.
Egyptian beds were probably the first pieces specifically made for children. They had smaller dimensions, suitable for toddlers, but in every other respect, they were the same as adult-sized beds. It can be really hard to believe, but the first real crib wasn’t built until the mid-1800s! It took us several thousand years to get there.
Greeks had another interesting invention. They came up with an intricate clay vase that was mounted on a high base to be visible from a distance. A toddler sat in the vase, with legs placed on both sides of it. It was a curious combination of a high chair and a potty. Parents or servants could easily supervise the child while doing other tasks around the house.
During the Renaissance period, Europeans built down-scaled bookshelves that were accessible to children. They were meant for organizing school books. Other than that, children had no special accommodations until Victorian times.
Children’s room in the 19th century
Industrialization and changing attitudes toward childhood in wealthier classes led to the creation of special spaces for kids, that were supplied with real toddlers’ furniture. First Victorian nurseries were common baby sleeping rooms with a row of beds.
Another breakthrough innovation was the technique of wood steam bending, popularized by an Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet. He created a full catalog of light, practical and long-lasting Viennese chairs. Among them were models designed for kids, including high chairs for toddlers. He also produced baby cribs.
From that point on parents could buy light, affordable mass-produced furniture that didn’t occupy a lot of space and could even be moved around by their children.
Furniture and educational toys for toddlers in the 20th century
Proposals for creating special furniture for children’s rooms have started with the legendary German art school, Bauhaus. Bauhaus specialists have designed several pieces ranging from chairs and tables to beds and pieces of furniture that doubled as educational.
But the later revolution in scientific pedagogy, made possible by Maria Montessori, is what led to the creation of modern children’s spaces furnished with ergonomic beds, chairs, tables, and climbing toys, including the Pikler triangle, created by Dr. Emmi Pikler, a Hungarian pediatrician who advocated for comforting play. While the climbing triangle is not a Montessori object per se, it was adopted around the same time and is often found in Montessori-oriented schools, pre-schools, and child cares, functioning in perfect synergy with other educational objects.
The problem of appropriate child-sized furniture troubled Montessori the most. She began to study school furniture with the intention of redesigning it intelligently. She ordered tables to be built in different shapes and sizes, and chairs so light that even four-year-olds could carry and rearrange them. She experimented with different materials, including straw and balsa wood. Wicker chairs and wooden chairs with wide arms, small tables for one, and tables of shapes different from the regular square are some of the many inventions in the children’s space attributed to Maria Montessori.
Modern furniture for children
Maria Montessori has always been an advocate of children’s autonomy and self-guided development. Creating specially prepared environments allowed children to move freely and experience the world at their own pace.
A lot of attention was devoted to improving the safety and accessibility of children’s spaces during play. While the Pickler climber took its well-deserved spot in the middle of the room it was surrounded by well-thought-out ergonomic furniture made from safe materials.
Recent development in pedagogy and child psychology have led to the explosive growth of children’s furniture popularity. Special chairs, study tables, busy boards, and sensory walls are built to conform to every need children of any age and stage of development can have.
What do XIHA MONTESSORI produce and sell
We at Xiha Montessori online store strongly believe that a child’s environment should always be accessible and safe. It has to be smartly designed to allow the child to carry out activities on their own. Our climbing furniture and educational toys are built from non-hazardous materials. They have safe corners without sharp angles. They are built for easy cleaning and maintenance and could fit in any environment from home to preschool.