While it may seem that the easiest way to clean up a messy play space is to clear the floor by dumping everything into bins, the Montessori approach has another idea for you, a system that’s better for your child’s sense of order and supports their emerging independence.
How Toy Storage Affects Internal Order
Bins are convenient for adults. We can straighten up a room with just a few scoops of toys into some containers. However, large groupings of toys don’t do much for your little one developmentally. They encourage clutter and disorganization. They present too many choices, and finally, this method of storing items in heaps does not exactly convey respect for our belongings.
With a little shift in mindset, you can find another way to set up the toys in your home – one that allows your little one to more fully engage in their environment and their playtime!
Having too many toys is overwhelming. The activities inevitably get mixed together, and they can’t see their choices clearly. They are likely to end up playing by simply making more clutter!
A bin only exacerbates these issues. It is too easy to accumulate toys and throw them into the container when playtime is done. Then the cycle begins again – your child encounters a large and nonsensical pile of toys, and instead of playing productively and developing their concentration and gross and fine motor skills, they just spread items out into wider spaces.
Simplify and Organize Your Toys
The first step when bringing the Montessori approach into your home is to simplify. Your child will do best in a play and work environment where they can see their options.
If you can simplify and organize your little one’s environment, then they can see what their toys actually are, and make an informed choice!
First cut back on the number of toys available and organize them by use (all the blocks are together, all the cars, etc.). Then, by using trays and shelves to store toys instead of bins, your child can see not only what is in the room, but also can encounter each toy in its entirety, rather than digging through the bin for the last red cube that goes with a set of blocks.
Curate your collection
Curation is a similar concept to simplification, but goes a step further. Once you have simplified and organized the toys in your home, you can look them over to determine what the best and most relevant toys are for your little one at this moment. Even if you have two beautiful sets of wooden blocks, chances are that your child doesn’t need both out at once. Perhaps they are very interested in their colors right now, so you can put away the variety of natural blocks and leave out the colored cubes to build with, where you can discuss colors as you build towers. Later, as they begin building more complicated structures with the blocks, you may rotate out the colored cubes and bring out the natural blocks in varying shapes.
Introduce a Toy Rotation System
It can be difficult to reduce your toys, but a toy rotation framework helps. You don’t have to get rid of anything if you don’t want to!
Simply pack up the majority of the toys for alternating rotation. (Secret: As you do this, you might find it’s easier to get rid of some!)
Aim to have out 6-8 toys total at any given time. This keeps your child from being overwhelmed by their choices, and gives them the time to take full advantage of what is available to them. A toy rotation approach helps you focus on what is interesting to your child in their current development so that the toys you have out are most relevant and interesting to them.
Toy Storage That Works: Trays for Activities and Baskets for Collections
Use wooden trays or low baskets to display books or similar materials. First, you can curate a small collection, choosing stories and subject matters that appeal to them right now. Choose three to five beautiful books and leave them out in a basket. Rotate weekly or as they lose interest in the books you have made available.
This curation applies to all categories of toys you make available in your child’s environment. Curate and then rotate so that they have the best toys for their development at any given time. By rotating, they will have time with all the beautiful toys you have selected for them.
Less toys means more meaningful play as well. Children are naturally drawn to the play patterns that meet their developmental needs at that time. You may notice your child repeating the same play patterns again and again. They are satisfying their needs; support them by offering a space with fewer distractions!
Bins inspire dumping!
Finally, by storing your child’s toys in trays and baskets on shelves, you encourage them to respect their toys. It’s hard to find what you want when you are looking in a bin. It inspires dumping, rather than care. Chances are, your child will end up emptying their toys onto the floor as a part of their activity! Then, when it is time to put the toys away, they will drop the toys into the container where they will clatter against each other, chip, and come apart. This is not how you want your little one to learn to take care of their toys.
When toys are kept on trays, you can show your child how to carefully carry them to a table or the rug to play with them. Then when they are finished, you can show them how to put the toys away carefully on the tray or in the basket, and carry them to the shelf. This activity in care shows them how to respect their toys, and it shows them the value that materials have.
Montessori baskets have low sides
A basket is indeed useful for containing like items, so it’s not about the material a container is made from, but rather how it’s used. Look for baskets with low sides to keep items accessible, rather than hidden. Toys that you wish to hide should simply be taken out of the play area and moved to a closet or garage for rotation or storage.
It can be tempting and easy to use bins to clean up the clutter in the toy room. But by simplifying and organizing your little one’s environment, you can support their play and work time. They will be able to take full advantage of the wonderful toys you have provided for them, you will teach them to respect and care for their environment, and you will have a clutter-free playspace!