A Montessori Environment – At Home
Montessori is a way of looking at a space and making it child-friendly. There are ideas you can apply to your entire house. In your child’s room, for example, pictures should be hung at the child’s eye level. Beds are positioned so they can easily be accessed and made by your little one. Dressers need to have low drawers, and closets need shelves and hangers at the child’s height. Everything can be raised as they get older.
Today, we will focus on toys – how many and in what way can they be organized so the child can actually put them away? In a Montessori classroom there are shelves. Each item has its own special place where it ‘lives’. The activities are grouped in logical order. Some items are large enough to sit alone on a shelf and others can be put in baskets. The baskets could be colour coded so the child knows that all the blocks go in one colour (white basket), the cars in another (the blue basket), the doll clothes (a red basket) in another and so on. Another alternative is having all the baskets the same colour, but a picture is attached to the front so the child knows what goes in there.
When it is time to clean up, you set a basket in the middle of the room and say, “Let’s collect all the cars”. Move on to the next item until all the toys are picked up. This helps give your little one (age 2 years and up) a natural opportunity to sort and classify which also happens to be an important part of the Montessori educational philosophy. The child learns to organize and problem solve.
What is a reasonable number of shelves to allocate for toys? The space may dictate this. The rule is to put everything in reach. If this is an adult space, items not for your child can be on shelves they cannot reach. All toys need not be on display. Help children focus on one activity at a time. This will help them with their concentration and encourage them to finish what they start before going on to the next toy. The following suggestion could be useful after an event like a birthday.
If all the shelves are full, and a new toy is brought into the environment, the only way to make room is to take a toy off. The child is asked to select a toy to be put in the closet for a while. After a time, bring it out and ask the child whether they want it back on the shelf (something else would be removed) or perhaps it could be donated. Toys that are reintroduced are usually played with much more and perhaps even appreciated due to their seemingly long absence.
Allowing children to play with many toys at the same time creates the potential for a mess that you might find yourself cleaning up. When playing with your child, take one toy out at a time, play with it and return it before selecting another. Your child will copy you. My offspring would often complain that cleaning their room takes too long. My favourite response was, “What a terrible Mommy I am. I’ve given you too many toys. You put away the toys that you want and I’ll put the ones left on the floor in Mommy’s closet”. Reactions can vary, but it is important that you follow through.
There is no point in organizing your child’s room if they do not understand your logic. Decide together. Talk about what will happen if the toys are not put away, before there is a mess. If I explained the repercussions ahead of time and my children agreed to the consequences should a mess result, I felt much less like the ‘bad guy’. Remember: follow through if you want any hope of success. Asking your child to take responsibility for keeping their room tidy is not asking too much.