Have you ever walked into your child’s bedroom or playroom, taken a look at the state of affairs, and quietly backed out to temporarily avoid dealing with the chaos within? We know the feeling.
In this post we will share tips and tricks to help you take a Montessori approach when it comes to your children’s toys. The secret lies within rotating toys, much like Montessori guides rotate at least some of the materials on their classroom shelves.
Why bother rotating toys (or Montessori materials, for that matter)? The benefits are numerous and wide-ranging: your children will engage more fully with toys that are available to them, cleaning will be easier for children to complete independently, and children will likely appreciate what they have in a new way. As a bonus benefit, you will become more mindful about what toys are really useful in your home and what your children do not necessarily need or want.
Follow our handy six-step guide to creating a gorgeous, inspiring, peaceful, and fun space for your children to play at home.
Step One: Observe
While you may be eager to jump right in and purge, take your time in making informed decisions. The first step is to find a notebook and pen and sit quietly aside as your children are playing. Try not to engage with them too much and encourage them to play independently. After a bit of time this will allow you to observe their play in a more authentic way. Resist the urge to intervene or question their choices, unless, of course, they encounter a safety hazard!
As you observe, consider the following:
- Is there a particular toy your child tends to gravitate toward?
- Are there obvious developmental skills your child is working on?
- Are there toys your child seems disinterested in?
- How is your child interacting with the environment as a whole?
- Notice the space itself and how it suits your family’s needs or doesn’t.
Continue this observation for a few days. Keep your notebook handy during the day so that you can make a quick note of any thoughts or observations your make elsewhere in your house. Really think carefully about what your child’s interests and needs are.
Step Two: Assess
This is perhaps the least pleasant step for many of us. Best done when the children are not around (while they are at school or asleep), grab a cup of coffee, put on some music that you love, and commit to muddling through!
Clear a large floor space and lay out all your child’s toys. As you sort through, set aside any that could be passed along or donated, recycled or thrown away, or boxed up and stored elsewhere. Going through all the toys at once will give you a clear picture of what your child has and better prepare you to create the ideal play environment.
Step Three: Prepare
In this step we focus on the environment itself. As your child grows and changes, their needs from the environment will change as well. Consider what they need for now and envision the space you think will serve them best. Some ideas:
- A clean space, preferably with natural colors and soft lighting.
- Hidden storage for toys not currently in use: perhaps bins in a closet or baskets on high shelves.
- Low, open shelves. Avoid toy boxes as they become dumping receptacles.
- Comfortable, delineated areas for different uses or ages. For example a comfy reading nook, a low table for creating art, or a desk for an older child.
- Baskets or trays to contain small objects or toys with multiple pieces.
Step Four: Select
Now for the fun part! Look back over your observation notes. Consider the toys your child has and think about which ones they would appreciate most at this time.
The most important piece of advice we have here is to keep the options minimal. Rather than neatly putting all of your child’s toys on the shelves, select only a few. This will vary depending on their age and how much time they spend at home, and you will get a better feel for the selection process as time goes on. Just remember: less really is more.
Step Five: Guide
Once the room is prepared, invite your children in to see the changes. Discuss your expectations for cleaning up; all children should be able to pick up after themselves with the exception of infants. They will, of course, require modeling and reminders from time to time, but a more minimalist play area will make cleaning up easier for your child when playtime is over.
For at least the first few days, guide your child through the cleaning up process. Be sure they understand that toys should go back to the space they were originally retrieved from. If there is any potential for spills in the room, keep child-sized cleaning supplies handy so that they may pick up after themselves independently.
Step Six: Repeat
One of the biggest questions parents ask is: “How often should we rotate the toys?” There are so many variables, but a good basic guide would be about once a month. In the days leading up to your next toy rotation, sit with your notebook and observe a bit. You may notice there are toys your child is very interested in. Those are the toys you may wish to leave out. Any toys that have been forgotten in recent weeks are, for whatever reason, not appealing to your child at this time. These can be replaced with toys from storage that may meet the current needs and interests of your child.
Looking for inspiration? Check out these links to see some beautiful Montessori-style play spaces. Keep in mind your home does not need to look like these to function in the same way. True minimalism relies on using what we already have in our home, so don’t feel pressured to go out and buy anything fancy!
An infant and toddler family:
A bilingual family with a range of ages:
An elementary homeschool family: