“Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness.” ~ Maria Montessori*
Beyond the aesthetics involved in preparing a child’s play space, selecting activities and items that meet the child’s abilities is key. Toy shelves and baskets should be edited and floor space made available for movement, play and “work”. A beautifully prepared space will likely draw the child in to explore. But even the best planned spaces can become “undone” after the learning fun. Shelves can empty, baskets overturn and floor space can quickly become strewn with toys. The prepared adult must also meet the child’s need for boundaries or “freedom with limits.”*
Three Tips for Toy Order:
1. Less really is more.
Fewer toys helps the child focus, engage for longer periods of time and in more open-ended ways. It also increases the chances of the toys making it back to the shelf. It’s not nearly as overwhelming to put away a few things. Toys individually placed on the shelf and in low trays or shallow baskets make choices easier too.
2. Add a blanket for babies and young toddlers.
A solid (white or a light color) blanket will not compete visually with the toys. The adult must help the child keep the toys on the blanket. Offer clues, e.g., “I see the toys have rolled off the side of our work mat”. This language will be consistent as the child moves to cotton work mats later. “Let’s put them back on our mat so no one will step on them.” Also, the young child learning to sit up, crawl or walk will tend to pull toys straight to the floor. For this reason, adding a floor mat in front of the shelf will offer the child consistency.
3. A work mat works wonders.
Offer the older child (18 months and up) a traditional 2’x3’ cotton dhurrie mat to work on. The mat works wonders with most of our floor-friendly toys and activities and can be easily be used in various locations. It’s easy to carry, roll out and then roll up when the child is finished. The blanket or multiple mats can be used for large scale activities. This not only defines the ‘play/work’ area, it shows respect for the toys and work space.
Both a blanket and mat serve as a visual ‘control of error’. When the mat or blanket is full, something has to go back on the shelf before the child can play with the next toy. Over time, the habit of putting things away before taking the next toy out becomes routine. Of course, home is not a classroom. There will be times when toys will be enjoyed from room to room and/or creativity will find its own path. By providing boundaries, routines and a consistent play space, stress will be less. Home spaces will be more attractive—calm, comfortable and clear of clutter—as the youngest of children to head off to discover, learn and explore.