In a Montessori classroom, there are rows of shelves filled with open trays of carefully grouped pieces. It is beautiful… but at home with little chaos tornados running around, it would be a disaster. At home, everything is going to get dumped on the floor and no one is going to spend more than a few minutes to pick it up. And yet, some of the benefits of the Montessori classroom organization are still desirable, such as:
- Promoting independent play by making available activity choices highly visible
- Maintaining sets of pieces
- Finding a particular toy
Below are some strategies I use to maintain our play space at home, so that it’s quick to pick-up and gives us the benefits above.
1. Store the toys that aren’t getting played with.
If particular toys or bins of toys are just getting dumped, but aren’t really sustaining any focus, put them into longer term storage. In a few months, try putting them out again.
2. Group toys that are often played with together into the same bin.
The part of cleaning up that I find the most time-consuming is when multiple sets of items get jumbled together and must be sorted. The simple solution: just store those things together. Another strategy:
3. Move toy bins that are not generally played with together far away from each other.
If there are toys that aren’t played with together, but somehow always end up in the same jumble, try keeping those toys on opposite sides of the room. That way even when the floor is covered with toys, the toys won’t be so mixed together. It also helps to place bins adjacent to a good play spot for the toys in the bin.
5. Put everything in a bin/basket/box/tray/etc. so that everything has a well-defined spot.
It is impossible to tidy if you don’t know where the things go. It’s great if everything has a spot; and it’s even better if that spot is stupidly obvious. The picker-upper (your kid, Grampy￼, sleep-deprived parent) is not going to devote much mental energy to figuring-out where a toy should go, so make it as easy as possible.
6. Store all small pieces in difficult to open containers.
You want your containers to be hard enough to open that they don’t get ‘accidentally’ spilled. Reusing jam jars, plastic cream cheese containers, and the like works great. Your child may have to come ask for help opening the container, which I find is a great time to ask them to put away previous toys.
7. With a large set of pieces, hide away all but the minimum number needed to play.
If you get a big box of materials, such as crayons, magnetic letters, beads, or dominoes, just put a couple or a dozen out to start, then wait and observe how your children play with them before putting out more. It could be the case that your child is just as satisfied and creative with, say two crayons, instead of twenty.
8. Organize items so that it is easy to take one item out without disturbing the others.
That means, no stacks, no piles, and no items behind other items. If a child wants a toy at the bottom of a stack, they will dump the whole stack to get it.
9. Observe and adjust.
If you’re tired of picking up the same toys, re-organizing with the above strategies in mind could help. As your children’s play changes, the easiest way for you to organize the toys to minimize cleanup will change to. So there is no final best organization strategy, plan on changing it up every couple months. This also gives you a chance to rotate in toys that you had in storage.