Toys: Dealing with all that kiddie clutter!

While I was at University studying Criminology and Psychology I somehow picked up Education as well.  I specialised in Child/Human development and it was in one of these classes I first learnt about the Montessori approach to education and kid-wrangling.  It resonated with me then – mostly because I thought about how much I would have loved to have gone to a Montessori school when I was a kid!

One of Sausage's 'trays'

One of Sausage’s ‘trays’

You can click on the link above for more information, but here’s what good ol’ wikipedia has to say about Montessori education:

Montessori’s education method called for free activity within a “prepared environment”, meaning an educational environment tailored to basic human characteristics, to the specific characteristics of children at different ages, and to the individual personalities of each child. The function of the environment is to allow the child to develop independence in all areas according to his or her inner psychological directives. In addition to offering access to the Montessori materials appropriate to the age of the children, the environment should exhibit the following characteristics:

  • An arrangement that facilitates movement and activity
  • Beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment
  • Construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs
  • Limitation of materials, so that only material that supports the child’s development is included
  • Order

Sounds pretty awesome, right?  I mean, imagine how different your educational outcomes might have been if you’d had your education specifically tailored to YOU.

Now I am not a Flashcard Mum who is trying to get my little Munchkin a competitive edge over all the other toddlers out there.  I don’t think raising my kids using the Montessori approach is going to mean I end up with a couple of Albert Einsteins on my hands.  I am not any ‘approach/method’ purist.  As the field of child psychology and development interested me long before I had any kids of my own to experiment on observe, I read widely on the subject and take what nuggets I like, and discard the rest.

There are some great things about the Montessori approach that I really like and am happy to incorporate into our home here in Tawhero.  Particularly Limitation of Materials and Order.  Oh yeah.  LOVE those.  (In case you can’t tell, I am a J on the Myers-Briggs scale.) 

If, like most parents, you have been inundated with ten tonnes of toys there is relief at hand.  Believe me when I say: You don’t need most of them.  

At our previous house, which was a rental, we had a serious lack of storage.  It forced me to have most of Sausage’s toys and books out in her play space ALL. THE. TIME.  You can imagine the mess*.  Now we have lots of storage, most of her toys are relegated to that wonderful invention – the plastic storage box.  I pay attention to what toys she likes, what she ignores, what she has outgrown, and what she finds too challenging to use yet and swap her toys out regularly.  Okay, so maybe not regularly (I’m not an extreme J), but reasonably often.

Kids are actually overwhelmed and overstimulated by having too many options, and Montessori advocates limiting how many you have out at a time.  Just because you have a box of 100 lego pieces doesn’t mean your 12 month old needs to have all of the pieces out at once when just a few will serve their purpose.  Having a bit of calm and order around them means that children feel secure and trust their environment.  Montessori  recommends putting a few trays/baskets of toys or objects onto shelves at the child’s height.  Here’s what I do:

Easy Peasy

Easy Peasy


As you can see in the picture, there are some boxes with books (my kid is CRAAAAZY about books), a box with several different balls in it, a couple of soft toys, a puzzle, a tray with a jug and cups so she can practice pouring water, and at the moment there is another tray with a few items that she can try to open and close (zips, screw top bottle, box lid etc).  In another room we have the metal tray and farm animal tray, not to mention the random toys and books scattered about the rest of the house, just in case you thought I was hard core.  So far the farm animals and the water tray are the biggest winners.  Sausage hasn’t yet learnt that the cup needs to be properly UNDER the water jug, but my word, she has great fun pouring it sort of into the cup (and the floor).  She’s simply one step closer to her being able to pour herself a drink one day, which is pretty cool if you’re a toddler.  *Now just in case you thought one of those total neat-freak-my-house-is-a-museum type people, I don’t care that the water makes a mess.  Messy play is awesome and something I actively encourage.  Picking up dozens and dozens of barely-used toys EVERY damn day isn’t.  You see how Montessori can work in your favour?

By limiting the number of toys available, and by having a place for each item, not only is it faster for parents to clean up, it seriously helps with the task of getting kids to put things away.  I make a game of it with Sausage – who has now taken to clapping at herself whenever she puts an item back on a tray.

Sausage's 'metal things' tray

Sausage’s ‘metal things’ tray

You don’t have to spend a fortune to go Montessori.  My trays cost about 50 cents from my local Op-Shop.  You could probably find some storage boxes for the other toys while you’re at it.


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