Montessori is a theory of education and play that has increased in popularity over recent years. Children who learn through Montessori are often more independent, more curious about the world and can self-manage their learning. While the school environment is highly prepared and teachers extensively trained, there are ways to incorporate Montessori into your home life that will make things easier and calmer. In the current world of isolation and lock down, this can bring some peace and quiet into your living room!
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Good First Steps
A good place to start is look at the toys that your kids already have. And to do that properly, you’re going to have to make a mess. What you will probably notice first is that they have more toys that you think. While we often think that the more toys on hand, the more kids will play, research suggests the opposite is true; kids struggle with clutter and too many toys means they often play for just a short time with one toy before switching to something else.
So the good news is that this is your chance to declutter! While some kids might find this anxiety producing, it is a good opportunity for kids to really look at what they have and make some conscious choices about what to keep. ‘But they want to keep everything!’ I hear you cry. Yes, kids will hoard if given the opportunity. But if you lay out their toys and explain that they can keep their very favourite toys, put some away for a ‘holiday’ and some to charity for other children who don’t have toys to play with, you can often win them over. You can either ask them to choose their favourite toy, then their next fave, etc, until you have a curated pile of ‘played with’ toys or you can ask them to arrange their toys into 3 piles: Play, Holiday, Give.
No seriously, I don’t want to do this with the kids around.
If the thought of having your kids involved in this process, or if your kids are too young to make mindful choices, then consider doing this at a time when they aren’t around! You can stash them into three piles and then present the current toys and see how you go. You can even keep the toys for charity initially in case you’ve made a mistake and your child definitely wants to keep something that they can see is missing. My experience has been when I change over toys that those out of sight are not missed.
But what to keep? As a rule of thumb…
You want quality over quantity – You want a few toys that last really well and won’t break easily
The toy shouldn’t require batteries to make sound, light up or do things – If it does it is basically playing by itself! It isn’t actually stimulating the child to do anything with the toy other than watch it light up or make noise.
Natural materials are king – Natural materials such as wood provide really nice textures for little hands and are very engaging to play with. It will also last well and still be easy to clean.
Once you have the toys sorted find a space to arrange them thoughtfully where they all get their own space to be seen. 8-10 toys max is a good way to start!
How toys are used in Montessori education
There’s 3 main categories that Montessori aligned toys fit into:
1. Toys that have a self-evident result – What on earth does that mean?! Basically it means that when the child has completed a task or activity with the toy it’s immediately obvious if the child has done it correctly. For example when playing with shape sorter it’s immediately obvious to a child that they have put the right shape in the right hole; because it either fits or it doesn’t fit. Lots of toys fall into this category such as puzzles, stacking multi size blocks, fishing games etc.
- Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape Sorter
- Wooden Geometric Shape Puzzle
- Ravensburger Dinosaur Giants 100pc Puzzle
- Classic World Fishing Game
2. Toys that promote open ended play – These are toys or activities that stimulate creativity and imaginary play but don’t have a set way to play with them. Things like tea sets, dolls, cars and trains, and crafts like painting, drawing are all great examples of open ended play.
- Grimm’s Six, Ten or Twelve Piece Rainbow Stacker Toy
- Hape Wooden Tea Set
- Brio Train Set – A little one for beginners or a box with the lot
- Play Dough
- Sand Pit
3. Toys that help a child with practical life skills – Toys or activities in this category are all about practicing real life skills such as fine motor control, self management (eg getting dressed) or developing independence. It’s about the child learning to develop skills that they will need their whole life.
- PlanToys Beehive Sorter – great for pincer grip
- Melissa & Doug Latch Board – helps fine motor control
- Dressing Frames – help a child repeat a skill over and over to master it
What else can I use?
Not everything requires curated toys and specialist equipment! In fact really, it’s the mindset that counts. Encouraging them to be curious about the world and participate in daily life. Often we find it hard to let go and let them try out skills as we are worried something might break, or they will take too long, but you will often be surprised by how capable they are! But maybe don’t give them your best china just yet…
Crafts – Arts and crafts are great! The trick is to present it in a Montessori way. For example, you might find a free printable activity like this one where they can practice their scissor skills. An activity like this allows a child to repeat a skill to develop mastery.
Music – Go right ahead and enjoy it all! Dance to music, sing, beat a drum, it’s all developing an appreciation of music which is great for everyone! Try different styles and see what they think. Do they like fast music or slow? Loud or soft? Classical or 50s rock and roll?
Books – Reading with children is great on so many levels. It build connection with you, it’s a chance to snuggle, it’s language development and logical thinking. What’s behind the door? Where did the teddy go? What do you think <character X> is feeling right now? I love books with rhythm and rhyme, but see what grabs your child’s attention!
So when you are stuck inside, with no end in sight to lockdown, try some decluttering to get some space and peace back in your life! If you are interested to know more about Montessori stay tuned where I will discuss how to present materials in a Montessori way.