by Frigga Jacob, a Stepping Stones Montessori School Parent
Up until a year and a half ago, I knew nothing about the Montessori philosophy. You might imagine how mind-blown I was when I saw the clutter-free rooms, materials arranged neatly on the shelves, the miniature versions of things we use daily at home, the peaceful interactions, and the busy kids: some with laser-focused looks on their faces, some with a satisfied, contented looks on them.
We had already toured several preschools, but the tour at Stepping Stones Montessori School made a lasting impression. I mean, I just thought that those things were impossible to do in preschool-aged kids!
It didn't take long after that to get motivated. I want that at home too! I mean, who doesn't? First off in the "List of things I need to change at home" was our playroom.
It was Time to Change Our Perspective on Play
After three years of accumulating stuff, our play area was always messy. I tried getting more storage and put toys in bins to hide them. But I hadn’t seen any changes.
I was still spending a significant amount of time reorganizing and feeling frustrated. It was also very difficult to encourage the kids to clean up after play.
It was time to jump on the Montessori bandwagon. I looked on Pinterest, Google-searched everything related to Montessori, and got to work. It took me more than a month to finish and missed my intended deadline (before school started). But, it was for the better. After going to the Stepping Stones Parent coffees and reading school newsletters, I was continuously learning -- and our playroom benefitted from my new awareness.
Here are the things I learned along the way.
Don’t Give Up
Initially, it seems impossible! The kids were constantly rediscovering a long lost toy at the bottom of the bins. They delayed me several times in finishing my playroom rehaul. Naptime and when they were out were the best times to work on the project.
Toy bins just hid the clutter and made it inevitable for the kids to scatter that clutter around, as they search for a particular toy. I got rid of those and decided to use open shelving.
Next I automatically took out the toys that were broken or had missing pieces.
Finally, I donated toys that mostly just made lights and noise by pressing buttons rather than actually helping our kids explore and be creative while playing. Our toys now are a mixture of Montessori toys, dollar store toys and hand-me-downs that they continue to play with and spend a lot of time with.
The only toys left in individual bins are the ones dedicated to building (wooden blocks, magnatiles, Legos).
Follow the Child
I try to regularly observe their interests and put toys related to those in a low, easy-access shelf.
I keep the rest of the toys in the basement, and I will rotate those once my kids lose interest in the current ones or once their interests have changed. I noticed that the fewer toys that are out, the longer they spend time with them and the easier it is to take it out and put back after.
I arranged the toys by theme and matched them with books. This is a personal preference since I liked incorporating reading with play or they might pick the book instead of the toy depending on what they are currently interested in.
I also liked that Stepping Stones provides lessons on caring for the environment. I own several orchids and decided to put those in the play area. My son helps out with watering them at times. It took awhile for my 2 year old daughter to learn not to pick the buds and wood chips, but she did it and now they're basically untouched.
I like to continue the habit from the school of putting the bags on a hanger and shoes on the shelves. I dedicated a piece of furniture and an area for that, reinforcing that we respect our materials both at home and at school.
Our Montessori Playroom Encourages Peace and Focus
There were other unexpected advantages that I enjoyed after finishing our Montessori-inspired playroom. Though sometimes they don't cooperate in putting the toys back before the next (mostly when another person is taking care of them), I noticed that putting things back in order was a breeze compared to before, for the obvious reason -- there were fewer things to put back.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to minimize the number of toys. Surprisingly, the arrangement withstood many playdates. My kids' friends (not schoolmates) were as engaged and focused as my kids were. Since the arrangement is by theme, it was easy to remember where things belong, even for the kids. Lastly, things do not get lost as often as before (even the puzzles) and they seldom break anything since we preferred and kept the wooden ones.
If you are a seasoned Montessori parent, you already know our homes will never be like a Montessori classroom. However, I saw so many things that were doable in our household and it made a huge difference in our everyday lives. I am sure you'll find plenty too. If you have additional ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments!