Updated: May 8, 2021
Who as a parent can relate to that moment where you've walked into a child's play area or bedroom and just quietly walked back out again in an attempt to not have to deal with the chaos you've just witnessed. Children's toys just seem to multiply and take on a life of their own. It can be overwhelming enough for adults. Now imagine what it's like for a young child.
Now this may sound controversial but honestly, I think it takes less time to rotate toys regularly than to have them all out and clean them up every day.
It's recommended that less is more when it comes to the number of toys that should be made available to the child. It helps keeping the space tidy and ordered. Storing toys out of rotation does take up some space though, so before you do anything it is good to have a thorough sort through and get rid of any which are broken or simply not needed anymore. Donating to friends or charity shops is a good way to give these unneeded items another lease of life.
Studies show that fewer toys help a child be more creative. It also helps them play more independently and for longer. The studies were done with only four toys. Many Montessorians recommend slightly more. About 6 - 10 for this age group. The selection would be based on your observations of what you child is engaged with currently.
You do not have to rotate ever week. It's actually better to wait a few weeks - and then only change one or two activities! Children aged 0 - 6 are in a sensitive period of order. If their environment is changed too much or too often, they may be overwhelmed. This can cause meltdowns. Rotating too often can also lead to the child expecting things to change all the time. They may not engage in the activity on a deeper level as they expect it to disappear at any time, or they may crave new items and get bored more easily.
How do you start?
I recommend starting by observing. Write down every activity your little one plays with for a few days and for how long. Keep the six (more if homeschooling) activities that are played with the most and store the rest. It is often better to choose what goes on the shelf than choosing what to pack away. There are often a lot of feelings connected to things. Remember that you are choosing toys for your child, not yourself or some expectation on what children their age plays with. What sparks joy for your little one?
In a Montessori prepared environment we keep activities beautifully displayed in baskets and/or trays on a shelf. There are multiple reasons for this.
Order is important for children at this age
They can find everything they need for an activity easily, without looking for pieces all over the play area
The child can carry the activity to the workspace - and back to the shelf without needing adult supervision
It inspires the child to work
Order helps the child develop a mathematical mind
It supports independence
Some parents likes to do themed shelves. They look really cute, but are not nessessarily the best for your child or yourself. Themes like 'all about bees' can absolutely be done, but please consider if you are following your child's interest AND the skills they are working on. Think about the amount of time and effort it takes for you as a parent to set up such themes, how much you invest in it and if you would be OK if your child decides it is not for them... Follow the child.
There is a difference between homes and classrooms. We do not do toy rotation in Montessori classrooms. A classroom has multiple students with divergent interests, different ages and skillsets at different levels. We therefor keep all materials on the shelves so the child can dive in to anything they want and revisit materials they have been presented.
Do you do toy rotation in your home?
These baskets and trays are great for any Montessori setting:
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