Recently, a wonderful comment was left, asking a handful of frequently-asked questions. I started typing out my response, and quickly realized it was going to be a VERY long reply! So, I checked with her and got permission to turn it into a Q&A post so everyone could easily get the answers to questions they likely had as well.
Here is the original comment:
*raises hand* I have some questions After tripping over about twelve toys on my way to the computer, I’m wondering how many toys you keep out and if you have certain rooms that toys aren’t allowed in. Also, how often do you rotate toys/books?
Why no plastic dishes?
Are there things in the kids’ bedrooms that make them Montessori rooms or are they “typical” bedrooms? (wondering since we didn’t get to see pics!)
Ask away, ask away, my friend!
How many toys do you keep out?
You know, I kind of judge the number of toys based on how well they are able to keep them cleaned up. If they keep leaving toys scattered around the floor, that likely means I’m giving them more than they can handle right now. I usually keep 4-6 toys in Mr. BANG’s room, maybe a few more than that in Drama Queen’s room, three puzzles in the front entrance-way area, and about 8 toys in the playroom. There is also a dress-up basket, music shelf, nature shelf, reading area, play table with four bins that store matching sets of toys (trains, building blocks, toy animals, etc.) in the playroom. I also rotate bigger toys in the playroom, like a toy vacuum, rocking horse, whole wooden train set, etc.
Do you have certain rooms where toys are not allowed?
At this point, since they’re so young, we allow toys pretty much anywhere, or at least have something they can play with in every room. In the living room, we don’t have a toy shelf, but we have a small rocking chair and a basket of books. Our house has a very open floor plan, so the art area may be considered to be in the living room as well. In the kitchen, we have a cabinet with all the tupperware, the ice trays I used to use to make baby food, plastic corn-on-the-cob boat-things, and things like that which are perfectly fine for the kids to play around with. I put the tupperware containers with matching lids that we use frequently in the back, and all the other stuff in the front so that there’s plenty to tempt them before getting to the stuff I actually use. In the bathrooms, we keep 1-3 books. I prefer not to have toys in any of them, but sometimes they get carried in, and that’s okay. It’s the same with the living room and master bedroom, I don’t keep toys in those rooms, but sometimes they get carried in. That’s totally fine as long as they also carry them out. I like to keep in mind that at these ages (2 and 4) playing with toys are a very important part of their development.
How often do you rotate toys/books?
Rotating toys and books is something that I would ideally do once a month. There is definitely variation on that, though, based on the kids’ interest level and the fact that I am NOT a have-it-all-together mom (which I think is an oxymoron!). If the kids are still really interested in a particular toy or book, I leave it out as long as they’re really interested. For instance, for about 6 months, they played with their big wooden train set EVERY day. It was the first thing they did in the morning, and the first thing they asked The Brain to play with them when he got home from work. On the other hand, theoretically if I see them not use a particular toy or book in a week or two, I go ahead and switch it out. Now, that’s where my “don’t have it all together” aspect comes in. It’s probably been 2 months since I rotated toys at this point, mainly because when I organized my teaching closet at the beginning of the school year, I ran out of time before re-organizing the things I decided didn’t belong in there. All of that got dumped on the floor of the storage closet – where they remain to this day. Did you notice that in the pics of my fabulously organized storage closet in my tour-of-the-house post, the photos didn’t go all the way to the floor? Here’s why…
Why no plastic dishes?
As for the plastic dishes thing, there are several great reasons to use breakable dishes. One big aspect of Montessori is for things to have a built-in Control of Error. A Control of Error allows the child to experience the natural consequence of not using that material correctly – without the adult having to point that out to him. For example, when a child is working a puzzle, he knows he did it correctly if all the pieces fit at the end. No adult has to tell him that, the material itself tells him. It’s the same kind of thing with breakable dishes – if the child isn’t being careful with the dish, it will break. The adult doesn’t have to repeatedly tell the child not to throw/drop a dish – the first time the child throws/drops a dish and it breaks, the child automatically learns that he wasn’t using that dish correctly.
People regularly ask me if the kids break a lot of dishes. No, they actually very rarely do. Part of it is that I’ve always given very clear directions of how to appropriately handle dishes because I don’t want them to break. When a dish HAS gotten broken, whether because I swung my hand around, forgetting that there was a glass in my hand’s path, or Drama Queen accidentally knocked off The Brain’s full glass of o.j. from the table when trying to reach for something else, the kids have experienced the effect of that: I immediately directed or carried each of them out of that area and wasn’t able to play with them until I got every bit of glass cleaned up. They even experienced one time when a piece of glass actually cut my foot, so I had to clean it up and put a band-aid on it. They learned the natural consequences very quickly and very early, so they easily learned the importance of handling dishes carefully. I can’t think of a single time that either of them has intentionally thrown or dropped a dish, and only very few times when either has accidentally broken a dish.
Another great benefit of using natural materials instead of plastic is that natural materials are so much more beautiful! And the texture and weight feel so nice in your hand! The weight actually helps the children to be more careful with the dish because the weight makes the dish have a stronger presence in your hand. (Hmmm…I don’t think I explained myself very well at all on that one.)
Last week, I gave Mr. BANG a cutting lesson with a variety of materials. On a tray, there were 6 separate containers, each holding one type of material. I was having trouble figuring out what kind of containers to use: glass bowls would be too heavy, plastic picnic cups would be too light (the cups could all easily fall over as Mr. BANG carried the tray, or even if someone accidentally bumped that shelf), and I couldn’t think of anything else we had 6 of. I decided to use the bowls and just be available to help carry the tray. When it was time for the lesson, I carried the tray to the table, but then I was floored when, upon finishing his work, he picked up the tray and carried it all by himself to the shelf!! It was obviously challenging for him, but kids love the self-confidence they feel when they are able to succeed at doing a challenging task! (By the way, THAT is the way for children to build self-confidence. Praising children constantly doesn’t do it – when THEY are successful at carrying out a challenging task, they build self-confidence. Give them those opportunities! Stepping off soapbox now…)
Are there things in the kids’ bedrooms that make them Montessori rooms or are they “typical” bedrooms?
When the kids were babies, people were completely thrown off by their bedrooms. We basically treated the entire room as a crib, so they were very clean and simple. The kids slept on a round crib mattress on the floor, and there were just a few toys and books on a low shelf in their rooms.
As they’ve gotten older and taller and developed more self-control, their rooms have become more and more “typical.” Drama Queen’s room at this point is probably like any other 4 year old girl’s room, with the possible exception of fewer toys.
Mr. BANG’s room is still probably somewhat “atypical.” His bed is a twin-size mattress resting directly on the floor. He has two little toy shelves at this point – mainly due to needing to cover up a cable sticking out of the wall! He has no books in his room right now. He had been chewing and tearing them, so I took them out. I’ll give him another opportunity with that in a month or two. He also has no artwork in his room right now. The Montessori perspective is to hang artwork at the child’s eye level, but so far Mr. BANG hasn’t managed the self-control to just look at the artwork instead of pulling it down and tearing it up.
Oh man! I’m glad I turned this into a post! That is a ridiculously long reply!! I warned you that once you get me talking Montessori, it’s hard to shut me up!