Many parents can relate to the challenges of maintaining a consistently organized and tidy home while raising young children; at some point or another, we have all felt overwhelmed by the number of children’s belongings taking over the house and the playroom is usually the trigger point of what can very quickly turn into chaos if not tended to appropriately. The play materials that are accumulated in the playroom over time, kept along with those that are broken and missing pieces can lead the child to lose interest in the toys or result in over stimulation.
From my experience working with 3 to 6 year olds and as a mother of a busy toddler, I have seen firsthand the important role the environment plays on young children’s development and well being. According to Dr. Maria Montessori children under 6 years of age go through a number of 'sensitive periods' and one of them is for order. From birth, children have an immense love of order whether it is of space or time. In this particular period of growth, one has to pay close attention to maintaining a consistent routine and creating an orderly environment in which the child lives and learns from.
The child's play environment can be carefully prepared by meeting the need for order. The following is a concise list of practical ideas one may want to implement as a way to help their young child further develop concentration, independence and sense of order.
Eliminate clutter by only selecting the toys that are appropriate for your child's age range and interests of the moment. Only keep the ones that are in good condition and are not missing any pieces. Once the selection is made, just pick a few for your child to play with as the rest will be stored away from the child's sight until you rotate them. Many parents, sell, donate or trade the toys that their child outgrows.
Avoid large bins or toy boxes as they tend to hide items of interest and can quickly become disorganized; a low open shelf instead is much more appealing and orderly. Make sure it is securely attached to the wall for safety.
Think quality over quantity. A shelf is only meant to host a limited number of activity choices for the child's enjoyment. There is no need of purchasing a large selection of new toys, just use what you already have as part of your rotating system and display it when you find it appropriate to switch. Of course, your child's favorite items should always remain available.
If you purchase new toys, think about getting those that will grow with your child; open-ended play materials that encourage creativity are usually preferred for their versatility over the ones that have limited functionality.
Put toys with loose or small pieces in proportionally sized baskets, or other small containers so the child can easily use them and put them back without dropping them on the floor or losing them.
Everything must have its place and must be within reach of the child. The child can independently get the activity he wants to manipulate off the shelf, and then put it back where it belongs; the empty space left on the shelf acts as a visual clue.
Encourage your child to use one thing at a time; as soon as he is done with one activity, it will need to be placed back in its place before getting another one.
Model to your child how to work with a new activity and be precise and careful with your movements. Young children have a natural tendency to imitate the adults that care for them and when one shows a child how to handle an object with care and purpose, the child will more likely do the same.
Provide an appeasing visual space. Neutral colored walls with plenty of natural light if possible have a peaceful effect and will help your child focus on what is available for him to manipulate instead of being over stimulated by a number of colorful posters or large pictures of fictional characters. If you like to hang things on the wall, you can choose to place a small selection of framed fine art reprints or photos of elements found in nature at your child's eye level.
Create a cozy corner with your child where s/he can go to sit or lay down; you can put soft pillows by a rug or a bean bag to make the place comfortable, a little blanket and a book basket will invite the child to want to spend time in his special area. Don't we all need an inviting space to resource ourselves!