Don't let "perfect" get in your way
by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Teacher
If setting up a “perfect” home play space seems daunting to you, you are not alone. Here are four things to keep in mind that can turn this potentially stressful task into an activity that feels totally doable.
What is “Perfect”?
The good news and the bad news is that no one can give you a checklist of things to include to make sure your playroom is perfect. What makes your play space perfect is that it serves your child and your family. This will look a little different from home to home! You will know you’ve nailed it when your play space feels manageable to you while at the same time it supports your child’s ability to actively concentrate and play. An ideal play space will support a feeling of connection between the child and their caring adults and will also empower children to explore and become more independent.
Observe your child at play. Do they gravitate towards the play space, picking items to explore and play with? Are they able to happily become engrossed in activity there? Being engrossed in play with you is fine for the younger children. Do they seem settled when they are in the space? Can they get what they need without asking for help?
One Size Does not Fit All!
We have advocated for certain elements that make up a really great play space. These elements have been time tested through the Montessori method and Simplicity Parenting to help most kids feel calm, connected, curious and able to concentrate in their home. These elements only work if they work for your child!
Here is a real life example:
I’ve advocated for only 8 books out at a time. Our perfect play space has probably 20 books out right now. This is perfect for us, because my son spends 95% of his time at home. At 3 years old, he loves to look at books. He isn’t overstimulated by that area of the play space. He consistently spends time there looking at books in a calm, concentrated, cheerful way. When he has only 8 books out, he spends less time engaging in that area of our space. To keep his reading material fresh, with only 8 books out I would have to change it every night. That is overwhelming for me to think about! So having 20 books out, in his long, front facing bookshelf, is part of our perfect playroom. Am I worried about the “Montessori police” coming and giving me a ticket? Not even a little bit. If my son avoided that part of the playroom, or showed signs of overstimulation I’d have to re-think my approach.
Observe your child at play, watching for their ability to settle into activity. Notice what they are enjoying or regularly repeating. Look for signs of overstimulation. If they are verbal, listen to their requests. Your child’s input will help you make the space just right for them. At the same time, assess what is realistic for you as you rotate toys and work to keep the space just right for your child. A just right space will feel like it is supporting your parenting work and making your life easier!
A Work in Progress
Whether you are creating a brand new play space or working to simplify your existing space—you can do it a bit at a time. I repeat, you do not have to do it all at once! Of Course you can, but many parents will need to find smaller, more doable steps as they make changes. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Even if you could get it perfect all at once…that just right space is always changing along with your children. A play space is never finished! It will always be a work in progress. Even if you are simply rotating toys every few weeks, the space is always changing.
The Ebb and the Flow is Natural
Just as sure as day follows night, a huge mess is sure to follow a tidy set up. When kids play they move everything around, they build forts and decide that the puzzle pieces are actually placemats for pretend high tea. This is all fantastic, natural, wonderful play. Even if you have a regular rhythm of cleaning up, the space can start to get a little cluttered and unkempt after a few weeks. In our playroom, all manner of “kid debris” can pile up. For example, I might find: toys that a well-meaning neighbor has brought by, old valentines cards, chalk brought in from outside, even pine cones from a hike, on our shelves and in the nooks and crannies. This, too, is totally natural. Every month or so, along with a rotation, I tend to do a total reset of the space, knowing full well that next month it’ll need that reset again. I think of it as part of the rhythm of nature—the ebb and flow of orderliness.