Having a decluttered, simple, well ordered playroom is central to supporting your child’s ability to learn and feel settled at home. Taking some things, or a lot of things, out of the play space is a wonderful first step to creating a simple, Montessori inspired playroom.
Here are some tips for decluttering the play space:
Not all toys are created equal
It is true that just minimizing the number of toys and other things in the play space is a huge improvement for young children, toddlers and babies. However, decluttering consciously makes a huge difference in the impact on your child and home. You’ll see a much bigger result if you can remove toys that are not supportive to your child’s wellbeing and development. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, offers wonderful in depth guidance about which toys to keep and which toys to let go of. Below are three of my favorite Simplicity Parenting categories of toys to remove from the play space.
High stimulation toys
Toys that work hard to grab your child’s attention are ideally the first ones to go. Yes, your child will sit with these flashing, beeping, singing toys for long stretches of time without intervention from you. For this reason you might love these toys. Your child may have a hard time turning away from them because all that battery powered action is programmed to grab your child’s attention and keep it. Unfortunately, these high stimulation toys are holding your child’s attention rather than intriguing your child, giving them the option to choose to focus their attention on the toy. This simple difference means that when a child is surrounded by high stimulation “attention snatchers” they miss out on opportunities to develop active concentration at a very pivotal time.
The simplest way to recognize a high stimulation toy is that it is most often powered by electricity. If these toys are available they will often pull your child’s attention away from other slower, more demanding work. When children have to engage and focus to play, it ultimately helps them feel more settled and calm. It also gives them space to form the foundational skills they are primed to develop during this time of their life.
If your child has been used to a lot of high stimulation play, including time on iPads, they may protest this change. Since they have missed out on practicing their active concentration skills it may take them a little while to fully settle into concentrated work with simple, open ended toys. To ease the transition make sure you have things in the environment that will interest them. This is a great time to introduce new toys from your kit! Rotate your toys a little more frequently right after you have removed the high stimulation toys. This will help keep their interest as they begin to develop their active concentration. The best way to keep them engaged during this transition is to make lots of time for playing together
If a toy is broken or has missing parts, take it out of the play space. If you think you’ll fix it, fantastic! Until it is fixed it is just cluttering the room. Keep it out of the rotation until it’s complete and working again.
As you look through your child’s toys you may notice that they have multiples of the same toy. If they love cars, you might be surprised to see that they have 20 cars that friends and family have gifted them. If they love to dress up, they might have an entire closet of dress up clothes! Consider winnowing down the number of multiples so that you have just enough to have a different one or two available in each rotation of toys. It is likely that a few of these are deeply loved, but that many of them could go on to another home. If you are nervous about this, consider removing all but one or two of this category of toys from the play space and notice the effect!
What do you do with all the removed items? If you can, donate them or pass them on to another family. Do you really have to get rid of all the high stimulation toys? My suggestion is to keep very few of them. Keep them stored away out of sight and bring them out, every once in a while for short periods of time, fifteen minutes to an hour or so. This will feel like a special treat while maintaining space for your child to learn and play in a more settled way.
Decluttering can feel delightful or overwhelming—and maybe both at once! Do a little bit at a time if it feels like too much. And remember, you can always remove these items to a bin in the garage or closet until you have time to properly sort through them. For extra motivation, plan on a special celebration treat for yourself when you have made it through the clutter! You deserve it!
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers a Step by Step Guide to Balancing Your Child’s Use of Technology by Jo Palladino