Wednesday, October 21

learning spaces

I find at times that there's a bit of a conflict with my natural bohemian-easy-free-living approach and my academic and even instinctual understanding.

Developmentally, I understand that too much visual noise is unhelpful, and sometimes can be hazardous. The average person, and child, can only take in so much visual stimuli at a time. Our brains filter out the extras (different for everyone), and process only what is of value at the time.
For some people too much visual information can lead to anything from mild stress to deep anxiety.

For children, they don't filter or block so easily, and can become stressed. This is why babies are so easily over-stimulated. They're taking it all in - the visual, the audible.

This is partly why decluttering became such a hit. Not only did our homes function better, we realised that part of our home-induced stress was having too much stuff in our line of vision.

The Montesorri method includes a philosophy about the child's environment. In the classroom it's called the Prepared Environment, and Montessori-inspired parents often create such environments at home.

1. Injust Spring 2. Wildflowers and Marbles
3. Sew Liberated 4. Finn's Room
5. 6. Montessori at Home

Among other things, the method makes a point about the quality and beauty of the environment - a few, carefully chosen, beautiful, natural, educational, interesting toys rather than heaps of plastic mindless crap. Order, simplicity, calm, accessibility are all key words.

These toys are not kept in large chaotic toyboxes. Instead, they are sorted and separated. Each toy has shelf space, or they're collected by theme in a basket or a tray, or hung on a hook.

And each toy is put away before the next is taken out.

As far as having a few carefully chosen toys, I'm all for that.
Is that my reality? No. I find that being home all day alone with her means that a few toys just isn't enough. Also, we're not wealthy, and good quality toys are difficult to come by here. So, amongst some beautiful wooden and educational toys, she also has some crap. Not much, but it's there. She is young (18mths) so things like empty boxes are still mildly interesting.

However, I'm big on decluttering and I periodically go through her toybox and throw out those tiny worthless bits that served their purpose.

As far as organisation goes, it was one toybox, that became two, and then a few larger items here and there.

I realised that she hardly ever went through the boxes. Although we bought the main box mostly to have a place to put her toys and thereby tidy up at the end of the day, it's also accessible to her and there for her to pick and choose. Yet she wasn't.

So I decided to organise.

First came the grouping.

The same thing that was happening with her toyox, was happening with her books. She had enough that she was taking out the same ones. Too much visual noise. So I put some on a shelf above her eyeline, so that she rarely reaches for one there. Now those at her easy disposal are less. Then I rotate these as well. No set time, whenever it occurs to me or feels right.

I emptied the cardboard boxes we had stored CDs and DVDs in to collect toys by theme - animals, noise makers, textile bits, soft toys.
These boxes now come out one at a time. But they might stay out for a long time. And the floor might end up full of toys by the end of the day. But usually I will put away as I feel like it.
The other thing was to take out a toy and place it on its own. Like a display (very Montessori). And shake my feathers, she played with those toys that day! And I'm rotating which toys I place like that.

The 'after' pics...

I realise it doesn't look like much, you'll have to take my word for it.
She's played with that xylophone on the bottom shelf every single day, as well as brought out the stacking boxes on her own to stack.

I still have more items to sort and have some ideas.

We're living in a small apartment for the moment and haven't bought any purpose-built storage furniture. So I wanted to share my very simple and do-able re-organisation. But one that's made a difference.

I think that for children, especially young ones, rotating toys must feel a little like getting new toys and books every other day or week.

As for the Montessori idea of putting a toy away when you're done with it, that's another matter.
On a practical level, as she plays with things for less than 5 minutes, half my day would be the putting away and taking out of toys.
Also, my care-free side feels uncomfortable with such control, as well as any possibility of limiting or disrupting creative play. If she just stacked some blocks but then goes to grab another toy, does it benefit her to put the blocks away? Perhaps she'll return to the blocks in a few minutes. Perhaps the new toy will be added to the blocks to create a new game.

Many of the examples of environments that I gave above are what I think of as educational spaces. Pure Montessori is a little too anal organised for my taste. Learning spaces can be much more flexible. And you can take ideas from more than one method and use what works for you. As far as organisation goes, Montessori rocks.And I'll probably be more organised or at least have more specific areas when she's older.

As I don't plan to home-educate in any formal approach, I like to think of Creative spaces rather than educational ones. I love organisation, but I need an environment to feel alive, dynamic, lived in.

My idea of a creative space:

So I think I've struck a balance between going with my own personality, my ideas about how kids play, as well as my understanding of brain processes and developmental needs.


  1. *giggle snort* Yeah, pure Montessori is I'm sorry, but putting a toy away before another one comes out would greatly diminish the mad creativity that goes on around here.

    Decluttering and organization is a definite must - especially in a small space - but there is definitely a happy medium between chaos and rigid.

    I should really be getting ready for work.


  2. I have to say I have long been convinced that de-cluttering and having organised little play/creativity nooks is a Very Good Thing. And since The Moon was little I've tried to rotate books/toys and other bits and pieces, because I could see the calming effect it had on her and her absolute delight every time she would re-discover her toys, (wahey! less is more!). She has always been sooo easily over-stimulated. It makes a huge difference to how she feels and how she plays. Some of my friends have thought it anal until they tried it themselves.

    However, I will say - I'll go for the happy medium between a bit of creative disorder and a calm, clear space. I think I'd find myself getting waay too manic and irritable if I was putting away each toy before I brought out a new one - even though I can see how it could work for some. Depends on personality/home org etc. I s'pose.

    Love what you've done there with the Wildflower's books and toys : ) Very inviting.

  3. A rotater here too, in part because my house is sooo small and I simply don't have the space to have all his toys displayed. So I do have a huge toy box too, which Rye will get toys out of , but he rarely has a good rummage, so I do that for him and will put out toys that haven't been played with for ages and put others away for a while. I also rotate toys between downstairs and upstairs, (the dastardly plan is Rye will come to enjoy being in his room playing so much, that he'll want to sleep in there.. he's resisting mind lol.)

    Also, because the house is so small, I encourage Rye to tidy up several times a day,(normally before meals), so that there's a lovely clear space to play in again, otherwise it just gets too cluttered and we both end up tripping over toys.

  4. While the children have separate bedrooms (er... the bed part being purely for decoration and jumping on, mind you) and have toys in their rooms, we keep the bulk of our things downstairs in the rumpus room. Science kits, legos, blocks, dress-up, games, musical instruments, etc...
    But in the livingroom we have a few shelves for "what's interesting now", and also have two four-shelve book cases in the hall off the kitchen to hold crayons, scrap paper, stamps, current on-going science experiments, library books and movies, etc.

    I absolutely agree that organization is very nice, and shelves are the way to do it. We do have two large bins - one for balls and sports, one for cars and planes, but everything else is visible on shelves and accessible.

    I think it is like new things when we go downstairs to see if there is anything we'd like to switch out. We don't spend lots of time down there, so it's all new and interesting, and we just rotate.

    As for the putting things back thing....
    How nice that would be!!
    There are lots of beautiful and lovely ideas in this world... such as all handmade and wooden or woolen toys, quiet, soft things that don't make hideous sounds-- as well as no tellie or junkfood or things that look like spounge bob....
    Lovely, to be sure... but it ain't the reality around here, certainly!! :)

  5. Organization and de-cluttering is a must here as well. I do ask that J put groups of toys away before getting new groups of toys out. For the most part it works. If he wants to play with two groups together, he certainly can. But he must put them away after.

    I agree there is a happy medium, but I tend to be a little more to the rigid side. I do not think it diminishes the creativity here. Speaking personally, I do not function well in a mess... I need at least some organization. But I'm sure we are all different in that respect. :)

    Your organizing looks great!

  6. i have always been fond of the montessori method, especially the hands on approach and tidy workspaces and the involvement of children in day to day life. however, like you i find it a little too structured and not quite arty enough for this creative mama.

    i love this post though. i am in the same place. i've yet to master the put one thing away before you get another out process. i love baskets and bins. my only nemesis right now is the books. we have soooo many and i am still trying to work out a method where they can easily see them.

    we have not tried the rotating method except with stuffed "friends", loving that.

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  8. I personally never gelled with Montessori but I tried doing the Waldorf thing when Rose was little. It never worked because she preferred playing with scraps of cardboard, paper, plastic lids, etc. So I gave up on beauty and just tried to stay on top of the unutterable mess. (What I now call the Get Real method of child development.) I'm so glad I did, because now she is the most creative person I know and is always making amazing things from bits of junk.

    I didn't rotate toys often. Maybe once every couple of weeks. I liked her to push her imagination as far as possible with one set of toys before she moved on to a new one. I guess its a Waldorf thing. Don't give a child too much, and they grow in themselves.

    I did have the Magic Morning Box which I brought out on mornings when I needed more sleep or time - this was a decorated shoebox filled with small, new toys or toys that hadn't been played with for months. I have to claim it as my best invention ever! ;-)

  9. Wow, you got me thinking again. I LOVE Finn's room and I looked at the whole album and I'm jealous. But I got some great ideas.

    We have a three shelf bookcase for Michael's toys and books in his room, as well as some odd things for him to "discover" in the nightstand drawers. And we have some toys downstairs that go in a basket or bigger toys on the floor. It doesn't look to bad, actually. But I do need to pull out the stuff he isn't playing with again and rotate. Oh, I hate excessive toys! I used to babysit my nieces and I would pick up probably a hundred toys off their floor and put half of them down in the basement.

    Anyway, I think I'm way more creative when there is organization and little clutter. I like having a nice clean workspace. Unfortunately I am very good at cluttering it up and not putting things away in a timely manner. I think tidying up as you go is a good idea. If you can swing it.

  10. I've been de-cluttering and organizing over here also. Z was recently given about $1000 worth of toys! (long story) After sorting and giving away more than 1/2, I started the rotation method. Works wonderfully. Still finding it nearly impossible to keep up with the smaller parts.

    Z laid claim to our kitchen drawers a long time ago, so those have remained toy storage as well!

    I realized, in reading this post, that the adults I know of that attended Montessori schools are the most disorganized people I know. Maybe just a coincidence.

    One thing I'd love to learn more about is creative ways to hang art/pictures at eye level in my little guy's room.

  11. I hear ya! Being a bit of a organising/ decluttering fan myself, I try to keep Fidget's toys fairly organized in smaller baskets and boxes, and I do rotate them as often as I see fit. Having been brought up with the 'put a toy away before you play with the next' method though, I stay clear of it. We do have regular tidy up times though, like before lunch or dinner, before we go out somewhere, before bedtime. She's not old enough yet to want to go back to the same thing afterwards, but when she is that will probably stay out so she can resume the game or activity afterwards should she want to.

  12. I have found many of the same things with my kids...I learned so much from watching them at their Montessori preschool, although that kind of decluttering/organization goes entirely against my Piscean nature...and I am amazed that at school they actually DO put things is VERY anal, and I have mixed feelings about that, but in a group environment I also realize it is more necessary....but partly because they already get that for part of their day, I don't do that at home...we do have groupings for their toys, and I do rotate them, but we only clean up/regroup once a week on the between, chaos reigns and accumulates...and the 'art hutch' is complete chaos all the time, which has its own rewards, because they are always finding stuff they had entirely forgotten about!

  13. I really like how you've explained child-clutter and how it affects them. I want to link to this... hope that's ok.
    Blessings and magic.

  14. Yes, I am a rotator too..although my little one has very toys, so not much to rotate here! I am also in the process of "passing on" alot of things that just seem to take up space and gather dust but mainly because I am a woman who roams from place to place quite often so I have go used to carrying little with me. We are actually changing countries again very soon, hence the de-cluttering and clearing now...great pics Mon :)

  15. I meant to say very FEW toys..sorry

  16. Hey, toy rotators unite! lol

    Stephanie - I look forward to having different rooms for different ideas, like your 'what's interesting now' shelves, definitely offes further possibilities.
    chuckling at the no sponge bob idea...

    underthebigbluesky - noooooooo, there is no such thing as too many books.... ok, ok, perhaps a few too many...

    ismilesalot - I'm envious about the library books, *sigh*

    sarah - it's just so amazing isn't it? when we go with our childrens' flow? My girl was interested in bits of junk only as much as any baby. Her thing is details, like tiny buttons to press.
    How do you make her push her imagination? Mine doesn't seem so interested in exploring this.
    Loving the Magic Morning Box. I keep a few toys like this for the car.

  17. Lisa - Finn's room is lovely. For me though, mostly to look at rather than live in.
    Glad you picked up some ideas. His little toilette table is sweet.

    cypress sun - wow, that's interesting about the Montessori adults, how odd. I wonder why.

    Carin - lovely to see you still around. I also find that naps and outings, etc, are good points to use as tidy up.

    Lisa(MM) - I think that in a scool environment organisation is essential. And it's definitely great having that level provided there, so that you can be more creatively messy at home.

    themagiconions sure, but now I wish I explained it better. :D

    global mama - funny, was thinking that few/alot of toys was so subjective.

  18. well good for you...i'm glad you have found a balance!
    i like the idea of creative spaces vs. educational ones...
    you've done a great organizational job in your all looks fun and inviting...
    what has helped us is the idea of getting rid of something as something else comes in...aids in the idea of 'giving', having less stuff, staying organized, managing the clutter and avoiding attachment to things... also, the simpler and smaller the space, the less stuff you can house and therefore it becomes a must to have less... i hear you on the crap, but man, lego is good! plastic or not! :)
    anyways, thoughtful post with a universal theme for us all...

  19. Oooo, you totally just motivated me ;-) Thank you, great tips!

    Jamie :)

  20. Oh I love that you use the "a" too. I use a bit of montessori and a bit of waldorf and a bit of just how it is! Organized toys and not too many out most definitely works best with little messyfish. I love the way you show the before and after shots. well done!!

  21. Well you know how i feel about Montessori, seeing as though the little guy is flourishing in his Montessori environment, well beyond my wildest expectations! You have just given me a nudge. Why oh why does his room not mimic his daily classroom environment (as much as it can anyway?) Off to declutter I go!

  22. Lori at Camp Creek Press ( has a great post about the importance of white space, which speaks to a lot of these issues. We have a big counter in our kitchen where a lot of life happens--work, writing, art, eating. When that space is clear (I'm writing there right now), I feel like a can breathe more easily, like the possibilities for projects spread out just invite us into the space. When it's piled with books and papers and dishes, we are all more cranky and get less done.

    So I have been all about the decluttering of late. Less is more, less is more!

  23. Hi Mon, I thought maybe you'd like to see our learning space - our classroom! We actually spend all day, from just after breakfast until dinner time in the classroom. We do learning activities, read books and do arts and crafts. I, too, have been inspired by Montessori principles, but chafe at too much structure. So we are finding our way on our journey of home education, and our new classroom has already gone through several different iterations of organization and setup. Here is the link for a collection of classroom pics:


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