Storage, Organisation And Other Battlegrounds
OK, anyone who says that getting children to tidy up after themselves is easy is being somewhat economical with the truth. Yes, one of the things that your children will learn by attending a Montessori early childhood centre is that equipment should be put away properly and it should be put away as soon as you’ve finished dealing with it. However, a Montessori centre, like other kindergartens and early childhood centres, is set up to make this easy for children. They’re child-centred and so they should be. Family homes, however, are different. We all know that children grow up very quickly and homes can’t be exclusively designed around them – what suits them today won’t suit them in four years time.
So what’s a parent to do? One thing you should certainly do is to insist that the Montessori principle of putting it away straight away and putting it away properly is continued at home – it’ll make things easier for you and it will be easier for all of us here at the Montessori centre. And it would also make sense to have systems in place to help your children be organised. This may or may not mean having child-sized equipment, depending on your budget.
What are some potential storage solutions that may work for your children and your home? Here’s a selection culled from one of those home organisation books that you can pick up at the library. (You don’t have a library card? If there’s only one thing that you can do to reinforce your child’s education at any age, make sure you sign up at the local library and take your children there frequently.) Some of the ideas are good ones – but some aren’t. Judge for yourself and find the ones that work for you.
- Hooks. Hooks are easy for children to hang things on if things are stored in bags, as well as being ideal for clothing such as coats and hats. They’re also easy to install and remove, and you can put them at any height you fancy to suit your children. However, they’re hopeless for things that aren’t stored in bags for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t store, for example, jigsaw puzzles in bags on hooks.
- Sliding baskets made of metal mesh or slots, similar to what you see inside a refrigerator. These work quite well for larger items such as soft toys. They are self-correcting, to use a Montessori term, if something small is put into them by mistake – the small thing will fall out.
- Bookshelves. Great for books for obvious reasons, although children will find putting books in properly a bit tricky at first and will have to let the books lie flat, stacked on top of each other. Other things can be kept on bookshelves if they come in boxes, such as board games.
- Shoe or cosmetics organisers of the type consisting of a set of pockets hanging on a panel that can be hung up like a poster inside the wardrobe or on the back of the door (at child height, obviously). While these are quite good for corralling small objects they have one downside – the pockets are sometimes too deep for small hands to reach.
- Ziplock bags. These are ideal for corralling small objects and can be stored on shelves or in mesh cubes, drawers or cubbyholes.
- Cubbyholes: These have an advantage over drawers in that there tend to be more of them in a set and that children don’t have problems with drawers that stick. Things can fall off them, however.
- Toy chests: Old-fashioned toy chests – deep wooden things with big lists – may hide all the toys away from view so floors can keep tidy but they get chaotic very quickly, are hard and potentially dangerous for children to use (you don’t want to know what can happen to a small hand if that heavy lid comes down on it). If some kind relative or friend gives you one of these “for the children”, use it for storing blankets or the like rather than toys.
- Labels: Labelling things is a great way to help children (and adults) know what goes where. But labels don’t just have to have words on them. If your children haven’t quite got onto learning to read, then have a picture to show what should go into the box/onto the shelf, etc. Have the word there, too, to encourage your child as he/she learns to read.
- Stackable boxes, both the sort with and without wheels and lids. These are OK, especially for containing large sets of things, such as blocks, Lego or craft materials. If you haven’t got the space to store them stacked in the corner of a room, then stow them under the bed if you can.
- Desks with lids. Remember the old school desks? They have gone out in many classrooms but they are great for at home. They’re best for keeping the stuff that will be used on top of the desk, such as drawing paper, pencils and painting gear.
One trap that many parents fall into is having too many toys for their children. Not only does this have a tendency to degenerate into muddle but it also means that your children become blasé about everything they own more quickly. One way of cutting the clutter and ensuring that your children don’t get bored with what they have is to rotate toys and sets. Basics that are played with frequently, craft activities and special cuddly toys should stay out all the time – but put away in place! But other things can be used to create a DIY toy library. For example, this month, you have the doll’s tea sets out for use, while the dressing-up clothes, the Lego, the paddling pool and the pavement chalk are tucked away in the garage/attic/cupboard under the stairs. Next month, the tea set goes away and your child picks out a new set to use.
And don’t think that all your storage items for children have to be bought new. You don’t even have to use second hand ones. Ice cream containers, cardboard boxes of all sizes (cardboard wineboxes with the top cut off on a slant is one solution used by many schools and early childhood centres and they’re as tough as they come), yoghurt containers, bottles and margarine tubs are all excellent storage solutions.