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Montessori Toddler Trays -- How Do You Set Up Toddler Toys in a Montessori Way?


An important part of a Montessori environment is having an orderly and prepared space. The phrase "a place for everything and everything in its place" is often used. This means that toys and materials should be neatly placed on shelves instead of thrown into a toy box or bin. But, it also means that each tray should be neatly organized and accessible. 

This doesn't just make your environment look neat and organized, but it actually entices a child to the materials themselves. By having everything neat and organized, a toddler can see the material, and easily remove it from the shelf. It can also give clues to the toddler about what should be done with the toy or material. 


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When I first started Montessori, I believed that throwing everything onto a tray was good enough. However, over time I've come to realize it's more nuanced than that. Here are some considerations that I make when presenting materials: 


  • How heavy is the tray? Heavy work will spill all over as a toddler takes it out

  • How large is the tray? If its too large, things will again spill and dump all over

  • Is the tray itself organized? Dumping stuff onto the tray is not going to entice a child

  • Is the tray a hindrance? This is that fine line where you have to recognize that somethings do better in a basket, or alone on the shelf.
  • Is the work ready for a toddler to complete? What's the fun in having an activity that is already been done? The work on the tray must be {deconstructed} ready for a toddler to use.
     
Every one of these things has taken me time and observation to get right with Nora. I can present a material one way and she won't even look at it! Change up how I place it on my shelf and I set her up for success!

So, concrete example time! Here are some examples of how I place materials on Nora's {20-months} shelves. 

Puzzles: This is one area that I think is uniquely Montessori. Puzzles are not placed completed on a shelf! If you do that, then the child's work is done, and there's no reason for the child to use the puzzle. Instead, a basket near the puzzle frame with the pieces does the trick! If its a small puzzle I might put the frame and pieces on one tray. Otherwise I have them sit next to each other on the shelf. 


It works so well that I couldn't even keep Nora away while I was taking pictures of her work!


Multiple Pieces: Things that are multiple but related pieces, I just use a basket of some sort. Schleich animals, cars or blocks, for example, all go into manageable baskets. Same for things like bead stringing or classification cards


Sorting and Other Purposeful Work: These are things where there is a specific goal in mind. Maybe shape sorting, maybe placing rings on dowels, maybe stacking in an order. For these things, I don't necessarily set the tray or material up as the manufacturer intended -- at least not right away. In some cases, I may limit the pieces so its age appropriate, in some cases I may just take it apart. 

Let's use this shape sorter as an example. Here's how the toy is intended to be set up: 


While there is nothing wrong with the way the toy is intended to use, its just a bit too complicated for Nora. By separating it and placing the pieces on a smaller tray and placing the pieces in the basket, the whole thing becomes more manageable. She's less likely to dump it out and it can be easily restored. Eventually, I will get a bigger tray and use it as intended (and organizing it deconstructed like a puzzle).  


Other examples: 


For me, its been trial and error learning how to best present materials in my home. Observe your child and do what draws them in! 

How to you present materials to toddlers? Have you noticed that one way works better than another? 

Comments

This comment has been removed by the author.
Thanks for your useful advice on how to present puzzles. I have one just ready for my 15 yo child and was wondering how to put it on her shelves. I'll let you know if it works the same for us. :)
Christy McGuire said…
I am inspired to give some more thought to how things at arranged for my 2 year old. Thanks!
mommy PSC said…
I love this post ! My son is turning 16 months soon ! I just have some questions:
- how many toys can you put on the shelves at a time ? We have a shelf but it has many slots
- what are the basic toys that are must haves for this age range ? It would be pricey to get him everything :)
- I'm pretty new to montessori but how do you present the DIY trays (the discovery basket, smelling jar, etc) ? Do you also include them together with the toys?
Bridget Henry said…
I am currently setting up a playroom for my 7 month old :)
Love the Montessori way!
Where did you find that cute little puppy & kitten puzzle?
I'd love to get one for her!
Thanks so much!
Bridget
Alice Magnolia said…
I did not think of this. Thank you!

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