A Montessori Approach to Purging Your Toys
Becoming a Montessori family has been life changing in so many ways, most obviously with the amount and type of materials we use in our home. Once you see why having so many toys is a problem, or when you make the decision to move towards Montessori, it can be completely overwhelming. But, taking a Montessori approach to purging your toys is possible! And, it doesn't exactly mean that you have to throw away everything you have and start over with only expensive wooden toys. It will mean taking a hard look at what you have and whether it really fits with Montessori.
One note, however, Montessori is at its core about following your child's own path and respecting your child as a whole person. So, if your child has a toy, lovey, book, or whatever that your child super loves or is super attached to, but it doesn't fit Montessori ideals, don't take it away. Follow your child, that is more Montessori than whether or not you own some specific consumer product.
How to Purge Your Toys
Here are a five steps to help you decide what stays and what should go. The process of moving to Montessori when you're drowning in toys is not an overnight process, but it is possible. I suggest sitting down in your child's play space and going through EVERY toy. Put the keep toys in a pile and the toss/donate/sell toys in a pile using the following order:
First, remove all battery operated toys from your playroom. Battery operated toys are almost never compatible with Montessori, especially if your kids are under age 6. They just aren't. They aren't needed. They serve only to entertain, crush a child's concentration, and inhibit creativity. This one is really the most clear cut line and the easiest place to start.
Second, gather all toys that have a similar or the same purpose. For example, do you need two types of ring stackers? Or 14 stuffed animals? Or 25 pretend cars? Nope. Here's a little harder example -- do you really need mega blocks, duplos, unit blocks and alphabet blocks? Maybe not. The specific examples and answers will depend on your family and what your children actually use and play with. What are their preferences? What best suits their needs? If both are about even, then I would keep the one that best fits with the other qualities listed here.
One exception to this, puzzles. I tend to keep more puzzles than I need so I'm a hard judge here. But, I think its nice to have a small variety of puzzles on each level of difficulty to rotate through.
In Montessori, we want to provide children with real experiences as much as possible. Children, especially under 6-years-old, crave the concrete and want to focus on the world around them. This applies to school AND play. So the next thing to look for is all unrealistic toys and remove it all. This can include cartoons, characters, and fantasy based play. If you have duplicates -- let's say a plastic/metal toy car and a wooden car -- choose the most realistic one. Remove the others.
This also includes some pretend play, specifically pretend play that has a real life counterpart. In other words, if your child can really clean, for example, there's no reason to have pretend cleaning tools. The play kitchen is probably the easiest example of this, but I know it's a hard one for many families to accept. While other pretend play, baby dolls for example, cannot be duplicated easily and therefore can be kept (although they should still fit into these other categories -- be realistic, without batteries, etc).
Find all the toys that just aren't age appropriate any more and remove them. If your child has mastered the material, has outgrown it, or doesn't need it any more remove it. Also, remove things that are too advanced for your child. If your child is really struggling to use the material independently, try again later.
This one is personally a hard one for me. I fall into the trap of "well, I think I saw her use that once last week, maybe, yes she must still need it, keep, keep, KEEP." No, do not be me. Also, MY BABY. I hate packing up the baby toys because it's a hard realization that my baby is not so baby any more.
Finally, learning toys. Specifically this is a note for under 3's. In Montessori, we do not emphasize academics with toddlers. This means, no alphabet or numbers. So, if your child is under 3 and you have toys trying to "teach" them academic skills, remove those as well.
What to Keep
There are a few things that you can prioritize keeping if you still feel like you have too much after you have gone through the list. I tend to say err on the side of having too little than having too much.
Open ended materials are always great for children of all ages. These include blocks, model animals, creative building materials, and art supplies.
Natural materials are almost always preferred to plastic.
With the exception of baby containers (like exersaucers, swings and bouncy seats) that claim to help with gross motor skills, most gross motor toys are fine to keep. Bikes, trampolines, scooters, etc. are all great ways to get some wiggles out and keep kids moving.
Once you have gone though all of your toys, you should have one pile to toss/donate/sell and one to (hopefully, much smaller) pile to keep. Even if everything doesn't fit perfectly with Montessori, even taking these basic steps can go a long way.
Now, how do you organize the toys you kept?! Find Out Here!