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Toddlers & Dumping -- Why do Toddlers Dump Everything?

There are so many parenting questions that plague us all! Why don't our babies sleep? How can my child survive on three crackers and a carrot stick for lunch? Why do toddlers dump everything? We've all been there, right?

Speaking of dumping toys, have you ever walked into a beautiful organized space with a toddler?! The whole situation is ripe with possibility. You are excited for all the amazing work that lies ahead. Then, your toddler walks up to a newly organized shelf and dumps the work to the floor.

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You scramble to pick up the pieces while your toddler hurries to the next basket or tray and dump, dump, dump... Pretty soon the environment seems trashed and you're ready to throw something {or someone} out the window. 

Sound familiar? 

I know it does to me! I've seen both my children on occasion walk up to something in our home, dump it out and walk away.

So, Why Do Toddler's Like to Dump?

Why do toddlers dump everything? Some Montessori inspired answers for parents who find that all their children do is dump toys and materials and walk away.

Toddlers explore every aspect of their environment. Dumping is no exception. It's a form of exploration that is often inconvenient to us as caretakers more than anything. Why do toddlers do it? Simple answer, it's fun!

The more complicated answer is that it is fulfilling a need that they are seeking in their environment. I think, constant dumping can signal: 
  1. Boredom -- Maybe the materials have been out for too long and your child is simply bored. Maybe there are too few materials to keep your child interested. Changing a few things, or even rearranging what's available might spark a more constructive interest.

  2. A need to reach maximum effort -- Toddlers need heavy work, if they don't have it, they will seek it. Dumping might be a sign that they need something larger to work with.

  3. Inappropriate materials -- The materials that are available might be too hard. There is some pressure to rush toddlers to do more than they are ready for. This can lead to frustration and ultimately no interest in doing anything constructive with the toys. 

  4. Too many materials -- If there are too many materials out in a space, toddlers can become overwhelmed. Just think about if you told to wash dishes and the sink was piled high with 100 items, it becomes overwhelming. And, its hard to know where to start. The same is true for toddlers; less is often more.

  5. Inadequate Guidance -- A child may need another lesson on how to work with the material.

  6. Improper Storage -- Is the tray/basket to heavy? Do the materials slide right off? If the work isn't stored in a way that promotes success, dumping is almost inevitable. Things have to be small enough and account for the wobbliness of toddlers.

  7. No outlet for dumping --  Toddlers are going to dump. End of story. They need an appropriate outlet for that need. Do they have something they can dump? Buckets in the bath? Bean Bags and a bucket? Playtime in the sink? Access to sand/gravel/beans/anything? They need it! 

  8. Your Reaction -- Really think about how you react to the dumping! I know if I do it sounds something like this: "OH! Nora! Oh! Nnnnn, umm, lets keep the beans! Stop dumping them! ack!" I know it! I'm not perfect and I overreact too. And, to a toddler, that's funny. They like that they control your reaction and they will seek that reaction again and again. 
Why do toddlers dump everything? Some Montessori inspired answers for parents who find that all their children do is dump toys and materials and walk away.

Once you have made changes to help limit dumping, don't be surprised if it takes awhile to see changes. It can be hard to learn a new habit. Just keep redirecting to appropriate dumping opportunities. And just keep remembering that dumping is developmentally appropriate and isn't going to completely stop. 

When it happens, cheerfully model how to treat the materials. "I see you dumped the basket of blocks. When we aren't building the blocks stay in the basket. Let's put them away!" This really does wonders! 

Do you have a problem with your toddler dumping? How do you handle it? 


Lisa Nolan said…
So cute! Shared and pinned! (Ah, memories!)
Lisa Nolan said…
So cute! Shared and pinned! (Ah, memories!)
Unknown said…
My preschooler dumps the toy bin frequently, looking for his favorite toys. I think this indicates I have too many toys in his room. I need to fix that. My toddler frequently empties off the bookshelf. I think there really are too many books to choose from and he is probably looking for his favorites, too.
Miss Kate said…
Hi Nicole - I happened upon your blog via a pinterest search for how to adapt my now-toddler's bedroom into something that suits her. (My parents were/are very Montessori oriented, and so am I). My Abby is our first and very into dumping right now, so this was a delight to read. Her specialty right now is to dump and then put back in. Or dump (freshly folded laundry) and pounce on it. The smile on her face {nearly} mitigates the frustration, but I know she's exploring her world in a way that's meaningful to her (and I just need to put laundry away before she spies it). I'll be following your blog - I feel a kindred heart in your work.

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