When I had my first child, my instinct was to buy a lot of (bright plastic) toys and throw them into a big toy box. It was all I had ever known (or seen). Clean up at the end of the day was easy, I just scooped all the toys up and threw them back into the toy box. I noticed though that my son wasn't engaging with the toys, there was a lot of dumping and throwing. Was there another, better way?
While reading about Montessori, I learnt there was a better way. Over time, we replaced our toys (the ones that weren't being played with) with developmentally appropriate toys. I used baskets to keep like toys together. Once we had some low shelving, I placed our toys on our shelving, with some toys still in baskets on the floor. Of course, it made a big difference.
Why do shelves work better than a toy box?
- Respect (we look after our toys, it is easier to prevent them getting broken, and it's easier to see if they are missing a part or need repairs, when we respect something we treat it with care)
- Order (toys are put away after being used not left lying on the floor until clean up, everything has a place)
- Accessibility (the child can see all of their toys at a glance, all of their toys are within easy reach, like toys can be stored with like in a basket)
- Variety (easy to rotate toys, easy to see what toys the child has)
- Satisfying, minimalist (not overwhelming, possibly fewer toys available to the child)
- Clean up easier for the child (everything has a place)
- Teaches responsibility (tidy up is expected)
- Calm, can lead to a calmer and less chaotic environment
- Visually more appealing, toys are beautiful, why not display them, use them to beautify the environment.
Overall I find that shelves allow us to be more respectful of our materials and toys. They are stored in a very orderly manner. The children can see all of their toys and can access them easily. The top picture is of our shelves as they are currently, these materials would not typically be stored in a toy box, but I love how the shelves look and the use of trays and baskets.
You might also like to read Your Baby's First Montessori Shelf at Montessori 101, Montessori Philosophy and Practice Age 1-3 Years Toys at Michael Olaf and Montessori Toddler Shelves to Love.