If you have been following some of my recent Mom-life articles, you’ll know I have been working on incorporating some of Maria Montessori’s principles into our pre-school life. That is, following her suggestions to help raise babies and toddlers to love God and work well. So far I have published an article on combining Montessori and Byzantine. And a Mom-reads article mentioning some great Montessori books.
Beyond the Baby Proofing
There are a lot of articles out there about baby-proofing. So I won’t go deep into it here. However, baby-proofing is the first step to making a space child friendly. There are a couple ways to look at what a baby baby proofed room looks like.
The Proverbial Yes-Space:
A baby-proof room provides a space where you don’t have to say “No.” Or “Don’t do this,” and “Don’t touch that.” Besides that saying those kind of things all the time gets exhausting, it isn’t fun or helpful for relaxing. (Neither you nor your child is going to be happy at the end of a day where every other word you say is no).
A truly baby-proof space is one where your baby/toddler can safely play (or sleep) by themselves. It is still important to be nearby. But it is invaluable to have somewhere you know your child is okay while you do activities you’d rather not have them with you for. *cough* like going to the bathroom *cough.*
However, there is more to making your home child friendly than just baby proofing. Making as much of your home child-safe as you can is helpful. But let’s see what else we can do to help our children flourish in our homes. (Rather than simply exist there).
Beautiful Hearts, Minds, and Spaces
Beauty is an important mark of the Byzantine faith. Just as our path to God is a journey towards what is good, true, and beautiful, our hearts, minds, and homes should reflect this. Take a look around your home. Do you feel relaxed, peaceful, and happy? What about the spaces your child sleeps and plays in. Are they monotonous disasters, or beautiful and relaxing. It is hard to play or work well in a space that makes you anxious.
Step One to a Beautiful Space: Less is More
I think toys breed when we are not looking. I set up Little Fox’s room to have about three baskets of toys, one shelf of books, and plush animals to fill the empty cube shelf spaces. And then I turn around, and there are more toys, two shelves of books, and no room for the plushies! Where do they all come from?
Since the beginning we have been aiming to have a minimalist approach to toys. (Since reading Simplicity Parenting before having kids). It can still be a struggle, but here is how and why we do it.
Why Less is More:
When you have too many toys (out/visible) at once, it is overwhelming to both us and our children. It is a choice-overload for the child, and they can’t see the trees for the forest! Plus it is way more work to clean up. And there is no way young children can handle putting away so many toys at once – so we always have to do the tidying when we want to see the floor again. When we keep just a manageable number of toys out at a time, even young children are able to put them away by themselves. Or with just a little help.
This goes a step further when you take the time to teach your child the Montessori method of play/work. (Only one toy can be taken out at a time, you do all the work on a special playmat, and everything gets put away before another toy is taken out). It has made such a difference for Little Fox!
How to Have Less:
The first step to having less clutter is sorting and purging. Check out our home organization crash course and our article on toy rotation for more information. The toy rotation article will help with picking some broad categories for sorting the toys. After you have sorted the toys you may notice you have way more building blocks than you will ever need. That makes it easier to let some go. Have a garbage bag and a donate box handy while you sort. Broken toys and ones with missing parts can immediately go. And any toy that you hate/annoys you can be put in the donate box for a guilt-free exit from the house.
The next step to having less clutter is rotating items. This goes for home decor as well as toys. I am even considering rotating the number of dresses visible to Little Fox at a time.
Again, check out our article about toy storage and rotation for more storage ideas. If you can’t find any more storage space in your home, you can either get more shelving units or PURGE PURGE PURGE!
The final step to having less is following the one in one out rule. Anytime something new is brought into the home, something else must leave. So if you get a new shirt, an old shirt must be thrown out or donated. When your child gets a new toy, they must choose another toy to be put away or passed on. And, it is always easier to get rid of something old when we have something new to focus on. It really eases the transition for toddlers… and adults!
Step Two: A Place for Everything
Toddlers love organization. They hate when things are out of place. Like when you put their toothbrush a few inches to the left and they have a meltdown about it being in the wrong spot. Or when you make their bed and their pillow is not placed just right.
So in order to have a beautiful and organized space for your kids, everything needs to belong somewhere. Use big labels (with pictures for those under reading age) that can be seen/read from 6 feet away. It is scientific fact that people are more likely to put things away right if there are labels. (Try to avoid using the lids of containers though… lids are a barrier to putting things away for some organization types. See our Organization Type article and free quiz for more information.
Step Three: Make Activities Attractive Too
Pretty baskets and pretty labels is one way to make an organized space more beautiful. However, Maria Montessori observed that children do not simply play with toys… it is their work. So we do not just have toys for our children to play with. We set up activities in an attractive matter. So then our children can take the activity off the shelf and “do their work.” Check out our Pinterest Boards on Toddler Activities and Montessori Trays for an idea of what this looks like.
How to set up a Montessori Style Shelf Tray
- Use a tray instead of a basket. This allows your child to clearly see the activity without having to grab a container and look inside. And, this means that the child is drawn to take the tray to work with. Rather than just grabbing it to see what it is and dumping it on the floor for a better view.
- Activity should be undone. Children don’t want to do a completed puzzle as much as they want to put the pieces together of an incomplete one. If the puzzle is too hard to do without seeing it complete first, it is probably beyond your child’s age range anyway. Also, when introducing a new activity to your child, it is important to be there to demonstrate how the activity is done. For example, I made a tray where the work was learning to set the table. I had two paper place-mats with tracings of a plate, fork, spoon, and cup in their proper places. I showed Little Fox how to use the place-mat to match up the objects on the place mat. Now she loves taking the tray and doing it all by herself!
- Arrange objects from left to right on the tray.
Other Notes about Trays
- The tray should be challenging to your child. Not to easy that it bores them, but not too hard that they can’t manage by themselves. If they give up on the activity, take it away and try again in a few weeks.
- Arrange the trays from easy to hard along the shelves. (Baby’s shelf work at the bottom and Toddler’s higher up too). Having the trays at your child’s height invites them to use it.
- Make sure your children can handle all the objects easily all by themselves. (i.e. you may need to use smaller cups, plates, pitchers).
Step Four: Looking Through The Child’s Lens
Look around you space at child’s level. This is useful for baby-proofing because you will see plugs, cords, and drawers that your child can see and will want to get into. But this also helps you see how they see the space. Is all your furniture big and high up? If so, try getting some child sized furniture that your kid can use easily by themselves. Where are all the toys and books? What about your child’s clothes, hairbrush, and other self care tools? Are they within reach and easily visible to your child? If not, try to find a way to make sure the things are accessible to your child. Keeping things within your child’s reach not only sets them up for independence, but also welcomes them to do the things they want to do.
Are you worried about the mess your child will make when they can reach all their clothes? That was me too. However, since teaching Little Fox to play with only one tray at a time and on a playmat, we have not had a problem. Sometimes the baby takes more things out, and pulls all Little Fox’s socks and clothes off the shelf. But Little Badger is only 12 months, and because we keep a minimal number of books and toys accessible at once, it is never too much to handle.
Making the Most of Small Spaces
I have lived in a lot of small spaces. I have lived in the tiny university dorm room, in a one bedroom apartment as a newly married couple, and in a two bedroom basement suite. So here are my tips for making a small space work (for you and your children)!
- Try to have as much multi-functional furniture as possible. Look at what your biggest furniture items are and decide if they are a good use of space or not. Having trouble with the dining table? Use a large tablecloth over your dining room table so some of the space underneath can be used as storage. Or turn underneath the dining table into a secret reading nook for your kids!
- Clear out furniture you are not using. I for one, do not use dressers. My clothes never make it back in the drawers, and those that are in the drawers are never worn. Do you have an extra couch, armchair, or side table? If you aren’t using it, take it out of your space.
- Light framed furniture makes a space seem bigger, while bulky furniture makes a space feel smaller.
- Put fewer things on display at a time. This is soooo hard for me because I love to see all my beautiful pictures and memories. But I really appreciate the things I can see better when there is less out at once.
- Use your vertical space.
- Keep dark objects lower and put light objects higher. I did this with out bookshelf in our first basement suite. All the black covered books at the bottom, then purble-green-blue books, then red-yellow covered books, and finally white and gold covered books at the top. If certain books need to go together, you can always recover them with your own paper book jacket.
- Try a Japanese style futon mattress for your children
The Byzantine Life
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