Creating a Space to Play
There are just five steps to take to support your child in developing their intelligence. Bonus: they will demand less screen time, and you will win yourself some peaceful time to accomplish the many tasks on your to-do list, or just lay on the sofa and read a book. Sound enticing? Read on.
1 Step: Limit Screen time to no more than an hour a day to increase independent play
I’m sure you’ve heard this recommendation; this is because TV, games and other screen time wires children’s brains to be mostly passive. While playing, children develop large and small motor skills, develop their creativity and increase their spatial intelligence; this doesn’t happen when they are sitting watching TV. Emotional intelligence, empathy, social skills, and learning aren’t fostered best in front of a screen, but once again, by play time.
I have many friends and colleagues who don’t have their kids watch any TV at all. Hey, I find that a bit extreme, just like the health nuts out there who never eat any sugar at all. Sugar is fun, and so is a movie. I believe learning to consume both sugar and screen time in moderation is an important skill to develop. (Okay, sometimes I still binge on a TV series while eating a pile of Swiss chocolate. Don’t tell my kids I’m still developing this skill too.)
So you’ve turned off the TV and taken away the iPad. How often do you hear your children complain that they are bored? Are the words ‘there is nothing to play’ coming at you a few times a day? Are your children saying, ‘they don’t know what to do,’ even though toys are everywhere?
Ready to give up? Don’t!
Even if you kids are under five years old, they can play between ten and thirty minutes on independently if you re-think how you organize your playroom (and life.)
2 Step: Gather all the materials you will need for the ideal playroom
Acquire a storage solution with shelves, storage bins, and toys that will enable your children to develop to their fullest potential. Go through the toys you have and think about how they will help your child learn, develop their cognitive skills, promote problem-solving, develop their motor skills, enhance their creativity and develop their imagination. Need ideas on some new toys to acquire? Google the Montessori method. You don’t need to break the bank. It’s amazing how happy children are with a box of dried lentils, a funnel, a shovel and small cups.
3 Step: Organize the toys into bins, label, and place on the shelves
The first step to fostering higher independent playability in your children is to create the ideal environment. Group toys based on theme or sort and place them into labeled bins and boxes (critical point!).
Here is what I have for my four and seven-year-old:
Little Lego blocks
Big Lego blocks
Wooden railroad track
Craft drawer with crayons, watercolors, scissors, paper, stickers, glue and feathers
Castle & Knights
A box of play dough, cookie cutters, and stamps
A box of beans and lentils, funnels, cups and spoons
A box of buttons and a sorting box / a box of geometric shapes
Now, most people have all toys down where the kids can access them at any time. I firmly believe this is overwhelming for small children. Almost everything put up on the shelf out of reach. The Montessori principles are inspiring, but here my advice is contrary to their rule of placing all items on low shelves accessible to small children.
(*Rules are Important)
The rule in our home is only one toy or activity set down at a time, which forces my kids to choose. In a Montessori environment, this rule also holds true. The difference is, in a Montessori daycare the children can collect their tablet or box on their own. At my house, the children need to ask for the box they want.
If they want something new down after only ten minutes, no problem! I just help them throw it back in the bin and take down the new selection. This system has made my children happily content, and won me lots of time to devote to writing, learning, and reading in twenty to forty minute increments. Just be prepared to be interrupted at any moment. My kids wander over for a cuddle or want me to see what they have built or made at regular intervals.
Not convinced? My son’s kindergarten teacher has the same system in her class. Her bins are within reach. The children have to choose what they want to play and place the tag on a game board to indicate their choice. Only three children can play the same activity at a time. If you walk into Frau S’s class, you would see twenty-four quiet children happily playing away all over the room. When she rings her bell, they all instantly put their games away into the bins and return them to the shelves.
4 Step: Incorporate children into your day
Montessori encourages children to develop their independence. So if you are making dinner, set up a stool and give your child fruits, vegetables or herbs to cut up next to you. Save the sock matching activity for your three-year-old. Teach your older children how to fold clothes. Take them into the garden and give them flowers to plant. It is amazing how excited children are to help organize a food drawer with you.
5 Step: Twice a year sort out toys
Once in the summer and again after Christmas I look through all the toys and store or donate those that are too young or those with which the children never play. I search for new Montessori tray ideas on the internet or visit the kindergarten for ideas. Just google Montessori and Montessori tray ideas, and you will find fresh new inspiration.
Voila! Your children will play independently happier, longer and your playroom will never become a mess that takes you longer than ten minutes to pick up again.
Note: Short on Money?
Do not stress if you are short on cash and do not have the resources to build up a playroom!
Here are some ideas for inexpensive activity boxes:
Create A box of:
Beans with a few lentils inside. Instruct your child to sort through the beans to find the lentils and place them in a cup. At the end count, the lentils discovered.
Sand with a fork, spoon, funnel, ice cream scoop and cups. Instruct your child to experiment with making patterns in the sand with the utensils, creating hills with the spoon and buildings with the cups.
Paper and crayons: Draw smooth loops and swirls for children to trace with crayons to develop their fine motoric skills. Draw an empty rainbow and instruct them to fill in the colors in the right order. Write numbers and the alphabet for kids to trace.
Straws, pinecones, popsicle sticks, cut up pieces of a milk carton, string, and paper. Help younger children to create a small raft and then test its ability to float in the water tray. Have them blow with the straw to push the raft across the water.
Leaves, sticks, pinecones, and flowers. Go out with your child and collect natural wonders. Add string and crayons so they can make a nature mobile.
Rocks. Go out with your child and collect a tray of rocks. Attention! Children love to throw rocks, so this one needs supervision. Have the children build towers with the rocks, or create a mandala in the grass, or a Zen maze. Take a photo before it needs to be dissembled and put away.
Wishing your kids hours of joyful play, Heather Nadine