More Than Just the Shelves

Originally Posted January 2015 on Dandelion Adventures Blog.

I just love looking at other people’s learning spaces.  They give me so many ideas, and I can’t wait to find or make the next toy that might engage my little guy.  It’s so tempting to follow great toddler and preschool resources on pinterest and fill shelf after shelf with great stuff, and whenever I give Oscar something new it DOES capture his attention.  It’s exciting to see him exploring something new.  For the first year of Oscar’s life that’s what we did, we accumulated cool stuff (and some not so cool, too).  Every day he would take out toy after toy and after awhile just picking up the living room was a daunting task (cleaning isn’t my strong suit, but I try!).  Keeping house is hard enough…

Some quick tips for your young child's learning environment.

After a month or two of feeling overwhelmed, it hit me like a ton of bricks that Oscar wasn’t really engaging with anything for very long, just sort of pulling stuff out and then moving on.  My Ed Psych background taught me that to love learning you’ve got to find things that you can engage with, that the goal is to foster a love of learning, so I started to refresh myself on early learning.  I found a lot of great articles and books, but was particularly drawn to the way Montessori folks organize their kids’ early learning environments because it was well aligned with what I knew about fostering engagement and love of learning.

Here are a few things to consider when organizing a learning environment for your kiddo(s):

Keep it simple.  If you couldn’t pick up all of the toys from a room in five minutes, it’s too much.  Of course, when your child is picking up it might take longer.  Accessible, organized, aesthetic.  These things are only possible (for me, at least) when there isn’t way too much stuff.  2/3 to 3/4 of Oscar’s toys and books are stored away at any given time.

– Follow Your Child.  You know your child best, and you watch them closely.  Which toys does your child spend the most time playing with and which ones are ignored? Are there tasks they want to help with over and over? What sorts of messes does he or she most like to make (and can you turn those into a learning activity)?

– Spiral. Often it helps kids to interact with an activity several times over the course of their development. In Education that’s commonly called spiraling (it comes back around when they’re older).  I wish I knew exactly what Oscar needs and what will interest him so I could choose just the right things, but even with observation I often choose things that are too advanced.  It’s helpful to remember that if your child isn’t ready or interested in something the first time, that exposure is still good for their learning, and if you introduce it again down the line they will interact with it in unique ways.  Some things will be too easy, some too challenging, but spiraling is a great way to assure they’re getting the most out of the experience.

– Balance.  This one can be tough for me, for instance we don’t do enough art and sensory exploration in our home.  Math, Science (Nature, Physical World), Language, Sensory, Practical Life, Dramatic Play, Pre-Literacy, etc. Feels overwhelming at times.  This is actually where Pinterest can be helpful to make sure you have your bases covered. There are tons of other good resources out there as well, although I feel like folks have pinned stuff from a lot of great sites, so I often start on Pinterest and wind up on some great blog or reading a fantastic article.  Balance applies to us parents, too, so keep in mind that the hard part is not necessarily finding the ideas, but pulling them together and then observing your child’s learning, so I try to limit my time searching (says the woman with 21 pinterest boards and 427 pins).

Stay tuned for more on learning environments!

Be well,