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I re-organized our playroom to be Montessori-ish—and it made a huge difference

Is it possible to sort of Montessori my child's toys and still get the same results?

montessori playroom

Our playroom is a constant parenting pain point for me. For one, I don't really like most toys. My daughter's beautiful dollhouse? Sure, I like that one. The stacks of books? Those can stay. But the other 95% of toys that seem to creep from every corner of our home? I have feelings.

I have spent most of my 4-year-old's life scouring Pinterest and my favorite organization Instagram accounts for tips to declutter her toys and corral what was left in an aesthetically pleasing way, but I was often left with the same result: Our play area would look beautiful right after I finished organizing, but within a few days the mess would return.

Finding a system that worked for my decor aesthetic and her actual play function proved more difficult than I could have imagined. And, like so many other moms, I found that the constant mess and constant labor of curating this mess were sapping some of my joy in motherhood.

In my research, I came across a million articles recommending the Montessori approach to organizing my daughter's toys. But I was skeptical—wide open shelves of toys? No big bins or basket to hide everything? It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.

The truth is, I wasn't sure I would be able to create a perfect Montessori playroom. My girls are fortunate enough to have plenty of people who love them and who gift them a variety of toys (that aren't all the neutral-color-palette, natural-materials variety I prefer and Montessori requires), and sometimes they fall in love with and play often with toys that don't fit within those requirements.

What I wondered was: Is it possible to sort of Montessori my child's toys and still get the same results?

I decided to go for it. Here are four principles of Montessori toy organization I incorporated into our play area—and the mind-blowing results.

1. Minimize the number of toys

Montessori teachers firmly believe that children's minds crave order—and that order is best achieved with a limited number of toys. I started by spending a few weeks observing what my girls played with consistently and for the longest amount of time.

Anything broken or missing pieces was discreetly thrown out or donated. Anything in duplicate was tossed, and I massively pared down accessories to the play kitchen and dollhouse. Anything they didn't play with often (but that I felt held potential for the future) was put into a storage bin in our basement. I was left with 10-15 toys that I knew could hold their interest for longer than 15 minutes.

2. A place for everything

Children naturally crave order. Because it is often more satisfying to put something back in a specific spot (rather than dump it into a basket of mish-mashed toys), they often arrange playthings on accessible shelves where each item has its designated place.

We already had a cube shelf where I had been previously storing said mish-mashed toys in deep baskets. Now that I only had a few things to put out, I took away the big bins in favor of simply leaving one toy on each shelf. Or, in some cases, I had a smaller bin (that was easier for little eyes to see into) with a few items that all served roughly the same purpose—like the 12 animal figurines that live in my daughter's dollhouse.

3. Use visual simplicity

My own home's decor is fairly neutral, so most of the organizing bins I already had were either white, ivory, or a natural wood material. I made sure any bins I added followed suit, but also that there were defined areas to work (a small table and chairs), toys were all grouped by category, and that everything was independently accessible.

For example, I took the books off the shelf (where my daughter had a hard time returning them to their places neatly) and put them all in a wooden crate on the floor. I also put the pieces of some of my 4-year-old's favorite puzzles into small wooden bowls. Now, when she wanted to play, she could easily carry the bowl to the table to work, and then when she was done, cleanup was a snap and the bowl was easily returned to its place.

The results weren't perfect—a perfectly Montessori'd shelf would probably have fewer items, and definitely fewer plastic Toy Story characters—but there was something undeniably refreshing about the new set-up. It was shocking to me that even though I was seeing more of my children's toys, the overall result still felt less cluttered.

4. Make your expectations clear

Montessori teachers believe consistency is incredibly important. It was up to me to make our playroom expectations clear and consistent so my daughters could follow them more easily. So I introduced them to the new system. I showed them how each item had its own place to "live" and explained how they could take down whatever they wanted to play with. Then, when they were ready for something else, they simply put this toy back where they found it and could move on to the next thing. I tried to keep my tone positive and confident, but, honestly, I had no idea if it would work. (And, if I'm really honest, was pretty sure it wouldn't.)

But then something remarkable happened: My daughter excitedly took down a box of paper dolls and rushed off to play. I went to the kitchen next to her to start prepping dinner, and then 20 minutes later went to check on her progress. She was now doing a puzzle.

"What happened to the dolls?" I asked.

"I was done with that, so I put them away," she shrugged, pointing to the shelf. The doll box was exactly where I had originally put it. What witchcraft was this?

"Did you put it away?" I asked her in disbelief.

"That's where it goes," she replied, not looking up from the puzzle.

In the next couple of weeks, playtime went similarly. It's not a flawless system—I still have to do a little adjusting every day or remind my daughter gently to put something back where it goes on occasion. But cleaning the playroom now takes me about 5-10 minutes a day, and I haven't had to do a major declutter again since.

So maybe I'll never be a perfect Montessori mom, but even doing a sort-of version has led to so many incredible benefits for my children and me. And that joy in motherhood? It has come back in spades.

Want to incorporate some of these principals yourself? Here are some of our favorite playroom additions.

Looking to incorporate some Montessori principles in your playroom? Here are some products to get you started:

EKOBO bamboo step stool

EKOBO bamboo step stool

We love this brilliant multitasker! Flip it one way and it's a handy step stool or flip it over and use it to corral the toys. Either way, it gives little ones a bit of independence and autonomy, while also looking fun and modern.

$29

Yamazaki tower end table with storage

yamazaki tower end table with storage

Every toy will have its own place on this tower shelf. The height is perfect for littles of all ages—have them make a space for each toy and encourage them to pick them up on their own!

$85

Lorena Canals cotton basket

Lorena Canals cotton basket

We have these handwoven baskets in every corner of the house—not just the playroom. They're super handy for keeping dress-up clothes, blocks, or even books neat, tidy and easily accessible for little ones.

$23

Wise Elk lacing fruits

Wise Elk lacing fruits

Toys that engage them for more than a couple of minutes are a welcome addition to the playroom. We love the natural wood and colorful laces of these lacing toys, which help build fine motor skills and problem-solving skills.

$15

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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