Do your kids have a big toy box where all the toys get dumped into at the end of the day?

If you answered yes then this post is for you. I’ll share why this isn’t helping your child and what to do to improve things. If you want to say no, then you can sit back and enjoy the fact that you’re probably doing it right. 

What is wrong with the toy box?

The problem with using one big toy box is that it’s difficult for kids to find what they want. And toys tend to get broken more easily when they’re thrown into one big box. Even though it might seem easier to clean up at the end of the day using this technique is actually not helping your child to learn to be organised.

As a not naturally tidy person, (Marie Kondo, I am not) I’ve always struggled with being tidy although having piles everywhere where is my way of staying organised!

When I discovered Montessori and started applying the philosophies at home, I learned a lot not just about the prepared environment but how being better organised not only saved me time but also my sanity. I actually became better organised and a tidier person because of Montessori!

And I wanted to be sure to pass those traits on to my son.

What also amazed me was the amount of time is saved me. I no longer spent chunks of my day, looking for lost items and misplaced keys or having to tidy up before I could clean. It was a revelation!

Montessori  open shelves in kids classroom

What should I use instead of the toy box?

In a Montessori classroom, they use open shelves, often with trays with different activities on them. Obviously at home. This is a little bit different. You can still have open shelves with activities for the kids to do but they will also want their regular toys too.

Start by spending a little bit of time thinking about how you want to set up the room so that it serves your child in the best way possible. What kind of storage, shelves etc. You can use plastic bins, baskets, boxes or any other kind of container that will help hold similar items.

For example, we used these IKEA bins for my son’s train track, marble run and wooden cars and trains. Because the boxes are all the same I made some labels so that it was easy to distinguish the different boxes.

Ikea bins shelf

It’s too difficult for my child


If your child has some kind of special needs, then yes, it might be difficult. If they don’t then that is just a terrible excuse.

Whenever we had friends come around to play, we often had all of the toys out. Before his friends would leave we would tidy up and I would simply ask that the kids put the right toy in the right box, and if they weren’t sure which box to put it in, to ask my son because he knew where everything belonged. Surprisingly, kids that weren’t being raised as Montessori children got on board and would put things away as we asked them to. Even toddlers can do this with guided help.

Now, I’m not going to lie, if you are starting with an older child, it might take a little while for them to get used to the new routine, but often children are happier because they can find what they want when they want it. And mums are happier because they are spending less time looking for the red toy train or a specific doll.

And if you have a baby/toddlers, get them started on doing this as soon as possible. Sorting is a great skill for them to learn, you have probably got a sorting toy or two or done a few Pinterest sorting activities. This is where you take that skill and turn it into something practical.

small kid playing with Montessori wooden shapes

Do you have too many toys?

One other important thing to keep in mind is that often kids have too many toys. Doing a regular toy cull is going to help you stay on top of everything. Kids don’t actually need a lot of toys, in fact, having too many toys is detrimental to the ability to focus and concentrate.

If a child is only given three toys, then they will spend much longer playing and using each of those toys possibly in rotation. They might even get all three toys out and use them in combined play. And because it’s only three toys it’s also easy to clean up and put away.

Whereas when a child has too many choices, they will often flit from toy to toy without spending much time on any of them. Concentration is negligible and their decision-making skills take a hit too. Plus if they pull everything out, it’s going to take much longer to put everything away.

I recommend having a good clear-out before birthdays and Christmas (or any other gift-giving holiday).

Setting up your toy box free home

Before you set up your prepared environment at home there are a few questions to keep in mind.

Is it easy?

Whatever system you choose to set up think about how easy it is for your child to use? can they take things off the shelf? Can they put things away? Are they able to get easily reach what it is that they want?

Is it age-appropriate?

Depending on the age of your child, you want to set up an environment that will suit their needs. A. Toddler is going to use their environment in a completely different way than a school-age child. If you have more than one child, then you need to look at all their needs. If an older child has toys that the younger one shouldn’t have access to (maybe something like Lego that contains small parts that could be a choking hazard) then you need to have the area set up so that the older child can access what they need without the younger child being able to get into it.

Once you have everything set up and working you will notice a huge difference. The biggest is usually the amount of time nagging, tidying up and putting away and cleaning. It is so much quicker to clean the house if you don’t have to spend an age tidying up first!

What about messy toys/activities?

When it comes to arts and crafts, you might not want to leave paints or crayons, somewhere where little Picasso might create some artwork on the wall, but you also want to encourage your child to draw and paint when they are in the mood for it. In a situation like this have the rest of the activity available such as the drawing board or colouring pad, but then they need to ask you for the crayons or paints so that you can keep an eye on them when they’re being creative.

Will it grow with my child?

This one often gets overlooked. The kid’s environment needs to grow with them, so look at furniture and shelving that can serve them when they are toddlers but will be equally useful when they are older. They are quite likely to grow out of some things, such as a toddler chair and table, but look around, you might come across something that can be adjusted or has been designed with that problem in mind.

Montessori style open shelves in kids room

To Wrap Up

Getting rid of the ‘throw it all in the toy box’ system and setting up something thoughtfully will:

  • Cut down on the nagging and whining which instantly changes the dynamic in the home.
  • Give your child a sense of order.
  • Teach them how to sort and organise their belongings.
  • Make it easier to tidy up, which makes it easier to clean.
  • Spend less time looking for lost and misplaced toys.

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