Monday, 5 March 2018

Are Montessori Toddlers Unicorns? (Helping Your Toddler Clean Up)

Before beginning to implement Montessori in my parenting, I never would have expected my one-year-old to be capable of helping to keep order in our home.

Aren't one-year-olds just mess-making tornados, bent on doing the exact opposite to a well-ordered playroom? Isn't a shelf of small materials, organized into pretty baskets, just asking for trouble?

Surprisingly, no.

Are Montessori Toddlers Unicorns?

You may have heard about Montessori toddlers returning work to shelves and wonder how this is possible because your toddler cannot begin to grasp the concept.

Let me explain how it goes, and no, it does not always come easily, or quickly.

When they are very little you begin with modelling, making sure to be calm and positive about the process. They just dumped the puzzle pieces and walked away? You joyfully narrate the process of placing the items back in the basket, encouraging your child to help, and put it back in the rightful place.

If you must share a space between a younger and older child, you make sure to place delicate or off-limits materials up high or in containers that the younger child cannot get into. Because, truthfully, things are going to be dumped. Especially when they are newly mobile.

The need to dump is real.

But their ability to learn how to contribute to clean up is real, too.

Eventually, you'll start to notice they respond more quickly when you encourage them to clean up, and every once in a while, they will do so without instruction.

That doesn't mean they respond and do it every time. And it doesn't mean you have to hover over them as they play, making sure they clean up every little thing as they go - give them freedom. But when the concentration and the work is over, I have found I have five options. . .

Cleaning Up with Toddlers Can Go One of Five Ways

Use force: drag him over by the ear and force him to contribute. Probably not the most effective with any one-year-old, and definitely not effective with Benedict, as he is extremely strong-willed and will not do anything unless he feels like it's his idea.

Yell: again, probably not the most effective avenue with a very small child who doesn't really understand the concept of responding to demands.

Do it myself: assuming that he is not, in fact, capable of learning, or perhaps give-in because parenting can be tireless.

Leave it: and probably clean it up myself after the toddler is sleeping or otherwise occupied, teaching him that messes magically right themselves behind him.

Joyfully model: and joyfully model, and joyfully model.

What Joyfully Modelling Might Look Like
"Benedict, when you are done with a material you need to put it back where you got it from. Let us go back to the table. See, these pieces go back in the bowl." 
Joyfully continue modeling even if your child is not interested in helping. In Benedict's case, he may not be interested in helping pick up and often walks away from me, but if I keep encouraging him and making it joyful, he will always help a little, even if it is just at the very end to carry part of the work to the shelf.

It really helps to break it down into bite-sized pieces. For example, with the Perfection game:
"Let's clean up the popping game pieces, Benedict. Can you get the ones that fell on the floor? You carry the bowl and mommy will carry the rest to the shelf."

It went this way for a long time with Jerome and he now puts works back when he is done, sometimes with a gentle reminder.

As a disclaimer, the same cannot always be said about the bigger messes that are sometimes made with the imaginative play toys, but I continue to patiently and joyfully (most of the time) model clean up, and am seeing postive results in my children.

I have also found that if a mess is continuously too daunting for the kids to clean up on their own, it has been helpful to remove some of the available material. For example, we have a lot of Lego, but when they have the entire collection dumped out, they have a hard time cleaning it up on their own.

Paring down what they have available to a more manageable portion, has made cleanup much more approachable.

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I would also love to hear any suggestions for posts you would like me to write about. And if you are interested in following along in our daily adventures, follow us on Instagram where I post daily.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer


  1. Hi! I highly enjoy reading your blog and this post was really helpful. To make a suggestion, this new format makes it difficult to read on mobile which is a shame since I mainly access it through Instagram. Maybe you can find a way to make it mobile-friendly?
    Thank you for sharing your Montessori journey!:)

    1. Thank you for your suggestion! If you mean the Featured Posts across the top, I just moved that. Definitely should have checked what it looked like in the mobile view!

      Thank you so much for following along!