Make It Holiday!
Montessori Tips To Help You Handle Holiday Gifts
Early childhood expert Blanca Velazquez-Martin explores how to use the Montessori method to prepare yourself (and your home) for all those holiday gifts rolling in–and her secret for finding the toys that will promote joyful learning in the new year.
- Written By
- Blanca Velazquez-Martin
- Sarah Wilson
Inspired by the many benefits that the Montessori method has to offer, you may be working diligently to curate holiday wish lists for your children inspired by your favorite Montessorians and parenting blogs. Yet, the magic of the Montessori method does not come from the toys or learning materials themselves, but from you.
You read that right! The adult is key to the Montessori environment. At home, it is how you choose the toys you offer, the steps you take to prepare the environment where the toys will live, and how you engage to help your child discover the materials you have prepared–what actually brings Montessori to life. So think of holiday gift-giving as an opportunity to truly learn about your child and promote joyful learning in your home throughout the year.
Here’s what to consider:
Shop with your child in mind
Have you ever spent hours researching curated lists of “best picks” for your child’s age, only for the “best pick” to never get touched once it makes it home? You are not alone, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The key is considering the child you have at home before you begin putting things in your cart. When we shop for any other family member, we always think first of their preferences, things they want to learn more about, and even their “dislikes” before we begin shopping. Your child’s preferences may take a bit more effort to decipher, but shopping for them should also honor them and their interests.
Take moments throughout the week to observe your child, the skills they are developing lately, who they are becoming, and what they want to learn more about. Think of what toys your child is currently using the most or what elements of the world seem to be particularly of interest these days. What is something around the home that they are doing or playing with on repeat (even beyond toys!)? What animals or themes are they finding fascinating? What catches their attention the most during walks or outings? What skills do they seem to be mastering? Look for new toys that honor the answers to these questions.
Even the ignored items in your playroom are good sources of information. Maybe the theme was not of interest, perhaps the toy was not presenting a new challenge, or your pick is a hit with children their age but not for yours yet. Take time to observe and reflect on who your child is and their current needs before you take a deep dive into the latest gift blogs, not the other way around.
Clear the shelves! The ones in your home
Think of new toy arrivals as an opportunity to prepare the environment for independence, learning, and concentration, and take steps before the gifts arrive.
In a research study evaluating the impact of the number of toys on the quality of young children’s play, researchers found that an environment with fewer toys led to more engagement, focus, and creativity during play. Considering these findings, and the Montessori approach within the home, this usually means offering from 6-8 toys at any given time for a child to play with (4 or so for a child under 12 months of age). Yes, that’s it! It is in the simplicity that your child will actually find the most inspiration for deeper and longer periods of concentration and play.
In preparation for the big holiday, use your observations to put away all the toys that keep getting ignored, and leave out only the few choices that are of most interest. Place each item on a shelf at your child’s reach and clearly visible instead of buried in a basket. Place it on a surface free of clutter to spark interest and ensure it has a clear spot to go back to when it’s time. No shelf? No problem: clear the bottom section of an existing bookshelf in your living room, or lay out each item on a tray under a console table. The goal is to create an open invitation for your child to work in a way that sparks is simple and clear, without necessarily redesigning your home.
Tip: Keep the current shelf half-empty as the big holiday approaches to build anticipation, joy, and also give you and your child clear order for where the new arrivals go once they come.
Guiding your child into unwrapping learning and discovery
Seasons with gifts are exciting, joyful, and also a bit chaotic. This is all normal and part of the process of discovery for your child and it will become a beautiful memory for your family. As the excitement wears off, you can help your child focus and discover the new toys and offerings more deeply to promote learning and longer periods of concentration. First by simplifying their learning and play space, and then by keeping their interests in mind beyond the holiday.
Mix new gifts that seem to be a hit with some familiar options your child was already loving prior to the holiday. There is no need to remove the opportunities for deep concentration that already exist. Anything extra can be put away… for now.
Spend the next 2-3 weeks observing how their play and interests evolve. Some things will be a hit, some will get ignored, and along the way they will also develop new interests and acquire new skills. From your observations, swap the unpopular items with something from your stash that may be a better fit at the time. As Marie Kondo would ask us: “does it spark joy?” Joy in your child’s learning looks like prolonged play, repetition, or deep interest and concentration. If they’ve been playing with it, it stays… in my home sometimes for as long as two months! Rotating toys is not about creating a specific theme or following a strict schedule. It is about creating an environment within your home with your child in mind, following their unique interests, pace, and needs.
The bottom line for the holidays, and beyond
As you make decisions for how to navigate gift choices, how to optimize your child’s play space, and even consider incorporating Montessori-inspired toy rotations, remember that the most important “rule” is to follow what feels good for your specific family. Just as I suggest you focus on your child’s interests before filling your cart, prioritize your family’s needs, values, and goals as you consider any new approach to guide your child at home. In the end, the most important Montessori-inspired gift you can give your child is your respect for their concentration, how you honor their interests, and the way in which you follow their lead above anyone else’s top-picks.
Inspired by her journey as a certified Early Intervention specialist, research professional, clinician and parent, Blanca launched Whole Child Home as a space to share some of this research and leave you with evidence-based information that you can use to help support your child’s development at home.
Whole Child Home integrates inspiration from the Montessori philosophy. The Montessori method is based on scientific observation, and now has research to support its principles as ways to enrich many areas of child development—of the whole child.