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  • Babies and toddlers get overstimulated when there are many things laid out for them.
    PHOTO BY Deanne Bañares-Dimacali

    I stood overwhelmed in the midst of it all. It was the morning after my son’s birthday party, and the toys had taken over our already compact living room. Where was I going to place all of this?

    I watched my son, and I could see that he, too, was overwhelmed. He showed excitement, of course, but he was just jumping from one toy to another without really engaging with them. I didn’t want us to live in a toy store, especially since we are all going to welcome a baby girl into the family very soon. I knew I had to find a way to make the play area work for everyone in the family.

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    Useful Montessori and RIE tips for a play area for toddlers

    And so, I read up. I took cues from other mothers, bookmarked parenting articles, and collected enough books to create a library. I found the Montessori and RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) approaches to be the most beautiful as they make so much sense for both the parents and the child. Montessori and RIE are all about respect for the child’s development, rhythm, and interests. Here are some of the tips that I applied to create our functional yet straightforward play area for toddlers:

    1.Less is more.

    Babies and toddlers get overstimulated when there are many things laid out for them. Minimalism is best for children because they learn how to appreciate the toys they have and give them more attention. Young children actually need very little to keep busy. My son, who is 2 years old, has only eight toys out at a time.

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    2. Choose toys that engage.

    The best toys for children are those that let them do the work and not the other way around. Those that make sounds and lights are not what they need (they have the same effect on a child’s brain as a screen). Examples of passive toys are puzzles, blocks, tiles, and art materials, to name a few. The key is to let the child work with the object.

    3. Make the furniture child-friendly.

    An important Montessori principle is that everything should be accessible for the children. This encourages independence and confidence.

    Keep the shelves low enough for them to reach on their own. Make the play area beautiful, orderly, and safe, too. That way, both parents and children can enjoy the play area.
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    4. Respect each child’s developmental need.

    For those who have more than one child, make space in the play area for each of their needs. The younger ones can have their place in the lower shelf while the older ones get the higher spot. Determine their needs: younger ones can play with sensory toys while older ones can work with toys that develop fine motor skills

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    5. Surround your child with books.

    Each book is a world unto its own. If you have 10 of them, imagine how many worlds your children can dive into.

    Make books available in the rooms they most frequent so that they keep occupied fruitfully. I find that my son actually spends more time with books than with toys.

    It took a lot of research and creativity to create this kind of play area — a beautiful and effective one — in a small space. It’s only been two weeks since we rearranged everything and I already see the benefits. 

    My son enjoys each toy and book prepared for him. My husband and I don’t have to clean up much, and our eyes can rest easy (no plastic toys with loud colors!). Even our soon-to-arrive baby girl already has space for her own toys (the pink mat is where we will place her play gym). A thoughtful play area is truly a gift for the whole family. Try it out for your own home — you’ll probably start to enjoy spending your time there, too.


    Deanne Bañares-Dimacali is a young housewife who will soon be a mother of two and a dedicated writer. Hoping to create a more thoughtful and storied life, she pens her day-to-day musings on marriage, motherhood, and womanhood on her blog Classy Musings.

    Want to get something off your chest? Or share a slice of your parenting journey with fellow moms? Send it to our Facebook Messenger or email at smartparenting2013@gmail.com with the subject "Real Parenting." Join us at the Smart Parenting Village here.

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