Many totschool or homeschool preschool parents switch out their trays weekly — or even daily. I often feel almost pressured to do so when I scroll through Instagram or Pinterest. If you love getting creative and making themed activities that will only be used for a few days, go for it. If you (like me) prefer to get longer use out of your materials, don’t worry about it so much. There are actually tons of benefits to keeping the same materials on your shelves for longer periods of time — I often go two or three months without switching ANYTHING on our shelves.
Reasons to Keep Your Materials Out For Longer Periods of Time
1. Many families who are providing learning opportunities at home have children of different ages. In our family, L is newly 3 years old, while N is just 15 months. I have often found that just when L begins to tire of one activity, N becomes interested in it. If I put it away, then N does not have the opportunity to explore it just when she has finally reached the right level of development to make use of it.
2. Montessori-inspired materials often work by isolating the variable they are teaching. For example, the first purpose of this penguin matching work from Welcome to Mommyhood is visual discrimination — matching the pictures of the penguins to each other. Once that has been completely mastered, you can begin to explore other aspects of the work. For example, now we talk about the names of penguins, distinguishing characteristics, etc. Introducing those details when the work is first put out on the shelves would confuse the learning process. Now that it has been on our shelves for a while, we can explore other aspects and use it to teach other concepts.
3. Leaving materials out for longer periods also allows the opportunity to teach extensions to the work. For example, L mastered the Pink Tower long ago. Each time she builds it, she continues to perfect her work in the smallest details. Many Montessori materials have extensions to the original work — different ways to teach the same concept. The extension may still be teaching the progression from largest to smallest, but it challenges the child to display that progression in a different way using different skills. If I had put the Pink Tower away after a week, we would not have that opportunity.
4. Coming back to materials that the child has already mastered can be a source of comfort to her. After being challenged all day with new works, it is nice to come back to something you already know. I see this happening a lot in our house with Practical Life works — particularly those that involve transferring materials from one container to another. Yes, L has probably already mastered transferring the penguins with tongs from one container to another, but that is now the draw for her. She can do it. The repetition of the work is relaxing to her. I often compare this situation to that of an adult who loves to read. You have already learned how to read. You practiced it for years until you mastered it. And now you do it for fun.
Even when I was teaching in a classroom, I would only rotate works at the beginning of each month. I wouldn’t take away every single work, but probably about 3 or 4 from each section of the classroom would be replaced with activities that went along with the monthly theme.
Sometimes you do not have the space in your home to keep a wide variety of works out for months at a time, and so you may need to switch it up a bit more often. But instead of changing EVERYTHING that is available at the same time, try switching just one or two activities per week. See how your child can go further with the materials that are already on the shelf. It will be less work for you, and potentially more growth for your child.