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Can a Playroom Makeover Make My Kids Over?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

------------By Karen Barrow------------

Simone Davies, a teacher and author, helped make over my kids’ playroom using Montessori educational principles like creating a sense of peace and instilling autonomy in children.

Our playroom was crammed with blinking and buzzing toys, neatly stored puzzles and games, shelves full of picture books, well-used baby dolls, dress-up costumes and artwork hanging on the walls. It seemed like paradise for our three young children.

Until Simone Davies turned it upside down.

Ms. Davies, a Montessori teacher in the Netherlands and author of “The Montessori Toddler,” spends her days teaching parents and children how to apply Montessori principles at home. Just as Marie Kondo is helping people declutter and organize, Ms. Davies helps parents turn homes into places that are more functional for the family, instill autonomy in the smallest members of the household and create a greater sense of peace — all in the Montessori spirit.

She came to my New Jersey house a few weeks ago with the intention of showing me how to create a room that engaged my children rather than one that catered to my notions of what makes a good play space. I was skeptical: What could possibly be done that would make a noticeable improvement in our lives?

Developed in the late 1800s by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, the Montessori method used educational approaches to help children with emotional and mental disabilities. Today, it has become a widely accepted instructional system that aims to give any child more ownership of their learning.

“In traditional education, the teacher stands in the front and leads the class,” said Ms. Davies. “In a child-led approach, we let them learn through play and their interests.” The goal in applying these principles at home? More autonomous and engaged children; less time spent helping children figure out what to do to fill their time.

At home, “we support our children to make discoveries for themselves, we give them freedom and limits, and we enable success by setting up our homes so they can take part in our daily lives,” Ms. Davies writes.

The playroom before had shelves lined with books and many toys that stayed out in the room at all times.

As part of the makeover, Ms. Davies cleared the bookshelves of most of its contents, including all of the books.

It was this latter part of the promise that most appealed to me: My kids would play without needing my intervention? It sounded great in theory. My husband and I have three kids, ages 7, 4 and 1, and we both commute to work for demanding jobs, with an au pair and grandparents in the mix. I had a place for everything but with so many different people in charge of the children, I often found it frustrating when things weren’t where they were “supposed to be.” But if the kids could handle the responsibilities of keeping a tidy playroom, maybe that frustration could be alleviated.

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