What do toddlers love to do more than anything else? They love to DUMP everything on the floor. If they can get the bin off the shelf, then you can bet that whatever is in the bin will end up strewn across the rug. What begins as the “Dropsy” game (dropping items off of the high chair tray, or out of the stroller) becomes a full-on battle of wills when infants become mobile. Sure, they are exploring cause and effect and oftentimes, the bin is more interesting than what is in the bin, but that doesn’t change the result; a toddler room can get really messy.
This is one reason that it extremely important that the rest of the room is very orderly and well-kept. The furniture arrangement (book shelves, tables, chairs, cribs, etc.) should be carefully laid out in a way that supports a basic sense of order throughout the room. Using furniture to carve out small spaces and to ensure safe play spaces is also important which means that adults must have a clear view of the entire space, while the children’s view only needs to be divided into small play areas.
An orderly classroom also supports the young child’s need for emotional safety and consistency. Imagine a child goes looking for her favorite shovel. Ensuring that the shovel is returned to its place in the classroom helps the child feel safe, that her expectations are met, and she can consistently find what she needs, when she needs it. It is helpful to keep fewer items in each bin (4 balls rather than 14) and fewer bins on the shelves. Organized materials support a child’s ability to play independently and eases up the teacher’s roles and responsibilities during play as well as during clean-up time. But, no matter how many bins, baskets, and boxes you have and no matter what is in them, they will get dumped. Cleaning up the dumped toys several times throughout the day is the Sisyphean task of the toddler teacher. It simply never ends.