Today's post is in response to a question from a reader who asked whether children who are guests in our home have access to the materials.
If we have many guests at once (such as a playgroup) or guests that are too young to understand I use a gate to cordon off the school room. That is a luxury that I have because our materials have their own room in the house.
Now that the boys are 5 and 6, most of their guests can follow basic instructions. Even when they have a small group over I can simply tell their friends that they can play in the school room but not to use the things on the shelves. There is a lot of nice floor space in there and it would be a shame if they couldn't use it to play.
If the boys have only one particular playmate at a time I tell the playmate that they can play in the school room but if they want to use anything on the shelves they should ask me so I can show them how to use it. The same goes for the boys' older cousins when they stay with us. My boys usually use rugs when they work and so any guests use them as well. Also, whenever possible I let the boys be the ones to do the demonstrating.
The most frequent visiting children we have are my own nieces and nephews. When they are so small that they are immobile, I don't have to do anything. When they are toddlers it is easiest to put up the gate. Now that they are preschoolers I am all too happy to show them things in the school room. There are some things that they know they can explore on their own, such as continent boxes. They have been told to ask if they want to see something new. The boys have been given the responsibility of alerting me if mayhem ensues. I do have one niece who set a record for getting the most things off of the shelf in the one minute it took for the boys to come tell me. I'm okay with that. She's my niece and I love her more than the materials. As it was, it was only a mess and nothing was damaged. She helped clean up and knows not to do that again.
My advice is to relax and let the kids have as much responsibility as they can handle. Put away anything that would break your heart if it were damaged, and if you know you are not going to be able to supervise put up a gate (or sheets, or turn your shelves around, etc.,).