Making Sense of All These Toys

The holiday gifts have been opened but maybe you still have some of the boxes laying around…That’s a good thing! Empty boxes are a perfect way to start organizing the loot that your kids were so excited to receive before it creeps into all of your living space. It’s time to take stock of what’s there and find the best way to group, store and display your children’s toys so that they get the most use and you get to keep your house in order (oh, wait—does that exist for parents?)
Here is another great article on rotating toys from a mom and teacher blogger.

A good place to start, if you haven’t already done this, is to first pack away the toys your child no longer uses. If  you think these toys have only lost their luster temporarily, store them away to be brought back out in a couple of months when the winter doldrums have made everyone bored. Ready to say goodbye to forgotten toys? If you have the room to store them, consider donating to the next Parent Talk Sale in May, or donate the ones in great condition now to a worthy cause like A Room To Grow.

Now that you’re looking at only those things your children are using, get started…categorize. I classify toys into categories based on the way my children can play with them. There are self-explanatory toys—they can go to these and engage independently without any adult intervention or explanation. These can be large or small, but their physical placement and rotation is key! The second category is toys that requires set-up, or adult supervision. Storage is the most important factor for these.

Smaller self-explanatory toys can be musical instruments, certain puzzles, stuffed animals or even a basket of favorite books. My kids do best with these when they are visible and easily accessible, like on a low table, bench or shelf. The rule of thumb with these is that less is more! Rotating self explanatory toys is very effective; swap them out when they are napping or in the evening when you’re doing a clean sweep.

This blogger illustrates how she creates a Montessori environment for her little ones.

For larger, self-explanatory toys your child will stand to use (easel, kitchen, workbench, puppet theater) choose a few locations in your home where you spend time and wouldn’t mind seeing these. For example, I opted to put the new wooden dollhouse in a corner of our living room rather than the plastic Black and Decker tool bench. (Eventually, one of the less sightly large plastic toys will end up in its place because rotation is key!) Maybe you can fit an easel in your kitchen where you can supervise marker use, or find a corner of your child’s room for the tent to be ‘permanently set up.’

This grandfather’s blog describes the joy he finds in woodworking.

By finding nooks in different rooms of the house for larger interactive toys, you allow your child to focus more intently than he might if that toy was lined up against the playroom wall amid many other options. Now, once you have placed these large toys, gather all of their accessories, then decide what size container you need so that it becomes a play area that is organized and easy to access.

When placing the large toys, you can go a step further to enhance play by grouping complementary toys nearby. For example, place a basket of baby dolls and a high chair near the kitchen, or the cash register and a shopping cart. Consider having a table and chairs or a few floor pillows near your puppet theater for audience members. Maybe your dollhouse would double as an animal hospital; you could even group small figurines into categories for play with the dollhouse and store them in see-through plastic shoeboxes.

Another great resource for playroom ideas!
In a couple of months, change it up! Move the dollhouse into a bedroom and put the easel back into the playroom etc. I can’t tell you how much more life has been brought to certain toys when given a simplechange of scenery.

For toys that require set-up, supervision or explanation, containers are still key, but location is not as important.  These may be puzzles, games, craft kits, paints, or anything that has many small pieces that you don’t always want your child to be able to access. My sister has four children and ran an in-home daycare for years. I marvel at the way she goes to a closet and whisks out a box or plastic tote of toys that ‘go together’ (like Polly Pockets with their accessories or a magnetic scene with the magnets that belong to it or a sensory bin of aquarium rocks with jewels and pretend fish.) In this way, it’s like she is presenting her kids with a ‘new’ toy because they don’t see it all the time but she decides when it gets used and controls the pieces getting lost by putting it all back in its box, up and away. She does this with such ease and speed that it looks effortless!

This is a very inspiring article about organizing for play!

It takes time to group these ‘kits’ together but I think the bigger challenge lies in finding containers. My sister re-uses take-out dishes with lids, vinyl zippered bags that sheets and blankets come in, even coffee containers. If you’re not using a clear box, just remember to label the contents. The nice thing about toys that require set-up is that you can store them away anywhere. Maybe you have an extra shelf in your linen closet or pantry or laundry room. Chances are, when you have the time to sit down with your child and show them one of these toys, you can take a minute to go into the next room to put your hands on it!

If you still aren’t sure how to best go about organizing your child’s toys, just follow their cues. Watch them play and see what objects they group together and what gets totally ignored.  Playing with toys can be analogous to shopping. Think about yourself and how you prefer to shop. Most of us are overwhelmed in a large department store and prefer the experience and place more value on items in a small boutique. The time and thought you place into categorizing, displaying and storing your child’s toys will pay off. It’s not only rewarding to see your kids engaging with things you’ve given them, but it also makes life as a parent a little bit easier when they are busy!

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About the author:
Liza d’Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She studied theater and education at Boston, then went on to do community theater while teaching kindergarten and first grade. Liza now lives in Needham with her family and stays home with her children, ages two and three.


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