How to Choose Toys Your Kids Will Love

One of the things parents are often unprepared for once they start having kids is the role toys will play in everyone’s lives.

Obviously we know and understand that kids will play with toys – that’s what kids do! But navigating constant toy marketing at every turn, little hands tugging on your shirt pleading for the latest fun toy on the market, and the inevitable playroom messes that come from saying “yes” too often to those pleading requests can be more than a little overwhelming for any parent! Continue reading “How to Choose Toys Your Kids Will Love”

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Cheers to the Modern Day Dad (Thank You!)

Let’s be honest, there is nothing sexier than a good dad! You know the kind I’m talking about.

One who is excited to leave work to come home and see you and the kids. Who eagerly took birthing classes with you.

One who has changed just as many diapers as you, and who proudly wears their baby through the grocery store.

The kind of dad who doesn’t think that it’s your job to do everything. One who sees marriage as a true partnership and approaches everything as team.

The dad who offers to take the kids on the weekend to give you some down time, and who folds laundry with you while you drink wine and watch TV after the kids are in bed.

The same dad who doesn’t care if the house is a mess because he knows it’s just impossible to get things done on some days, and who always thinks of your needs and the kids’ needs before his own.

Some of you may be reading this and wondering to yourself, “Where can I find these magical unicorn dads?!”

But we live in a day and age where so many men are really embracing their roles as dads and what that can mean in families.

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Sadly, 25 years ago it was hard to find dads like I described, but today it’s becoming more and more common to see men step up in ways like never before.

For some, being an involved and hands-on dad may be super challenging, not because it doesn’t come naturally, but because that isn’t what they were modeled growing up.

All the responsibility fell on mom for everything else: the cooking, cleaning, driving the kids everywhere, laundry, packing lunches, etc.

Thankfully, this was not the case with my Dad. He worked just as hard as my mom and often made sacrifices in his career to be there for us kids, so my mom could accelerate her career.

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He didn’t miss a parent teacher conference, he came home early to watch almost every one of my sports games (which often meant staying up super late to finish the work he cut short during the day), he played basketball with me on countless nights after dinner, and loaded all four of us kids into the family minivan to take us grocery shopping on Saturday mornings so my mom could have a break.

He kissed my mom every night and loudly expressed to us how much he loved her. My parents always modeled for me a relationship built on teamwork, trust and love. This is so important and shaped me into the person I am today!

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So this Father’s Day we salute all the Modern Day Dads out there!! Those dads who are hands-on, help with the chores, support their wives whether they are stay at home moms or working moms, find balance in their marriage, and strive to be just as involved as mom.

Thank you for working hard to provide for your family whether it be working a day job, a night job, two jobs, or staying home with the kids so mom can work.

Thank you for pouring the best of yourselves into loving your families well.

We love, honor, appreciate, and celebrate YOU!

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5 Simple Ways to Create a Mindful Playroom

We’ve all been there: you’ve managed to throw together dinner for the kids, send them off to play long enough to clean up the kitchen, and as you make your way to get them off to bed you discover that Toys ‘R Us seems to have exploded all over the playroom floor, halfway up the stairs, and everywhere else in between!

Taking deep, calming breaths you try not blow a gasket, instead patiently asking your kids to help you clean up. Oftentimes this is met with a fair amount of resistance from our little ones, so we wanted to offer a few creative suggestions to help you facilitate meaningful play in your home while doing your best to minimize the clutter and chaos.

Children learn best through play, so it’s super important to organize their toys in a way that fosters and encourages creative meaningful play. Check out the following tips to do just that, while keeping things manageable.

Less is More

This is true with so many things, but especially when it comes to toys. When kids have too many options they are less creative, get overwhelmed easily and often complain about being bored (despite having so much to do right at their fingertips!)

With so many options, kids lose focus and aren’t able to concentrate long enough to use their imagination and learn.

Every few weeks take note of what they are and are not playing with consistently. If it hasn’t been touched in a week, then store it away for later use, rent it out to another family using TheSharingExchange.com or donate it.

Ask yourself questions like, “Is this item adding value to my child’s life in a positive way?” or “Would my child miss this if it went missing?”

When we maintain a mindful playroom, we are giving our kids extra space to be innovative, resourceful and creative.

Owning fewer toys also often results in fewer conflicts between siblings and friends.

Keep Toys in a Central Location

A defined physical space for toys is often best. For example, all toys stay in bedrooms and designated play areas with no exception. I say this for three reasons.

For starters, once the play space is full then there is no room for more. You can easily practice the “one in and one out” rule, which will help you limit the excess and practice mindful consumption.

Secondly, it is important to maintain some adult space in your home for your own sanity.  No one wants toys creeping into every nook and cranny of the house!

Isn’t it the worst when you are running to tend to a crying baby and you step on a Lego in the middle of the night?! Ouch!

Lastly, keeping toys within a confined space helps kids with boundaries and mental organization. If your office supplies were scattered all over the house, when you sat down at your desk to work you would feel overwhelmed and unproductive.

Similarly, kids will often feel the same way when their toys are scattered all over the place and they don’t know where to find the things they’re looking for.

Get Creatively Organized

Instead of storing all toys in a large toy box, organize them into smaller groups and store in horizontal shelving.

Make sure your storage solution is down at your child’s eye level. This gives your kids easy access to reach what they need. And, when toys are stored down on their level, most kids are more likely to help with cleanup.

Pro tip: always make sure your furniture is safely attached to the wall so nothing comes crashing down on your little one.

Finally, make sure your bins or storage containers are a manageable size so your kiddos can pick up & carry things back to where they belong.

If you make them too heavy or bulky, they’ll have to rely on you to help clean up. We want to encourage independent helpers, not co-dependent helpers!

Using clear bins is also a great solution so they can easily see what is inside. Even better? Store a single item on the shelf so it highlights the item. Again, less clutter equals higher quality play. Modeling for our children how to arrange toys helps them learn to respect & value their things, and respect the clean up process instead of randomly scattering them all about.

Establish Expectations Around Cleanup

Around age three kids begin to understand the concept of boundaries as it relates to their belongings.

In our family we have a rule that, if you play with one thing it must be cleaned up and put away before another activity or game can be taken out.

Establishing guidelines like this provides a healthy amount of structure, which leads to more intentional play.

The playroom should be a space to learn, grow and imagine, so when it is time to clean up it is helpful to give clean up warnings to ease the transition away from playtime. This shows your child you respect their boundaries and their time.

For example, “In 5 minutes it will be time to clean up and get ready for dinner.”

I like to usually give a 10 minute, 5 minute, 2 minute and 1 minute warning. Even setting a timer can help some kids who thrive on predictability.

Almost all children like to know what lies ahead, so clean up warnings can help them gear down and start thinking about the next part of their day.

In my personal experience, I have seen less tantrums and resistance to clean up if you can give appropriate clean up warnings.

As an exception, if your child has worked for hours building a masterful block tower or Lego creation, it is ok to let it stay out for next time.

Talk this through with your child and ask them when they plan to revisit it. How would it make them feel if they had to clean it up now?

Since it obviously can’t stay out forever, talk this through and set an expectation for when it will be cleaned up.

Example, “I know you have worked hard on this, so let’s leave it here that way you can come back and play with it tomorrow. At the end of day tomorrow we can clean it up together.”

Rotate Your Children’s Play Things

If you are seeking to cultivate a truly intentional playroom with a “less is more” mentality then you might want to consider rotating your kids’ toys to keep things fresh and interesting.

Renting new toys from another family in your neighborhood is also an option. The Sharing Exchange™ was created just for this purpose.

Instead of always buying things new, a toy exchange platform like The Sharing Exchange allows you to access an endless amount of toys, games and activities from other families in your neighborhood without the headache (or cost!) of owning everything.

Rent something for a week or two and when the novelty wears off, send it back to the owner. This teaches our youngest learners how to borrow and share. Modeling this concept for your kids is invaluable! Just like a library, rent, play, return!

Respecting other people’s stuff is such a great lesson to teach your kids. If you are not local to San Diego and you don’t have access to The Sharing Exchange™ (yet!), look up toy libraries in your community or organize a play date with a toy swap.

We hope that armed with these tips and suggestions in mind you can now create a fun, safe, and intentional play space for your active learners!

So much growth happens through play, so get down on the floor and play with your little ones and watch their imaginations run wild!

Ps: Have you taken our quiz, “What is Your Child’s Play Personality”? This is a great way to better understand how your child plays! We even offer a free guide with suggestions for different toys and activities curated specifically for your child’s play personality! Click here to take our quiz.

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Leading by Example: Teaching Our Kids to Borrow & Share

We’ve all seen (and probably experienced!) it before: screaming fits and tantrums thrown by unhappy children who have just been asked to share their beloved toys.

Bickering back and forth between siblings over whose turn it is to choose a show.

Crocodile tears spilled over having to return greatly-loved books back to the library.

Learning the concepts of borrowing and sharing isn’t always easy or fun for children and their parents, but it’s a necessary step in a child’s development.

When it comes to teaching kids to borrow and share with good attitudes, it’s important for parents to start early and understand that the most powerful place to start is leading by example.

As our kids grow and develop they are looking to us to for guidance, and our words and behaviors are what will shape the standards of expectation they have for themselves and others.

When they see us setting a strong example of sharing, caring and helping within our communities the likelihood that they will follow in our footsteps is so much greater!

A Fresh Approach

No one is perfect – not even us parents! It’s important to remember that as you parent your children and to be honest about your mistakes and imperfections so they grow up holding themselves to a standard of grace over perfection.

Let them see you apologize for saying or doing things that weren’t the best as you seek to make things right.

This will build trust between you and your child, as well as show them what humility looks like in action. Doing so will better equip them to be teachable as they grow.

Instead of striving to be the perfect parent and turning every moment into a textbook learning opportunity for your child, we propose that you turn each moment into an opportunity to speak and act with purposeful intention.

As you go about your days, engage in conversations with your child that will help them begin to see what healthy sharing and borrowing looks like.

At The Sharing Exchange, we believe that not everything needs to be shared and it’s okay to teach kids to be discerning about what they are and are not comfortable sharing or lending.

In order for kids to develop a healthy appreciation for the place that sharing and borrowing can have in their lives and in the community, they should never be forced to share something they aren’t comfortable with sharing.

Successful sharing and borrowing requires cooperation, which is a building block of healthy relationships, trust and community.

If your child feels like you have both worked together to decide what and when to share, they will feel respected and valued, which will create positive emotions surrounding the idea of sharing and borrowing.

Consider Your Language

The language you use every day has a huge influence on how your child sees and thinks about things. They are like little sponges and work really hard to process and absorb all the language they hear each day.

The word “share” can be a tricky and abstract concept to a young child, so we recommend using the phrase “take a turn.”

Empowering children the the language skills necessary to be successful in social sharing situations is so important! Regularly work on incorporating phrases like, “I would like a turn,” “I am not finished yet,” or “May I please have a turn?” into your regularly vocabulary when communicating with both your children and others.

Equipping your children with the skills to negotiate will help build their self-esteem, which will lead to them feeling comfortable giving someone else a turn.

Consider Their Age

It’s important to take your child’s age into consideration as you work through teaching them about sharing and borrowing.

You should absolutely begin laying the groundwork at an early age, but don’t expect a 2 or 3 year old to consistently and willingly offer up their cherished toys anytime you ask. Give and take is very hard at this age, as they are just beginning to understand the concept of “mine vs. yours.”

It’s not until between the ages of 4 and 7 that kids really start to grasp the concepts of empathy, generosity and kindness.

Other Considerations

You’ll also want to take care to effectively communicate to your child that there are two different types of sharing: lending and giving. If you try to frame all sharing and borrowing as one in the same, your child may wind up confused and distrusting.

Lastly, we highly encourage you to begin practicing regular generosity if you don’t already do so. Make a big to-do about every time you practice generosity in your own life, inviting your child to see what you’ve done, why you made the choices you did and what kind of result it led to.

A child will give as he is given to. If your kiddo sees you being generous with your time, attention, affection and belongings, the chances are much greater that he or she will follow in your footsteps as they get older!

Some Ideas to Get You Started

If you’re ready to start getting intentional about how you’re teaching your children to borrow and share on a daily basis, here are a few practical, no-fuss ideas to help you get started.

1. Plan a trip to the library

Invite your kiddo out for a date to the library and let them choose a few books to borrow. When you go to check the books out ask the librarian to explain the “rules” to your child so the expectations are very clear that your child will be allowed to take the books home to enjoy, but he or she must take good care of them and return them within the allotted timeframe. When the due date arrives, invite your child to be the one who gets to return the borrowed items.

2. Invite your child to cook with you

As you both set about whipping up a family meal together, use language that encourages the idea of sharing. Examples: “Would you please pass me that measuring cup,” “Let’s share responsibilities. You can make the toast and I’ll butter the toast,” or “May I have a turn grating the cheese?”

3. Have a purge party with your child

Schedule some time to go through your child’s clothing or toys with him or her, and together decide which things should be kept and which ones are no longer needed.

Gather up the stuff that is no longer in use and either rent it out to a family in the neighborhood who could use it or donate to a local charity.

4. Set up a sharing playdate

Invite a few of your child’s friends over for a playdate and ask them to bring a few of their own toys to share. When everyone has arrived label each person’s toys so they don’t get confused.

Then, pull out a timer and explain that everyone gets to choose one toy to play with for 5-10 minutes and when the timer rings, it will be time to trade toys.

At the end of the party you might consider seeing if each child would like to take home a borrowed or rented toy to reiterate the concept of properly caring for borrowed items and returning them at a later date.

For San Diego parents, The Sharing Exchange is a great place to facilitate the borrowing/sharing/renting of toys within your community. At the end of your ‘sharing party’ take two minutes to list your toys on the online marketplace then swap renting with a friend. This way no one will forget whose is whose and will also help keep track of when it is due back!

Even if you set your rental price at $5, it shows your child that we are “borrowing” and it will be due back soon! Very similar to the checkout process at the library.

No matter what approach or methods you choose, always remember to approach teaching your children with understanding, patience and kindness.

Sharing is hard, so celebrate the successes and work together to create a caring and supportive home environment. Developing a healthy ability to share will only improve as your child finds success and has positive experiences!

When you focus on doing the right things yourself your child will learn through osmosis and be well on his or her way to being a generous, compassionate human being.

Ps: Have you taken our quiz, “What is your child’s play personality”? This is a great way to better understand how your child plays! We even offer a free guide with suggestions for different toys and activities curated specifically for your child’s play personality! Click here to take our quiz.

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