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.