by Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy
Have you ever looked at your child’s play area and wondered if aliens have landed? Things may be scattered every which way, dropped as if they fell from a spaceship.
I know it’s sometimes challenging and difficult being a parent. You want to buy new holiday gifts, but where will you put them? There seems to be no space left.
First, take an inventory of your child’s play area. What is your child playing with now? What is not being used? Keep the “now” in the current inventory and put the “not” in storage.
What can be added to extend play to make your child’s play time activities with toys even more meaningful and productive? The extensions can include simple things like a bridge to add to a community play set, some accessories for doll play, tea set for a tea party or add in wooden blocks that can become anything your child wants them to be.
At the same time, you want to help them organize their playthings to avoid clutter that interferes with playtime.
Start by creating a layout on a piece of paper of the play space. A plan on a piece of paper can often be helpful to creating the best storage plan. What is possible within the confines of the room that matches your child’s age and playthings?
The traditional toy chest has been a very good way to store things and is very decorative, but it can also pose some problems that we need to take steps to prevent. The toy chest can be a hazard if it has no safety latch. Be sure it has one. If the chest is too deep, the child has trouble reaching the toys and makes access to them difficult. Deep chests may be better for items that are not used often and use shelves instead to make retrieval and replacement easier.
Try these other toy storage ideas:
A hammock for stuffed animals and dolls
A small tent can hide a lot
Bags for soft toys
Different-sized boxes for organizing different-sized items on shelves, in
stacks, under a bed, in a closet, in a storage room, or in the garage
Easily accessible shelves can be very helpful
Orange crates or stacking units work well for books, tapes, and games
Plastic tubs and containers are safe, sturdy, and great for puzzle pieces
and art supplies
Simple containers and clean coffee cans with lids for small items
You and your child can also decorate simple plastic containers. Use color codes, stickers, and labels to help your child easily find the best place to put things.
Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori educational program, believed that children should participate in putting things away. This is a helpful skill that is practical and teaches responsibility. Mom does not have to do it all.
Your child needs time and encouragement to learn to put things away. Taking things out is easy, but putting them back is not so easy. Make this process an important task that is a natural part of play. Be sure to leave enough time at the end of playtime for the transition of putting things away and moving on to another activity.
Recycle your child’s playthings. They play with only one item at a time, and too much stuff is overwhelming. Use the suggestions above to pack the surplus in right storage cartons and bring selected things out again in a few months. The child will think it’s all new and play experiences will be refreshed.
Remember: your child is learning habits every day that last a lifetime. Take the time to create a safe, easy-to-use, and enjoyable play space. This is a good way to not only help your child make the most of playtime, but it will also nurture the habit to take better care of toys and playthings. Who knows, the habit may spread to other things they do as well.
My book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, will provide more details on products and how to store them effectively. You can also consult this website for specific suggested products.