When we lived in our old house, our “playroom” was our living room. We had some shelving behind our couch that housed the toys, along with some baskets on our ladder shelves by the media cabinet. Many toys were also boxed up in the attic, waiting to be “swapped out”, which happened maybe once every couple of months…if I remembered. Even though the space was small, I obsessed about there being a place for toys and tried, endlessly, to make sure that toys always got back to their “homes”. Tried…
In our new house, the playroom is the sunroom and will be until we feel comfortable enough letting the kids be in the basement to play by themselves…or until the basement is finished. The same shelving unit from the old house is used, along with much of the same system. Toys that don’t fit on the shelf upstairs are housed downstairs…in boxes…that are taped up. Seems like I am falling into the same trap with the whole swapping out. Until now.
We got some basic white shelving to hold the “spare” toys in a simple play area in the basement. That, with an area rug, some basic white shelving, etc…there is a spot for the kids to enjoy downstairs. And a way for me to quickly trade the toys the kids are “bored” with for toys that have been in hiding for a couple of months.
In my unpacking, purging, spring-cleaning, organizing frenzy, I took some previously-used, working methods along with some tips from the net and past practice in my SLP jobs to update our play space work a little better.
Here is what I know:
1. Teaching our kids from an early age to pick up after themselves works. It has taken/is taking some time but pays off. My youngest, just over 1 1/2 years, will put his toys back into a box and put the lid on with verbal prompting. Not because he is some miracle cleaning baby, but because we reinforce it. Often. Of course there are times when I clean up the mess at the end of the day. Probably more often than I would like, but not as much as I would be cleaning up if we didn’t spend time on the next thing I know, which is…
2. Teaching our kids to put away one thing before taking out another thing also works. Same as #1, it takes time and is difficult to stay on top of at the beginning. With consistency, we can just tell Little Miss “put away your Ponies before you start coloring” without having to directly supervise…most of the time. Let’s be honest here. She is still four and disputes everything.
3. Toys that are hiding in a brown-colored canvas basket (as trendy and neat as it looks) do not get played with as often. We have them. We used them. We are still using them in some cases as you can see. But for most intents and purposes, they don’t work. If the little ones don’t see it, they won’t play with it. Likewise for toys stored too high (I moved the puzzles and books down at eye-level for Ronan).
4. To contradict myself, canvas bins are great for toys that go in a specific category. For example, all of Moira’s kitchen things are in one basket. All of the accessories for the dollies are in a basket. The baskets are good for her because as she gets older the toys she plays with have some…corresponding parts…and bins keep them together nicely. Also, she can maneuver them on and off the shelf pretty well, pack them up, etc.
5. Keeping like items together works. Ok. I am a “categorizing” freak. I always have been. Maybe it is OCD. Maybe it is my Speech-Patholgoist brain. Who knows. But it works. Wanna play with Ponies? Get the Ponies out. Then put them away. Wanna play with cars? You get the point.
6. Storing items in containers that kids can use on their own is…just better. I learned this the hard way. Moira had a Mrs. Potato Head that came in a fancy box. Playing was fun. Cleaning up was a nightmare because the little pieces had to go into the potato, then the potato into the box, then all the big pieces in the box, then try to get the box shut. Guess who had to stop everything to clean up the Mrs. Potato Head toy. Yeah.
7. Keeping some toys hidden away and swapping them with the ones that have been out every so often keeps things fresh. We finally did this and it was like Christmas all over. No, seriously, we had toys still in boxes from….one…two?…Oh I don’t know how many Christmases ago. Anyway, they are NEW! And the old toys that were in hiding for the last couple of months? We are pretty excited about those too.
8. Change your system when it doesn’t work. I kept holding on to this idea that the play area had to look put together and matchy-matchy. Guess what. I am not playing there. And it didn’t work. So I finally let go of some of my canvas bins (sorry Martha) and opted for the see-through boxes. Already with positive results. The same goes for putting things out on the shelves instead of grouped in bins/boxes/baskets.
9. Minimize…often. I am still working on this. Our kids have entirely too many toys and knowing this, I still look at some toys and think, “awww, this is so cute” or, “so-and-so got this for him” or, “this was her first…”. Getting rid of toys that aren’t played with, too “young”, a double of something else, or is similar to another item is not a bad thing. My daughter doesn’t even notice when I give away her toys. If she does and asks why they are in a box, we tell her we are giving them to someone else to enjoy since we have so many other toys to play with. Isn’t it so nice to share our — with other kids who might love a — too?
These are the tried and so-far-true ways we organize our play space. Of course every family is different. Are there any great organization tools you use for your kids’ toys? Please share!
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