How many times as a parent or caregiver have you looked in awe at a bored child surrounded by a sea of toys. How could they possibly not want to play with anything in front of them? Do they really need new toys? Quite simply, no.
It’s not a lack of choices leading to little ones becoming bored and then often displaying less than desirable behavior, rather it’s too many choices. To put it into an adult perspective, how much easier is it to decide what you’ll order at a restaurant with 10 entree choices than a restaurant with 50. Children need fewer choices, not more, in order to really engage in play throughout the day.
Engaging in play is vital for children. Learning how to start and stick with an activity for more than a minute is setting the foundation for future learning. The creative thinking, problem solving, and sensory experiences that happen when children play creates neurological pathways in the brain that if not formed in early childhood will never be formed.
This doesn’t mean you need to haul away half your kids’ toys to the attic or consignment shop. A well organized play space with play stations set up will do the trick. Though if you’ve really got a ton of toys, rotating the “stock” isn’t a bad idea. Take some of the toys and put them away. In a few weeks bring them out and put away the played with toys. Once you’ve got a manageable amount of toys:
- Separate toys into easily accessible bins by their type.
- Have a different color or type of bin for each toy group. A picture of what belongs in the bin on the outside is a great addition too.
- Help children make play choices by setting up play stations with a few options, like building, music, books, cars and trucks, etc. Four or five set up at a time is a good number.
- Put out toys and activities that you haven’t seem them play with in a day or two. Often it’s not that they don’t want to play with those particular toys, but rather that they’ve gotten lost in the mix. Help them rediscover them.
- Keep the bins of other toys on the side but accessible. When lots of toys are out at once and things start to get cluttered (as they do) encourage and help your little ones to put away a few toys. Again, too many choices leads to no choice and less playing, more throwing.
- Pre-Kindergarteners and school aged children can be expected to clean up an area, especially if there are obvious places where toys go, by themselves when asked. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, a little help may be needed. Model how to to pick up toys and put them away. Expect them to put some toys away, and you to do the remainder.
- Songs are a great tool for signaling that it’s time to do something, and tend to make it more appealing. Our clean up song of choice: “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do their share.” E loves the word “share”, and I’m pretty sure she she learned it from this little ditty.
Throughout the day set up new play stations with new choices. Watching children who are really into what they’re playing with is just awesome. Spend a few minutes observing what creative ideas they come up with.
With these tips you’ll be able to keep the play going all day, meaning occupied kids, less behavior issues, and a few more minutes to do what you need to do, or maybe even something nice for yourself! Like sitting down.