The next time you hear the chorus of “I’m bored” from your kids despite all their toys and activities, take a look around. The problem might not be enough toys – but an issue with disorganization. If you can’t find all the pieces to a set of blocks within a minute in the giant toy box, how do you expect your child to do so? If you can’t find all of the doll’s clothes, how is your child going to do so? In order to encourage more self engagement and creative free play in your child, you need to help them organize an attractive play space.
How do you set them up for success? You do the hard work, once in awhile, of sorting and organizing all of those toys into similarly grouped items and store them in bins or baskets, creating a system of play. At the same time, when you are actively playing with your child, encourage them to pick up and put away the toys they are finished with before they move on to the next bin or group of toys. Hopefully, this will carry over into a habit for your child when they are playing on their own without you as well.
Go through your child’s toys and sort them back into the sets they came in, and then by theme. Then, you can create a few play station areas or activity areas and the rest of the toys can be in bins and baskets grouped according to type of play or toy. For example, create a pretend dress up area with bin(s) of dress up clothes and accessories or mount a hanging rack at child-height on the wall.
Create an arts and crafts area that includes a small table and chairs that are child sized. Next to it, set up a storage rack with different kinds of arts and crafts materials for your child to explore their artistic side with. Paintbrushes and paints can go in one bin, crayons and markers in another. Colored paper, scratch paper and notebooks or coloring books can be in a bin or separate bins. Keep some fun themed stencils on hand as well as sponges cut out in shapes along with stamping inks (for older kids).
Other play station ideas could include a train station, a kitchen play station, a doll house station, a Lego station, and a reading station or a puzzle station. Build stations based off of the toys you already have or start a new tradition with your child.
Once the initial organization is complete, the key is to encourage them to pick up afterwards. If they stop playing with the barn and farm animals encourage them to put the barn back on the shelf and put all the small pieces that go with it in a small basket that is placed next to the barn before they switch to a new game. Your kids may protest to the pick up aspect of this scenario, but ultimately, they benefit in the long run if they do this.
Hours of fun play are in store for them when they can easily find the toys that lead to inspirational and creative play. If they can readily see a bin of blocks, they are going to want to play with them as opposed to seeing one block in a pile of other toys.