Tips for De-Cluttering Toys

The holidays are now over, and you have twice as many toys as before without any new room for them. What to do?! As a mom and owner of Play Haven, most of my day is spent with toys - putting them away, reorganizing, and believe it or not...purchasing more. I’ve been guilty of just throwing them all in a bin as a quick fix to clear the space. But then the bin becomes a place where legos, tea sets, and small cars go never to be seen again...until your child dumps them all over the floor. So what can we do with all these toys?

Teaching preschoolers for 12 years taught me many things, but nothing more practical than organization. The Reggio Emilia curriculum we followed emphasized valuing children’s play. And in valuing children’s play, we also value how their toys are stored and displayed. In the same way your mantel holds photos and other items you value, your children’s toys can be also stored and appreciated.

The urge to have all your children’s toys out is natural, but instead try creating “vignettes” to encourage imaginative play. This means to display toys in a purposeful way that’s inviting for children to use. For example, instead of putting a tea set back in its box next to a bunch of other boxes, try putting it on a tray with all the pieces displayed to allow them to imagine using it. And instead of putting all the loose pieces of various building toys in one big box, try using small baskets or clear containers with lids to allow them to visualize their activity first. When your child sees this type of purposeful organization, they will also begin to understand that everything has its place and will value their toys in the same way. 

For younger children, you can also try “pacing” the toys over a few months. Before my son turned 6 and could remember everything he received for the holidays, I would only take out 2 or 3 gifts at first, then one at a time throughout the year. This kept him from jumping from one toy to the next and also kept the clutter in the house to a minimum. I would leave out the toys he played with most, and occasionally bring out another on a rainy day or when other friends came over. Children can get easily distracted with too much available to them, so “pacing” encourages more valuable play. A good rule of thumb is to have less than 3-4 sets of toys out at any given time. Bringing out old toys every few months also makes them feel new again, and the best part is you’ll have less to clean and put away. 

And finally, if you have toys that are no longer wanted or needed, you might consider donating them to others in need. Below are a few suggestions of places that accept donated toys.

1. Hospitals
Many medical facilities accept gently used toys for their young patients to play with while they're hospitalized. Most however only accept new and unopened toys for children’s safety. Here is a link to Benioff Children’s hospital in SF and Oakland though there are many more. 

2. Shelters
There are a number of shelters that will gladly take your kids' gently-used toys. Shelters for abused women and the homeless are often overlooked as toy donation sites but children end up at these locations too. Look for shelters in your area to brighten up someone's life in the darkest of circumstances.

3. Children's Homes
Groups of kids live together in children's homes so toys are always in demand. The number of children's homes has gone down over the years, but there are still plenty to choose from globally. The children's home director can tell you if they need toy donations and where to send them.

We hope that when you visit Play Haven, you’re able to see the purpose behind our organization, and we hope this post offers some helpful ideas for more valuable play in your home.

The Art Studio

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“Art has too often been separated from life, and like creativity, it has not been recognized as an everyday right, as a quality of life.” – Carla Rinaldi

Having an art studio here at Play Haven was always important to me. I’ve seen how much children benefit by having access to explore and create with various mediums. Art gives children the opportunity to view and experience their world in different ways. It also allows them to gain new perspectives and a higher level of understanding. 

Take markers and glue for example. With these 2 simple materials children’s creativity is endless. As you’ve likely seen, children enjoy the process of making art and the final product isn’t nearly as important (we often end up with many beautiful, forgotten works here at Play Haven). Another popular spot in the art studio spot is our glass wall where children paint, then squeegee, clean and repeat.  Again, it’s about the experience, not the product.

The learning process is a creative process. Children thrive with opportunities to represent their mental images and share them with others. Through their own unique creativity, they make all new connections between thoughts and objects and research their theories from scribbling on up. Even if all they do is glue one squiggly eye on a piece of paper and walk away, that itself is a successful experience. As they continue exploring in the space they build upon every visit and experience.

The art studio at Play Haven is designed with this learning in mind. It offers children the time, information, inspiration and materials to freely express themselves. Here they can experiment, make mistakes, plan, follow through, and create – this shows them there’s no right or wrong way to do something. We want children to find their own way of working, their own preferred materials, and their own ideas to follow. This puts them at the center of their own learning and gives them the confidence to want to learn in any situation. 

Listening & Responding

Have you ever heard your child say something that made you wonder, “Where did they learn that from?” or “How did they come up with that idea?” As parents, we often hear what our child is saying but at times we are distracted to really listen to what they are saying. 
 
An early childhood educator named Carlina Rinaldi once said, “Observe and listen to children because when they ask ‘Why?’ they are not simply asking for answers from you. They are requesting the courage to find a collection of possible answers.”
 
Since opening our doors at Play Haven, I’ve felt privileged to be a part of your lives as you spend time here. Observing the way your children work and play brings me great joy. As I interact with the children in the play space, several parents have commented about how the way I talk with the children really engages them in their play. And many have asked me about the best way to respond to certain questions and behaviors.
 
As a preschool teacher inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, one of the core principles is seeing children as competent and capable. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, writes: “Rather than seeing the child as an empty vessel waiting eagerly to be filled with knowledge, Reggio educators believe strongly in a child with unlimited potential who is eager to interact with and contribute to the world.”
 
With this always mind, when a child shows me their artwork, instead of simply saying “That’s beautiful!” or asking “What did you make?”, I’ll state an observation such as, “I see you used a lot of blue” or “I can tell you really worked hard on that, can you tell me about it?” By asking open-ended questions, children are more likely to engage in a conversation about their work. It also takes the pressure away from making something specific. The learning process is then given more importance rather than the final product.
 
The way we listen to our children and respond to their questions has the potential to make their imagination fly. It’s been such a pleasure to see these types of interactions happening at Play Haven, and will remain part of our continued mission in serving your families.

Creating an Inspiring Space for Young Children

It's been about a week since Play Haven opened, and already the response has been amazing! Thank you all again for your support and joining us. Since many have asked, I just wanted to share a bit more about how we came to be.
 
Creating Play Haven was a very personal process for me. As a mother of two young children and a pre-school teacher, I wanted to create a space where my children were inspired and had fun, and also other children in the community. Early on I realized that creating a space for mixed-age ranges was going to be a challenge and require a lot of thoughtful planning, but in the end it was well worth the effort. 
When I began the design process, I didn’t immediately look through children’s catalogs or websites. My goal was to create a truly open-ended environment where imagination had no limits. As the space took form, I continually asked myself “What inspires me? What excites me? What in the world brings me joy?” From there, I leaned on my years of pre-school teaching experience to translate my thoughts for children.
 
During my time as a pre-school teacher, I was inspired by an Italian curriculum, the Reggio Emilia approach. One of its guiding principles is that the environment acts as the “third teacher” (the first two being the children and teachers). The placement of furniture, toys and materials in the environment is always very thoughtful and purposeful. Instead of simply placing paper on a shelf, I considered how the children would see the paper and asked myself, “How could this be displayed to be inviting for children to use?” I posed these types of questions with each and every material and toy in our space.
 
The environment at Play Haven is designed to be warm, cozy, inviting, and inspiring. It will continually evolve and be refreshed, but will always remain thoughtful and purposeful. I hope that you experience this when visiting Play Haven and that your child too will feel inspired by the space.

Hope to see you again soon!

Sheryl

P.S. We'd love to hear from you!
If you have any feedback on how we can improve Play Haven, we would LOVE to hear from you. Simply send us an email or leave a comment below.