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.
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.
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.