Is your family room knee deep in Legos, assorted puzzle pieces, children’s books sans covers and a dozen mismatched Barbie shoes? I had five kids, (four were six and under) and this is how I coped with toy overload.
- Pare down. Don’t do it when the kids are around as they will defend the broken toys and lens-less sunglasses to the death. See if a friend will watch the kids while you organize. You can watch her children while she does the same.
- Gather all the toys in one place and mercilessly dispose of irreparable ones. Replace dead batteries. Reassemble all puzzles. (More on puzzles later). Tape corners of damaged game boxes. Separate all similar toys into piles (small trucks and cars, plastic animals, Legos, Barbies and outfits, etc.)
- Systemize. There are lots of great organizing systems available. Have your system ready to go. (If you are crafty, pick up some cute fabric and sew drawstring bags for each type of toy. These can be hung on hooks in a closet or toy room.) If not, just use small plastic tubs with or without lids and inexpensive but sturdy shelving. IKEA and Amazon are great places to get storage ideas. You will also need two medium sized plastic bins with lids.
- Put like things together. All the books go on this shelf, the tub of Legos here, the Barbie’s here, etc. Label the tubs and the shelves if your kids can read. Masking tape and a marker will work if you don’t have a fancy label maker.
- My kids loved puzzles. We had maybe thirty of them. But organizing them was the bane of my existence until I stumbled on this tip. On the first puzzle you bring into the house, use a permanent marker to write a one on the back of the puzzle frame and a one on each of its pieces. Second puzzle gets a two and so forth. The puzzle pieces will get mixed up, lost in the sofa or under a bed, but at least you will know which puzzle it belongs to. The bonus is that kids just learning their numbers will get a little extra practice.
- Board Games. Put board games out of reach. Yes, some kids still love board games. If your kids have several, the pieces inevitably get mixed up or misplaced. Make a rule that one game must be put away before the next one comes out. This works with video games too!
- Clean. Clean plastic toys in a pan or sink filled with water and a cup of hydrogen peroxide. Toss in the toys, wait five or ten minutes. Pull out the toys and air dry on a towel or outside in the sun.
- Donate. Once you have thrown out any plaything that no longer has all its pieces or that is broken beyond repair, donate the cleaned toys your kids no longer play with to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, Salvation Army, DI, etc. If they don’t play with it, it might as well go to someone who will! Or go in with the friend who watched your kids and have a garage sale.
- Store. Now, use your two medium plastic bins to put away some of your children’s toys. Store these bins out of sight and out of reach. This will serve two purposes. It will reduce the number of toys your children play with daily (and you trip over) and when you bring those toys out of hiding in a couple of months it will be like Christmas all over again. Just be sure to exchange the “resting toys” with toys currently in use.
- Cooperate. It is really tough (if you have a bunch of kids) to keep all the toys picked up all day. After all they can’t play with toys on a shelf. I admit I hate clutter, but there will be a time in your life for neatness and this is a time to tolerate a little clutter. Make it a family rule that everyone pitches in before bed to put toys in their place. Make it fun. Sing a family favorite or make it a game. Who can get the most toys back in their place before you count to 100?
When we were young kids, I lived for many years in Minnesota. I loved it there. The outdoors seemed to call to us. As I look back I wonder if that was really true, or if it was just different then. We didn’t have endless shows to binge watch. My family didn’t have an Atari system or any game system. We were on our own when it came to entertaining ourselves, and the backyard was a great option. We used to make up plays, dances, build forts in the woods behind the house, and spend hours in the lake, playing king of the dock.
I believe if we give kids the encouragement to play in the yard, and the tools to imagine while there, they will learn to dream, learn to create, and learn to live.
Some of my favorite backyard ideas for creative play are:
- Stage: Building a small platform or an outdoor stage. I love the idea of an outdoor area for performances. As children we made up endless dances and plays. (This was one of my first opportunities to design costumes!) There were many times when the whole family would be involved. We would invite parents and neighbors as audience members, sell popcorn, and laugh as we performed our “play.” This would be a great place to include your Little Adventures dress ups. Imagine pirate adventures, knights and dragons, and rewriting of all fairytales all played out on stage.
- Playhouse/Tree fort: A playhouse, or tree fort. I had friends that had a tree house that brought endless hours of creative fun. We used to spend time fixing it up, cleaning it out, preparing for our overnight “stays” in the tree house. We used to create restaurants, play house, create wars with the neighboring boys, and play school. Add a great trunk inside that can hold Little Adventures dress ups for your child’s adventures. The playhouse can become a princess tower, a dragon’s lair, or a pirate ship. Only limited by your child’s imagination.
- Trampoline: Although my parents never had a trampoline, while I was growing up, my husband and I invested in putting in an in-ground trampoline for our kids. It was one of the best toy investments that we have made. Although we have had to set some simple rules for safety, even our teenagers still use the trampoline almost daily with their friends. It has gone from being a place of play to a place of hang out and circle chats with friends. It has also allowed them a place to make fun videos of each other performing tricks.
- Tire Swing: A friend had a simple tire swing in their backyard. It was a place of contest, physical challenges and endless spinning. We would find ourselves seeing how high we could swing, seeing how many kids we could manage to fit on the swing at one time, and who could last the longest while swinging upside down.
- Sprinkler/Hose: Investing in a simple sprinkler can create many hours of creative fun for young children. Water fights, challenges, slip and slides with a simple plastic tarp and a sprinkler on a trampoline can be a fun way to enjoy the days that are HOT, HOT, HOT.
- Sidewalk Chalk: One of my favorite, and one of the most inexpensive ways to get kids outside for hours of fun and entertainment, over and over, is sidewalk chalk. Dressing up and creating scenes that coordinate with an outfit is a fun way to combine dress up and sidewalk art. For example: create a scene of am underwater world, full of sea creatures while dressed as a mermaid. My kids had endless hours of fun with friends, on a dime with sidewalk chalk. com has great ideas for sidewalk chalk adventures!
- Sandbox: Years ago we put in a simple sandbox. It has been a place of many sandcastle extravaganzas, rivers and roads, tunnels and holes. If you combine it with a nice sunshade or umbrella and you have a place where kids get to create, pretend and build. One of our favorite things is to bury dinosaurs and go digging like an archeological dig. My kids no longer play in my sandbox, but my young great-nieces that come visit are still love it!! A great sandbox is the KIDCRAFT Activity Sandbox with Canopy.
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