Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Too Much Fun? Toy Storage Woes

The calls from parents who want me to work with their children to help organize toys in the playroom come more frequent this time of the year.  Here they are heading to ToysRUs to buy more toys but the kids can't see the floor in the playroom now.  They want me to recommend the right tool for organizing toys.  Is it bins?  Is it shelves?  Labels?  What makes a great play area?  Here's what I have learned from the little ones.  They need space, they need less, and they need to play with toys in an integrated way.  

The woes of really large toys 
Pre-made playhouses, large play kitchens, and teepees can fill a room.  Kids can get the same afternoon of fun with a table, blankets, sofa cushions and clothespins. All of these items are easily folded and returned to their original places after the fun. These ordinary household items help teach construction principles.  Even more fun when you add an adult crouching inside with them.  Add a flashlight, some books and a snack for great afternoon of fun.  
Kids size cars can fill your garage and send the real family car out in the cold and you scrapping ice off of a windshield. 
Giant stuffed animals occupy as much space as a book shelf or toy bin which can hold more hours of fun than does one massive overstuffed gorilla.

Less is more.
Lots of toys can be overwhelming for children.  Lots of parents feel helpless against the tide of toys given by well meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles for birthdays and holidays.  Better gift suggestions for these generous folks are family memberships to children museums and zoos , tickets to sports events and shows, or even better a small toy and an investment in the child like money towards education or study abroad programs in high school.   
Avoid the box of naked Barbies: Maximum number of Barbies is number of children x 2 (one for each hand).  
Stuffed animals are adorable but can overrun a playroom or bedroom.   Introduce the concept of "enough". Select a bin size and when the bin is full, you have enough. Rather than giving them so many and then asking them to cull the herd, try to prevent these from coming into their homes. 
The bottom line is that kids overwhelmed by so much do not value what they have because there is always plenty. Basic Econ- supply and demand. Too much and the value goes down.
Kids need enough space for each child to lie on the floor and make a snow angel.  Even more fun? Lie down and make the snow angel space with them.

Storage challenges
Toy boxes, bins and totes are all good.  Make sure they are large enough to hold the amount of toys in a particular category.  When I am queen all toys will come with appropriate size storage containers. 
Shelves use vertical space well but should be anchored to the wall to prevent tipping. Probably not taller than the child.
The shelves with the angled bin shelves are not ideal nor are they my favorite.  I like the reach in idea, but visibility is usually poor in units like that. 
Legos are great toys for following directions and creativity. Except those tiny pieces, that are painful to step on, they are easy to manage. Great containers are available to store them in.  People are divided on this toy.  Keeping all kits separate forever and those that think that once the kit has been built, the pieces can be added to a larger bin for creative building.  It doesn't matter.  What does matter is that the boxes can fall apart and plastic bins are much better in the long run.  Get them the appropriate size for the volume of pieces as soon as possible. Best of all, know when you have enough.
Mixed toy bins are not bad.  Children play with toys in integrated ways.  Reading to stuffed animals, Lego creations for action figures to use, Barbies hanging out with Littlest Pet Shop pets, these are wonderful things and great for imagination.
Great!  Kindergarten work this way.  Each kind of toy has its area, pretend and dress up, building, games, books, music, cars and trains, guys aka action figures, kitchen/dolls.  Cut pictures from toy ads or print them off line and use shipping tape to attach the label to the container. Label with pictures and words for smaller kids and reading readiness.  

The toy organization secrets 
Bless others.  Too many gifts or toys.  Donate.  So many have so little. You get blessed with space. 
Put it away. By creating homes for each category of toy to go to at the end of the day, kids don't have to guess where to put something. The most important part of keeping a toy room clear is making the time for clean up part of each play session.  Rather than telling kids that it is time for bed, build in  time to allow for cleanup.  My daughters always were motivated by beating the last clean up time.  I stood there looking at my watching timing the cleanup.  A new world record!  Use examples like cleaning the kitchen after the meal is over to show how and why clean up is important. ( You are cleaning your kitchen, right?)