If you’ve ever stepped barefoot on a piece of Lego® in the middle of the night, or tripped over a stack of Barbies®, you know how important it is (appearances aside) for children to put away their toys at the end of the day.
Although many parents believe their child is too young, too lazy, too whatever to pick up toys, the reality is that children as young as 3 years old, in pre-school settings, participate in a “clean-up time” and help put toys away. The key is having a designated “home” for each type of toy. If you look around a pre-school or kindergarten classroom, you will see specified centers — a block area, a kitchen area, an arts and crafts section, etc. Within each of these locations are designated spots, be it a specific shelf, bin or container, to house each item. Developing a similar system in your child’s bedroom or playroom will facilitate an ability to put things away in an organized manner.
Some specific tips follow:
- Start by grouping toys in categories (i.e., balls, action figures, fast food give-aways, crafts, stuffed animals, etc.) Then use containers to group like items together.
- If your child does not have adequate shelving for toys in the closet, consider purchasing a shelving unit or bookcase for the room. Such a unit will help keep containers and bins organized and accessible. You can also build a storage unit inexpensively using bricks or cinder blocks and lumber.
- Open plastic sink tubs, kitty litter pans or laundry baskets are an easy, inexpensive way to store bulky items such as your child’s blocks, stuffed animals or vehicles. The baskets can be placed on the lower shelves, allowing easy access.
- Clear plastic shoe boxes or sweater boxes are great for holding a group of items (i.e., action figures, Playmobil® components, etc.). The lids prevent small parts from spilling, and the clear sides make it easy for the child to know what is inside.
- One important note is to be sure to label all of the bins and containers with the contents that belong in each. If you have a young child who is not yet reading, take a Polaroid® picture and attach it to the outside of the bin. The easier it is for your child to identify what goes where, the easier and less confrontational the clean-up process.
- If your child enjoys puzzles, consider putting a simple code on the back of each piece of any given puzzle. One puzzle might be represented by blue circles, another by green triangles. Or, if you don’t have a large quantity of puzzles, just do a simple color coding by running a colored marker over the back of each of the puzzle pieces. When multiple puzzles inevitably end up on the floor simultaneously, this technique makes clean up easy, as you can sort by the code, or color, rather than having to complete the puzzle to put it away. Storage bags with a zipper top are a great way to store a puzzle and make sure that all the pieces stay together. A quart-size bag will hold about a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. You can cut the picture of the puzzle from the cardboard box and store it in the zipper bag with the puzzle pieces.
- If you already own a toy chest, relegate its use to large toys or stuffed animals. Although they make a room look neat, toy chests are terrible for organization. Inevitably, whatever toy the child wants is always at the bottom, making it necessary to fling unwanted toys out of the box in the search for the desired one.
- Recently, a mom told me a clever way to store stuffed animals. She sewed a small loop on the back of each animal, and then hung them on colorful pegs, forming a border around her daughter’s room.
- Arts and crafts materials can take on a life of their own. To keep them organized, consider plastic storage towers with see-through drawers (readily available at office supply stores and housewares stores). Each drawer can house different types of craft supplies (paint jars, collage material, paper, etc.) Most towers come with wheels, which make it easy to pull supplies to the kitchen table or drawing table. The plastic shoeboxes, mentioned earlier, are a great way to segregate large quantities of smaller supplies. My daughters have a box for markers, one for crayons, and one for stickers. Tackle boxes or tool boxes with lots of little display compartments are great for beads and other small craft items.
- Storing your child’s artwork can be problematic. Consider purchasing a large artist’s portfolio (readily available at art supply stores) for each child and saving only the favorite work. Three-dimensional artwork, such as sculptures and dioramas can be displayed for a period of time and then photographed. If you use slide film, you can have an annual slide show of your little artist’s work. Another option is to use 35mm film and have it developed onto a CD. You can send copies of your child’s artwork via e-mail to friends and relatives nationwide. And slides or CDS take up a lot less space than the original.
- Clear plastic shoebags are another good organizational tool for children. Hung on the inside or back of a closet door, the pockets are great for storing small toys, Beanie Babies® or dolls.
- One thing that makes it easier for kids to organize their belongings is to reduce the amount of stuff that they have. Many children today have more toys than they know what to do with. One option is to remove 1/3 of their toys, and store them temporarily in the attic, basement or a closet. Periodically, rotate the toys; when something that hasn’t been seen in a while comes back, your child has renewed enthusiasm for it. Another option is to get your child involved in the purging process. My children have Fall birthdays, which are followed almost immediately by Hanukkah and Christmas. So, every year, in early Fall, we sit down and go through their toys and identify those that they no longer play with, have outgrown, or have lost interest in, and then donate them to a charitable organization. The kids make room for the inevitable birthday and holiday gifts, and in the process, get rid of the unwanted, unused items. A third option is to apply an In-and-Out Inventory System. When a new toy comes in, an old (unused or unwanted) toy goes out. This maintains a constant, rather than an increasing, number of toys.
After you have set up your child’s room with shelving and labeled storage containers, the trick is to get him to use them. Depending upon the age of your child, you might want to try a timed race, a sticker chart, or a reward system. When he becomes familiar with the process, incorporate “keeping your room organized” into his weekly chores. You can also teach your child that if he puts one toy away before taking the next one out, it significantly reduces his clean-up time. Two good books to encourage younger children to keep their toys organized are The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room (Stan & Jan Berenstain; Random House) and Keeping House (Margaret Mahy; Margaret K. McElderry Books).
By helping your child organize toys and possessions, you will have started him on good work and play habits that will last a lifetime.