Here is a very commonquestion/request that I get from most parentsI see: ‘Help! My childhas lots of toys!In fact we have so many toys we couldopen a shop but , alas, he/shedoesn’t play with anything for longer than a minute, even less than that! What can I do?’
My short answer to this is always: consider tidying most of the toys away and ROTATE them! This is my top tip for helping your little one sustain interest, focus, curiosity and creativity. Let me explain…
First up, I am not suggesting you sell all his/her littlegems on E-Bay (although…. ☺ ok let’s not go
there for now). NO, I simply recommend that instead of having ALL the toys out in the living room and all across the home, you put them into categories and groups and you pack them into boxes or containers so that you can find whatever you are looking for easily. So, all the construction toys – Lego’s magnetix, blocks etc go together; all vehicles, all animals and animal related items, etc etc you get the idea. (I am not suggesting you need to do a whole KONMARIon everything, (thoughto be honest I do think personally there is merit to her approach but I digress).
It works a treat not having ALL toys available at all times. Let me quickly tell you a little story about my childhood which may sound draconian to most of you, but we are talking late 50’s now in post war Germany….. What happened in my and many families for Christmas was this: your dolls house or railway tracks – and I am talking industrial tracks with electricity and proper little trains, your little shop or dolls-kitchen, all of it came down from the attic and was put up over night by one’s dad or uncle in possession of a screwdriver and some DIY skills, in readiness for the big event, this being the 24th of December, the Holy Evening. We children knew this, of course, and started talking about seeing our beloved toys again for Christmas and the period thereafter until about the 6th of January. We couldn’t wait to play with our toys and it was total bliss and happiness for about 4 weeks where we literally played day and evening with those toys. (We did get some new ones as well to be fair, but I cannot remember any of the new ones.) All that I now remember, in great detail and fondness, was my shop, my kitchenette (Victorian, splendid!), my dolls house and my cousin’s most fabulous intricate railway track. All of our toys occupied the entire basement of our home and this was where we played and played and played. Until the 6th of January. Oh yes… that was always a sad day of course when everything was packed away until…..December!!!! yep…. I vaguely recall there being a ‘special day-out’ with little treats arranged for us all and whilst away, the toys were taken up into the attic.
Like I say, it may seem somewhat outdated as an idea…but I actually am so glad I had that experience because I believe it has helped me with my language learning, my imaginative play, my ability to share and play with others, attention focus and last but not least it helped me learn to value my toys and appreciate the things I have more deeply than would otherwise have been the case (no research there, just my opinion).
Now I am not suggesting you do this, and indeed I never did this with my own kids either (I don’t have a large basement for starters)…. But I did rotate their toys quite a bit, inspired by the basic notion of my childhood experience.
The benefits are obvious if you think about it: apart from greatly reducing clutter at home, there are so many benefits of toy rotation for children. Just like us, children often find too many things all lying about unsettling; and especially our children with sensory processing difficulties can lose their sense of ease and calm very easily when overwhelmed by too many toys on offer. This is when they become restless and start roaming from one toy to the next without any focus or functional play. Additionally, just like adults, kids get bored with having the same toys or playing the same games, of course!
Anything that we always have available is by definition no longer novel or interesting.
Children who struggle to attend and listen due to developmental delays perhaps, or neuro-diverse development, possibly Attention Deficit or other diagnoses, have an increased tendency to roam, pick up and discard items as they often get distracted so very easily.
I recommend selecting a small range of toys for one week to start with. Ease your way in! Nothing is written in stone, it is not an exact science, rather more an intuitive strategy of picking what feels right for your child. If you have bags or boxes of small toy categories, as described earlier, now it becomes quite easy to decide on what toy groups to bring out.
I will give you an example – you could think of it as a TOY DIET!… so, like a food diet, you think of your food groups that you need daily and you put a menu together that has one of each group; however most of us don’t have the exact same foods everyday, we vary it so it’s a nice, healthy and enjoyable balanced diet. The same with the toys, so for instance:
Toy Rotation ‘Diet’
- Construction Group: Legos/ Duplos (not a ton, but a nice amount so you can actually build something)
- Puzzles: Animal Farm Puzzle Vehicles: Cars and the Car Run
- Action figures: Mr and Mrs Potatoe head Musical Instruments: Cylophone
- Mark-making: Bunch of crayons/paper plates
- Books: I wrote to the Zoo/ Hungry Caterpillar
- Construction Group: Train tracks
- Puzzles: Rainbow puzzle
- Vehicles: Trains and Planes
- Action figures: doll house figures
- Musical Instruments: Drum set
- Mark making: Bingo daubers and fun bingo sheets
- Books: Bear Hunt/ Rainbow fish
Larger Toy Items
Don’t worry about rotating those: they can be a steady back-drop to the category items your child has available: today/this week it might be animals feeding in the kitchen. Next week it might be action figures or Mr and Mrs Potatoe Head. The following week, there might be playdough out so then that can be used in the kitchen together with some Paw Patrol figures, etc. Like I said: most of us do not have a handy and empty basement or attic to store away large amounts of stuff so we do need to be pragmatic.
This is often simply too overwhelming for children and the best they can do, if you are very lucky, is to throw everything into one big box, which is not what you want!
However, if you have 4-5 clearly labelled boxes for each category, now Tidying up can become a nice little activity in and of itself. Example: let’s put all the cars into the red car box, let’s count how many cars we have! Let’s see if we can find all the cars that I have hidden and then put them into the red car box! Let’s see what colours our cars are as we tidy them away…..endless possibilities for a little language development as well as a tidy bedroom, you can see this is a WINNER! You’re welcome! ☺
How To Prepare
Should you ask your child for permission to rotate their toys?… Erm… no! I think that would be like asking your little sweet-toothed cherub if she minded having the 5th ice-cream taken away… we know the answer to that one! Just decide on it, get your boxes organised, perhaps a cabinet bought or made – Ikea do simple ones – and then one day when your child is out, or in bed, you can start collecting all the toys and sifting through them – you might even want to weed out a few as you realise they are broken, bits are missing, that one scratches the floorboards, that one makes too loud a noise…etc… and then hurrah ! You are left with a load of toys that are brilliant and good for rotating. Let the fun begin!
A last little note on ELECTRONIC TOYS – they are, in my humble opinion, fiendishly attractive and all-consumingly fascinating for little ones…and they are mostly counterproductive to creative play. Children who are prone to repetitive behaviours, repetitive play and reduced attention span will often focus on these beeping, singing, pinging toys to the exclusion of everything and everyone else around them. This may not really be great for your child if he/she is struggling to jointly attend with other children or yourselves; or if your little one has sensory processing difficulties or lacks imaginative play.
I would highly recommend that you reduce those electronic books/toys to a minimum and only bring them out very occasionally, preferably when you yourself need a little break! The same goes for the television, laptop and tablet of course! Please consider REDUCING or entirely REMOVING all electronics from your toddler if you would like to help your child to play, to focus on a range of toys and to build their creativity and joint attention.
Rotating your child’s toys is a fantastically useful strategy that will help your child develop focus and play more independently, while also helping you reduce clutter in your home.
- Simply make sure a good range of toy groups are available at any one time.
- Carefully select only a few items of each group.
- Don’t worry about rotating big toys. These toys providea great back-drop for your child’s creative play, almost as part of the furniture.
- Keep the toys that are having a little breakout of reach and, if possible, out of sight. Out of sight is usually out of mind and therefore your child will be able to enjoy what is in front of them and not pester you all day for the thing they cannot have.
- Think LESS IS MORE! There are no strict rules on how many items you can have out, but on average I would recommend one or two per category at the most.
- Try to keep to a regular rotation and to make sure they have time to really explore their toys fully. Once a week is a good place to start.
- Reduce/eliminate electronic toys – This is so important!
- Trust and relax knowing that you are helping and facilitating your child to really enjoy their toys, and to deepen their creativity and focus.
Let me know, drop me a line and tell me how you are getting on with this. I would love to know!
Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.