I have a card.  On one side it says, “Does it offer a wide variety of possibilities for play?”  On the other side it says, “Can it be used in a wide variety of situations?”  When clients are struggling with how to organize toys, we begin with a discussion about open-ended toys.

Forget containers and shelving for a moment and look at toy organization from a child development perspective.  There is a difference between toys with limited uses (that create clutter) and toys that are open-ended.  Think critically about what kind of toys to place front and center in the play area and try to reserve the space for open-ended toys.

Here are some examples:

1.  Color Wonder products have to be kept separate from regular art supplies because they are limited as to what a child can do with them.  Regular crayons are better.  They don’t dry out and even work when they are broken!  They can be used with bits of scrap paper from junk mail or your printer mishaps.  Teaching kids not to draw on walls is a valuable life lesson!

2.  In a housekeeping play area consider keeping out only enough dishes to set a table.  Plastic food is not necessary, as any little plastic block (think legos, or toddler sorting shapes) can represent food – thus encouraging imaginative play!

3.  Stuffed animals with batteries are another example of a limited use toy.  They are probably too heavy to cart around, so after the kids activate them a few times, they are left on the floor.  Keep out enough regular stuffed animals to “have a party” or “teach school” and rotate the rest out of the main play space.

Establish a main play space that is large enough to build and knock down block towers.  Maybe throw in a table, ottoman, or large box as a flat surface to place toys on?  Establish simple storage containers for blocks, dolls, vehicles, pots and pans, and crayons & paper.  Young kiddos of various ages can figure out a wide variety of play ideas with cardboard blocks of various sizes (shoeboxes are great!), baby dolls, a few pots and pans, vehicles (without batteries), and a few crayons and backsides of junkmail!  Done!

…As kids age, they can use similar systems, but with smaller versions of the toys because their fine motor skills are more developed – little legos, little dolls etc…

Oh, and throw in a roll of blue painter’s tape too!  Kids can tape artwork, signs, tape blocks together to make ships, stretch tape along the floor to make roads, make shapes to define wall of a “room”, make “bandaids” for a sick baby…Multiple possibilities!  Multiple situations!  Play happy 🙂

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