Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Secret for Happy Kids with Just a Few Toys

The principle here is simple and relates to other areas of life:  keep something out of sight for a little while and it becomes new and exciting when you get it out again. (We are embarrassingly like magpies, yes?)  Like seasonal clothing, or even the seasons themselves, or summer tomatoes, or toys.  Along with the rest of America, I assumed that children were happy with lots of fun toys.
 
No. No no no. No, they are not.

 I have learned from living with my children and watching other peoples' children (and I would lay money that scientific research backs this up); lots of toys overwhelm children both in play time and clean up time.  They don't use the plethora of toys to play in new and exciting ways every day.  Instead, they grow jaded and beg for new toys, which obliging, doting adults give them.

But no.

All we have to do is pack most of the toys away, unseen, and then rotate the toy selection every so often (every month? every week?  whatever you have energy for).  I have one shelf in the basement and one shelf in an upstairs closet dedicated to this.


She's saying "burrrr" (bear)


This post is coming from a recent toy upheaval at our house.  Phoebe is developing rapidly (talking! crawling!) and her baby toys were too babyish.  So I found little-kid toys in storage and started sorting them with her in mind, but my big kids fell on the toys with literal cries of joy.


I was astounded because I had put the stringing beads and Fisher Price toys away because they outgrew them.  But no - just having the toys out of sight for a few years made the little-kid toys interesting, fresh, and absorbing for my big kids.





We do not have a kids' play room at our house - we have little stashes of baby toys in most rooms and that's it.  The big kids have some toys in their bedroom and some in the playhouse outside.  That's it.  The rest are in storage and I have renewed determination to rotate toys to keep the fun fresh.  Because I do not want to drown in toys because they're usually ugly, plastic, and a sign of over-consumption.

And besides toys, we also have lots of books and the raw materials like tape, paper, cardboard, stuff in the recycling bin, and let us not forget the entertainment of cooking up an edible mess in the kitchen or the almost-helpful mess of cleaning the front porch with the mop and hose or going to the park or playing with the bunny.  You see what I mean?  I have little tolerance for plastic objects made just for children's entertainment.  I want to keep that stuff to a minimum.  Your thoughts?

18 comments:

Jennifer Jo said...

My thoughts? You are EXACTLY right.

Megan said...

Yes!

Lana said...

We cleaned out our attic and our adult children fell on the Fisher Price toys and played with them!!! They are still such cool toys and the new versions are not great. They were hauled home to their houses for their kids but I have still caught some playing with them. Two years ago at Christmas nine young adults consisting of our kids and their spouses sat in a circle on the floor and played Legos for hours. I have a sweet picture of that.

BLD in MT said...

I don't have kids so I cannot speak from experience, but this seems brilliant. I can totally relate to the joy of novelty in the changing season and the changing seasonal foods. Just yesterday I was waxing on about the first leaves of spinach of the year like they were a miracle (which they are). So, yeah, totally brilliant on the toy rotation.

LeAnn said...

This is true! I am in my mid-thirties and I remember talking with my mom a few years ago and she used to do something similar with my brother and I. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas she would round up toys she hadn't seen us play with in a while and take them to the basement. Then in the dog days of mid-July when going to the pool wore off and the next thing to "look forward to" was school and we were soooo boooorrrreed, she would bring up the bag and it was like Christmas in July. We were amused, distracted and she was out zero dollars. Books were especially fun to "meet again".

MDiskin said...

We do this, too! We have a lot of vintage Fisher Price little people who live in a dark closet and come out about every 3 months for a week or so.

I used to think we were huge toy consumers just due to the mess... but because we limit screen time (20-30 mins a day), our kids are into intense play and serious crafting. So we don't have that many types of toys, really, but they all seem to be building or pretend-play toys where you build a town for hours and play for hours. I have to live with the chaos, for the most part.

My oldest is into PVC and duct tape stuff now -- which we moved outside! She makes swords and shields and various other things from a duct tape book for Ancient Greek crafts. Today she asked me for marbling ink so she can make marbled paper for endpapers for a book she's making out of cardboard and cloth. :)

Polly said...

I LOVE those Fisher-Price toys!! Takes me back to my childhood!

I would like to say my children don't have many toys, and compared to many of our contemporaries, they don't. But they still have a number of toys! I don't mind most of them, though--maybe because they're sets. Legos, K'nex, Ankor blocks (my absolute fave), playmobil, and wooden car/road sets make up the bulk of the stuff, and then there are the things like Star Wars figurines (in their own bin), princess toys (ditto), dolls in a cradle, a bin of play food/dishes (most of it wooden), the hideous bin o' Barbies (mercifully it's small...we have it because of relatives), and of course lots of dress-up clothes. That's basically what we have. I've always thought rotating toys sounds so smart but have never been able to do it--partly because our storage options are slim and partly because my children play with every blasted thing we have, so I can never decide what should be "stored" (I know they'll just ask for it within a few days). And my kids play a lot, literally hours every day, so they make use of the toys.

Maybe this is a sign that we don't have too many: the kids play with all of it, and I think if I removed something, they would know and ask for it within hours!

My people also utilize the recycling bin and all the crafty supplies, too...good messy fun.

Becky said...

I was only mildly successful with rotating toys- we don't have much storage and I would just forget. I'd walk in her room and find a lego/wooden block village populated by Polly Pocket and My Little Pony, so they all got played with and usually together. (Who doesn't love a mash-up?)
I was good at rotating books,probably thanks to the library.

Alica said...

I wasn't always so good at it, but I believe you've got it right. I like the old wooden little people...the plastic ones were so...plastic! We had tubs of Legos, Knex, and Playmobile. They were a pain to clean up, but got used a lot, and with great imagination! They're now in storage for grandchildren. (??!!)
Your little cutie is really growing up fast!!

Anonymous said...

My grandson age 3 can play for hours with paper airplanes we make ourselves out of junk mail paper. He also loves to draw on the patio with sidewalk chalk. The toys he plays with the most are the Fischer Price barn and barn animals that was my son's toy 20 some years ago. I am so glad I saved that barn and animals! He also loves balls of all kinds. Now that we are having nice weather, he loves to play in the gravel with his Tonka trucks.
I think a few good quality toys are all any kid needs- that allows their imagination to take over and come up with new ways to use the same toys.
When my son was young I would keep a small bag of toys in the car. He only got to play with those toys while we were waiting for his older sister during her music lessons or sports practices. This made those times much easier for both of us.

jenny_o said...

I think if it works for you, then it's right for you! I always wanted to do this but my kids would notice if I removed ANYTHING from their rooms. And like Becky said above, my kids would use their different sets of toys together. They were always pretty good about cleanup, though, and never seemed to get bored with their things, so it all worked out.

jenny_o said...

And that photo of your two girls with Phoebe on tip-toe is adorable.

jenny_o said...

Sorry for the triple comment, but I'm also reminded by that photo - how are the piano lessons going? ...

Adele said...

So true! My mother in law has applied this principle well, and still has sets of toys from almost 50 years ago (which our kids play with happily when they go over to her house!). Phoebe is looking so big and grown up, and sooo close to mobility!

AmyK said...

Your post motivated me - at 9 pm Wednesday night - to finally go through our shelves and rotate our toys. I had kept half of them packed up since we moved 6 months ago since we only have room for a certain amount of things. Toy rotation is one of those things I like to do (and my 4 year old does get overwhelmed when there are too many things to clean up) but don't do often enough. So thanks for the inspiration!

(And I still love Fisher Price people and also have some of the older toys - how can anyone not love them?! ;)

katie said...

I'm right there with you, friend that I've never met. Getting rid of excess toys, and putting most of the rest up in the closet seems the closest thing i've come up with to the secret to happiness -- for kids at least -- and perhaps for the rest of us as well. Empty shelves, free space, makes kids and moms happy.

Angela said...

I agree with that. It is nice to give them everyday simple things so they can create toys like cardboard boxes and old magazines, etc.

Bree said...

I do love your posts.
Yes, I think this is a great idea! I don't have kids but my sister, my cousin and I often hand down clothes to each other. Every now and then we "hand down" clothes to each other only to realise that they were clothes we originally and gave away years ago and they feel like new and we love wearing them again!
I also rotate toys for my cat - she likes the free things (toilet rolls, the plastic cap from my injection pen, leaves, tree roots - and two toys my previous cat had) and she loves it.

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