I have had quite a few posts and messages recently from followers asking for help with organising play spaces and toys. Whilst I have tried to reply to everyone, I felt it best to try and answer everyone’s questions in the same place.
I’ll be honest, when it comes to the toy overload of Christmas, I can’t help myself, never mind any of you, and in fact I find it really overwhelming and I struggle. As things gradually find new homes or take over the homes of toys no longer required, I find that I can eventually get back to the organised play space both Austin and Rory gain so much from.
And so here’s how I do it.
I don’t have ALL of the toys out at the same time.
I have 6 storage boxes upstairs in the study with books, jigsaws and toys awaiting for their turn in the play room. I also keep toys in the boys play house in the garden, bigger plastic toys such as the kitchen. My rationale for this was that 1) I didn’t want the big toys in the house, but equally I knew they had access to these kinds of play opportunities every day at school and so it didn’t matter that they didn’t have access to it all of the time at home. By putting it in the garden, they still have that play opportunity at home, but I don’t have to find space for it.
I will rotate the playroom toys depending on how often the boys have been in the playroom. In term time when they are at school, I will probably rotate every 3-4 weeks, but if it is half term or the boys have been home poorly, I will swap and change weekly or bi-weekly.
I do keep some toys in ALL OF THE TIME.
I don’t change everything. It isn’t a big job to rotate. I usually change over the books, the jigsaws and the toys which I have on the sideboard, often which have a theme. So at the moment, we have construction themed toys on there with tools and wooden lats with screws and nails and so I might take this out and instead put mark-making out or puzzles or small world emergency service vehicles.
So which toys do I keep out?
In our playroom we always have;
- An appealing bookshelf
- Blankets and cushions for den building
- Etch-a-sketch for mess free mark-making
- Trains and tracks
- A jigsaw or two (but I do rotate them)
- Playmobil Police and Fire Engine sets
- Melissa & Doug busy boards on the wall
- Musical Instrument Box
- Sensory Box which includes anything from tin foil blanket to knitted fish or flashing wands.
- Box of animals (Farm & Safari)
- Mr Potato Head Box
- Colouring sheets and colours
- Box of ‘how things work’ which includes absolutely anything and everything from a TV remote, to a mobile phone, kitchen scales, threading, foam aeroplanes.
So what do I change?
We currently have the wooden construction sets out, the wooden stacking blocks and the wooden See & Spell puzzles.
The next time that I do a toy rotation, I would probably take these away and replace them with either something they haven’t played with for a while, such as the PlayMobile emergency service sets, or add something in like Christmas activities.
I would also change the jigsaws and the books and rotate the boxes around so that if they are going to the same place and playing with the same thing, if they go to that place now, it will be a different toy, and they may break that habit and try and play with something different. It also gives them encouragement to explore.
I learned through the Joanne Jones programme that it is really important to display books with the front cover facing you. It is also important not to overcrowd the bookshelf. I limit to 20 books, and I try and include small hard-cover books with characters in that will entertain Rory, or that the boys can access independently, but I will also include bigger stories such as The Gruffalo.
I try and keep some of our favourites out each time, but also introducing familiar stories.
I will also try and theme books. So if the emergency service vehicles are out, I may include a Fireman Sam book or a book about people in the community who help us, and these books might stand on the storage unit by the toys, as opposed to on the bookshelf to encourage their interest a little more.
Wooden / Plastic
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the principles of the curiosity approach and the reasons for providing open-ended ‘toys’ and swapping bright and colourful plastic toys for neutral tones and wooden items without faces, I really do, but for me its about finding a balance.
We do have lots of wooden toys and open ended resources. Our ‘how things work’ box includes lots of ‘loose parts’ and ‘real items’ and we do offer open storage too as part of the cube storage unit, so the boys can easily access things.
We do however have bright, colourful plastic things too. And that works for us.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have lots and it isn’t overfacing, I would still say our playroom is calm and not ‘busy’ but having a balance works for us and I think that it is about taking in all of the facts, all of the theories and then making a choice that is best for you, not doing something just because somebody says you should.
When do I decide when a toy is at the end of its life?
Austin and Rory have spent a lot of time playing in the playroom, when they were small they didn’t have the luxury of being able to access baby groups or explore much of the world around them and so they have spent a lot of time playing and so I have always felt it important to see this as the key to their development, which of course, that is what play is – learning.
When the boys have mastered a skill, I will then decide to send the toy to the charity shop, a family friend with a younger child, or to the nursery setting so that the boys still get use from it. I have sent lots of resources to both nursery settings for this reason.
So, for example, we had about 20 wooden jigsaws, which the boys could do competently, every single time, most likely with their eyes closed, it was time for these to go.
We had megablox and Duplo. Duplo is the smaller brick and they both required the same skills, we didn’t need both. I chose to keep Duplo as it is the age stage higher, and so we said goodbye to the megablox.
When I think about a toy or a resource, I am asking, what can they gain from that as opposed to if they will enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong there are a few items which the boys have mastered, a couple of jigsaws, but I have kept them because they are easy activities that helps them to be calm and ‘successful’ and I think whilst it is good to challenge them, it is good to give them an easy win too, especially for those times they are tired and grumpy.
How does playroom rotation help?
Rotating the toys around helps us a lot. The boys come home from school and are always excited when they notice it is different, they can’t wait to get stuck in and explore and see what is new.
When the playroom is tidy and organised, their behaviour is fantastic. We have no drama. They are always fully engaged in the play.
I can tell when we are getting ready for a rotation because I find them sat watching TV or not really playing with anything.
Give it a jiggle and they wake up and are interested all of a sudden.
It helps me to feel relaxed because it isn’t a big mess and it is easy to tidy at the end of every day when they go to bed. Everything has a home.
I hope that this helps. Feel free to drop me any questions that I haven’t covered.