GET IT TOGETHER
1. Purge. Throw away toys that are missing pieces, broken or no longer work. Donate to the Salvation Army any toys in good condition that your kids have outgrown. Too many toys is as much a problem as too few. Don’t overwhelm children with a crowded space.
2. Group. Cluster like items together and store where children can find them. For example, place transportation vehicles or trains in bins or on shelves for easy pullout floor play and store art supplies in containers on a tray that can be set out for kids to use. Place a few toys and books on display to inspire creativity and play. Rotate display items every few weeks to keep the room interesting.
3. Label. Identifying contents of storage containers with signs helps kids keep the space tidy. For preschoolers who can’t read, use pictures as guides. Take a photo, laminate a copy of it between two sheets of clear plastic and hang it from a bin handle or adhere it to the bin with clear packing tape. If you expect a container’s contents to change over time, apply chalkboard paint to the container’s ends or paint plain boxes using chalkboard paint. When the container’s use changes, all you need to do is wipe the label clean and relabel it.
4. Maintain. Keep the toy space orderly by planning time at the end of each day to put away items. Make a game of it—use an alarm clock and challenge everyone to a race to see how quickly the room can look neat and tidy.
START KIDDING AROUND
“Play is the work of childhood, providing children with the opportunity to maximize their attention spans, master number concepts, prepare for reading, learn to get along with peers, cultivate their creativity and work through their emotions,” said researchers at a Yale University conference about play. Yet today’s children play less than those of previous generations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is in part due to overscheduled lifestyles and a greater importance placed on academics, extracurricular activities and lessons. But less play may lead to greater stress, anxiety and depression and a lack of a child’s ability to resolve conflicts, share and master other social skills.
Here are some ways you can encourage quality playtime:
1. True toys. Look for age-appropriate toys that encourage problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, decision-making or negotiating. Blocks, dolls, puzzles, games, Lincoln Logs, Legos, clay, craft projects and other toys require active and involved play.
2. Unstructured time. Give a child ample time to play by him or herself.
3. Active play. Encourage motor development through play. Tasks such as putting shapes in matching holes, running, jumping and playing tag provide healthier play than video games or watching television.
4. Time together. Oversee your child’s play and join in the fun when appropriate. Be supportive to kids’ playtime, allowing them to use their imagination.
5. Reading. Read to your child. “It stimulates brain development, enhances speech and language development, enriches the family experience and contributes to social and emotional development,” says Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York.
SET UP A QUIET ZONE
Time to think. Encourage kids to slow down and enjoy a good book or a puzzle. Provide a place where they can be comfortable—big pillows on the floor or a comfy sofa—away from televisions and distractions.
Kids love a place to hide. Purchase a tent or sew your own from sheets. A refrigerator box becomes a tiny house by cutting a door and windows.