Unless you’ve mastered minimalism, your kids probably have lots of toys. These days, most kids have so many toys, that some never get played with. Your kids struggle to tidy up. In this state of ‘normality’, its easy to see toys as transient clutter: the more we have of something, the less we value it. Keeping them tidy becomes an increasingly difficult and resented job. So how can we keep things tidy, and why should we?
First of all we need to start respecting toys.
“Toys are not merely playthings” 1.
Toys are the tools with which our children learn to understand the world and their relationships, develop physical, social and emotional skills2. In this sense, playing itself represents important work to our children. Thinking of toys as “tools” gives them a new (more valuable) status.
Second of all, we need to understand that the place where toys are kept and played with are in effect, workspaces for our children. We know that “a tidy workspace = a tidy mind”3.
Google and you will quickly find hundreds of blogs advocating the importance of tidiness to boost productivity and efficiency, as well as lower stress and the risk of work-place hazards. Thinking of playspaces are “workspaces” can change the way we store them, as well as the space in which they are used.
The Montessori approach advices that we teach children to value and respect their belongings and take ownership of them4. By teaching kids how to keep toys neat and tidy, we teach our children the value of tools and work.
How to keep toys tidy
“A place for everything and everything in its place”5
- Minimise what you own – use a less is more philosophy and sort through possessions. Keep only those toys which provide a way to develop physical, social and emotional skills. Think creatively about what a “toy” might be and choose open-ended things that will last.
- Organise. Create a designated toy space and give each toy or group of toys a “home” (ps. older kids will love doing this with you). Once the toys have homes, always put them back there after playtime. Your kids will learn to remember where things go, and find them easily next time. Playtime will be more efficient, productive and independent.
- Make them accessible. Put them at the right height for your child, to encourage independent exploration and play.
- Be a good role model and tidy up. Make time for tidying up together at the end of every play session. By building this in, you are not only saving yourself a job later on, but you are actively encouraging your kids to take ownership of their things. Tidy up time also serves as a good way to transition between activities. If your kids seem resistant to joining in, persevere, and be consistent yourself. Eventually they will accept the process as a way of life.
When toys and belongings have a home, there is a sense of predictability. You have created a system by which they can own their toys and become master of their tools. With this also comes a sense of security, wherein children feel in control. You have removed excess choice and created an opportunity for focus. Most importantly, you have created a workspace wherein children can do the vital work of learning about their world.