Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our Toy System

Recently, I had a few other mommies over to my house for the first time for a craft group for kids that I lead.
Upon entering my house, one of the first things one lady said was, "Are you kidding me? " And I thought, "Now what did I do?"
She went on, "Tell me your house isn't always this neat and organized?" I smiled and said, "Well most of the time it is, but only because I'm super anal and hate any sort of clutter lying around..."
"But where are all his toys? I mean, are these all that he has?" she asked pointing to my 8-cubby hole Ikea shelve in the family/playroom.
"Oh no, " I replied, "I will show you his toy closet, we just rotate toys on a weekly basis."
I saw the enlightenment on their faces. It's a simple system really and keeps my house clutter free while also teaching my son how to pick up after himself, respect for his toys, gives him a sense of order and excitement for each new week when "new" toys are brought out. I adopted this system from a few Montessori classrooms I have worked in during my pre-school teaching years and I will never look back. I am certain that this is a great system for our family and keeps everyone happy.

The main rule is that the only amount of toys allowed out at one time must fit in an organized way in one of the 6 cubby holes on the shelf. (Books and the musical instruments have top toy priority in our home so they remain on the shelf forever.) :) Four of the cubbies are used for four toys of Aiden's choice and the two top left cubbies are saved for games, puzzles and learning toys such as the wooden patterning beads pictured here. I think it's important for there to be a variety of toys available at all times to children as you would find in any quality pre-school classroom. Toys like his legos, cars, or garbage truck just let him use his imagination. Books for obvious reasons, musical instruments for creative expression, and one motor skill enhancing toy set like the Lakeshore ball and ring set for more interactive play when other kids come over. There is a space for art with construction paper, markers and crayons always available, (and not always supervised which surprisingly enough has never resulted in crayoned walls as I explained the rules of where we color and where we don't extensively.) At the beginning of each week, (usually on Monday nights) I take most of the toys off the shelf and replace them with "new" toys from his toy closet where everything is kept in categorical clear plastic bins on a big shelf system.
Art/ block area

Each basket has a theme

Some who are not used to such a system may think that this can't be enough things to keep a three year old happy all week but I'm here to tell you that it does. If you observe children, do they really play with more than 6 different toys at one time? No way, they usually focus on one at a time and then move onto the next. Plus if mommy is involved then the attention life-span of the toy of the moment is drastically lengthened and the learning toys and games are truly being put to use. Most experts on child-rearing agree that by a certain age kids need order and a schedule in their day. It doesn't have to be the same each day but there should be some sort of rhythm to all the chaos of life. Same goes for their things. There needs to be a home for everything when you ask them to pick up their toys but more importantly not an overwhelming amount of stuff lying around so that cleaning up the play space seems like an insurmountable task to a young child. This will just result in YOU picking up all the mess and robbing the child of learning how to do things for himself. 
When I see play spaces with an overwhelming amount of toys, I see children who are stepping on their books or toys in order to get to another toy and not learning the important lesson of treating one's things with respect and care. I see a very mindless and scattered approach to play in which the child takes out one toy and begins to play with it then quickly gets distracted by another toy nearby and leaves the first toy in the dust without putting it back where it belongs and without ever appreciating it fully. Suddenly the entire room is filled with the mess of a ton of toys pulled off their shelves, scattered around that have not really been played with and the space is chaos. Then the child gets bored with it all and doesn't know what to do. Free space equals more creativity with toys in my mind. So it's very important to provide this to kids so that they have the clarity of their minds to be creative with their things instead of rushing around from one thing to the next. "Tis a gift to be simple..." (Why not throw in an old choir lyric for good measure?) :)
Hopefully with our new addition to our little family we can still somewhat keep up the organization of the toys but I'm sure it will be much harder as we will have a whole new ballgame of more girly toys to add to the collection...and eventually one more big item like a play kitchen. 
As for the ladies of my craft group, they asked me to maybe do a little group presentation on organizing your home to the entire mother's group but since I'd rather have all my teeth pulled without drugs than speak in public, I told them I'd do a blog post instead. :)


  1. Laura - great & informational post! we rotate our books (we have a crazy amount of books), and I've been trying to figure out a toy situation. It has just gotten out of control with this last birthday/Christmas/new baby. When you showed a "theme" basket, do you put all A's trucks out at once? Or do you just give him one for the week?

  2. Had to comment Laura...Like this system, seems like some good advice, but I do have to say that Mason LOVES his play kitchen that we got him. Definitely not a girlie toy, good for both!

  3. Hi Sara!
    The theme baskets just contain a reasonable amount of toys for the week. So lets say Aiden has 20 toy trucks/construction themed toys. I'd probably only put 10 out in the basket each week then the next 10 the following week. Hope that makes sense!

  4. Hi Sista!
    Thanks! And yeah maybe I didn't communicate that thought properly-I didn't mean to say that the play kitchen was just a girlie toy, (even though that's what I said) :) Guess I should also post a pic of our cabbage patch baby doll- caring for baby basket theme too huh? :)
    At every one of Aiden's friend's houses that we go to that have a play kitchen he immediately goes for that first and LOVES them! I have always wanted to get him a play kitchen just haven't yet because I feel like he has so much already. I guess what I was really saying was that because we will have a second child now it's a good excuse to get one more big toy item such as the play kitchen. :)