Is order in the playroom a fantasy or can it be a fact? Here are three key actions – limit, maintain, discard – that can help to make it happen.
No one can stipulate the exact number of toys appropriate for preschoolers to own, but some limit certainly needs to be reached. A study conducted among middle-income homes in North Carolina found that both boys and girls under the age of six had an average of 90 toys.
Now what adult could organize and choose among 90 different activities? Aren’t we causing confusion rather than promoting growth, by overwhelming children with things? The important criteria at any age is to provide toys that fulfill different needs, such as active, quiet, creative, dramatic, etc.
A toddler, for instance, might enjoy a push toy, a puzzle, crayons and paper, and puppets. As parents see their children’s interests and abilities changing, they can add different toys and remove the outgrown one.
Periodically rotating the toys brings variety to playtime without adding to numbers and expense. January is a good time to select a few of the Christmas toys for temporary hibernation. A game, puzzle, doll, book, etc. can seem like new found treasure when it reappears later on a cold or rainy day.
Responsibility for maintaining the toys should shift naturally from the parents to the children, but this does not happen automatically. Asking a preschooler to “Clean up the playroom.” can sound as challenging as “Fix the dinner.” If parents and children work side-by-side at first, the cooperation multiplies.
Book shelves are excellent for encouraging orderly storage, especially when they are used in conjunction with baskets, shoe boxes, or other containers for sorting toys. One can buy metal racks for stacking puzzles, special suitcases for model cars, and small hangers for doll clothes. It’s always easier to clean up if everything has a special container or place.
A good rainy day activity for children is scrubbing all the washable toys in a pan of soapy water. They also can help to maintain their toys by painting, gluing, or repairing as the need arises.
When writer E. B. White tried to clean out a six-room apartment, he was taken back by the amount of belongings: “A home is like a reservoir equipped with a check valve: the valve permits influx but prevents outflow. Acquisition goes on night and day – smoothly, subtly, imperceptibly,” he wrote.
Discarding the outgrown or worn-out toys often is easier said than done. Candidates for disposal have a subtle way of getting lost in closets, hiding in the shag carpet or laundry basket. Even when “old” toys have been identified, children may have strong attachments to certain of them and want to keep those that recall fond memories. The job is easier when children help select the playthings to discard and know that they’ll go to a friend, relative, or charity.