By Mac Fife
You know it, I know it, even Santa knows it. Your kid has too many toys! Things are excessive and, despite our best efforts, our children are STILL bored!
As a stay-home mom of a two year old, I wrestle with being my son’s only playmate. In a world where we all work hard on our children’s development, I’m borderline obsessed with my child’s play time.
Also, maybe I’m selfish, but my passions are rarely toddler friendly. Whether reorganizing, couponing, knitting, blogging, or stirring up a soup, it’s not always easy to keep my toddler constructively entertained.
Finding Good Resources
Call me crazy, but I love to go to the library and get early childhood education textbooks. Some moms roll their eyes, but if my full time job is to care for my son, why wouldn’t I want the same training professionals get? It makes sense to utilize these resources, and a little extra knowledge never hurts!
These daycare books are FULL of the inexpensive, temporary toy ideas that keep a toddler engaged for hours! How’s this for two year old joy: A slinky, a string, a beach ball, and a paper towel tube. Hang the slinky from the ceiling, the string from the slinky, and the beach ball from the string. Next, show your kid how to hit it with the paper towel tube. As simple as this sounds, my kid loved it! You can’t buy the joy those precious giggles bring into your home!
My library has this info organized by age of the “student”. Give some a try. You’ll be surprised at the dirt cheap fun that results!
Get Rid of all the Toys (But Don’t Actually Get Rid of Them)
Organizing, parenting, and budgeting experts agree: toy rotation is essential! Rotation is a great way for your children to get your money’s worth from their toys. It ensures your young ones are still learning during play times. AND, it keeps the play room from feeling cluttered!
Here’s how it works: Periodically, (once a month seems to work well) grab a cardboard box, and pick up some toys your kids have lost interest in. When the box is full, grab a Sharpie, label with the date, and put it in storage. (I put bankers boxes high in my son’s closet.) Let’s say you have collected a box each month for about three months. The toy area is starting to look more manageable, so take the very first box you filled and put those toys back in play. Now refill the box, label, and repeat next month with a different box. Suddenly, those first boring toys have new life! The novelty returns, and if your kids are very young, they won’t even remember they‘d had them once before! Now you’ve got more space in your home, and your child gets “brand new” toys EVERY MONTH! How fun is that?!
Another great way to mix things up is to organize a toy swap! Plan a party for moms only, inviting those with similarly aged children. Everyone brings a box of toys their children have lost interest in, and you all trade out for new stuff! It’s a fun get together, in and of itself, but you could also cushion a leaner Christmas or birthday with the gently used toys you’ve traded!
“Hide” the Available Toys
We live in a two bedroom apartment that will soon be shared by four of us. Our living room doubles as the play room, but with bins and baskets and grown up stuff right next to the kiddo’s stuff, very few of our child‘s toys are visible to the untrained eye. We try not to let it look like a preschool classroom!
Through carefully concealing obnoxious looking playthings, I’ve accidentally discovered how “out of sight, out of mind” has been the best toddler entertainment tool EVER! I don’t do well enacting the structured environment children thrive in (although Bectoria’s doing her best to help), but now, less inclined to meander from toy to toy, my child tends to mimic my own fairly structured way of life.
On a typical morning, I let him snuggle in my bed with a book or iPod while I get dressed and make coffee. We eat breakfast, I work on dishes while he’s still munching, I get him dressed, and then he loves to help make the bed. (Have you noticed that no toys have been necessary yet?) NOW, there’s a basket of puzzles on top of my bedroom armoire. I pick out some for him to sit and play with while I focus on my brief daily prayer time. When I’m done, the puzzles get put away, and we move to the living room. Depending on what my next task is, I CHOOSE an activity for him. A box of art supplies and clay hide near the kitchen table if I need to sit and write. A bin of rhythm instruments sits next to our radio if I‘m in the mood for tunes. His trucks and cars are ALWAYS good for an hours worth of zooming all over the house if I‘m working in several rooms at once. And when cleaning, I hand him a toy vacuum and duster that I keep next to my own tools. With none of these options in plain sight, I get to be the mom that DAILY surprises him with the toys he forgot he had!
I don’t pretend these methods work with all ages or personalities, and there’s plenty of times I still turn on PBS, dump out the biggest toy box, and pray he stays content. However, when I say, “Oooh! Let’s play with TRAINS today!” my kid acts like I’m a genius, and I start to think I‘m not so bad as the house’s “entertainment coordinator“!
What tricks do you use to keep your kids entertained?