Creating an organized play space for children may seem like an oxymoron. But rest assured, children of all ages can learn how to maintain an organized space! The key to success is in the planning. A carefully designed play space will set children up for success by creating systems that are logical and easy for the child to maintain.
There are many things to consider when setting up a play space.
1. Will the toys live in a common/shared living space? Or will they be in a designated play room?
Pro tip: Carefully consider each child’s personality. Most young children prefer to be close to their grownup. And while some children play beautifully on their own, others may need more monitoring!
2. What storage options do you have available in the space? If the goal is for the child to put things away on their own, we need to consider how and where their toys are stored.
Pro tip: Cubbies that are low to the ground are ideal for toys. They are a relatively inexpensive, stylish and easy to maintain solution that can evolve with the kids as they grow. You can choose attractive bins to sit inside the cubbies that compliment your decor. See our tip below for labeling these bins!
3. What type of play will take place in this space? Do the kids need space for imaginary play (think forts/playing house, etc.)? A table for board games and puzzles? Floor space for trains and cars?
4. Will you allow crafts (think paints and glue) in this space? Or will you have a separate space dedicated to crafts?
Pro tip: make sure you have a water source nearby for spills!
5. What time of day will they play in this space? Make sure to build in “clean up” time at the end of each play session.
Once you’ve answered these questions and carefully planned your space, it is time to get organized! Here are a few tips when organizing your play space:
1. Keep “like” items together. Use sturdy storage bins that sit inside each cubby to categorize toys. You can have a bin for dolls & doll clothing, puppets, stuffed animals, hard plastic animals, dinosaurs, knights & dragons, trains, cars & trucks, musical instruments, dress ups, and so on.
2. Within the cubbies, keep “like” categories close together. For example, keep the puppets near the dress ups, dolls, and stuffed animals. Think of this as the “imaginary play zone.” Keep trucks, cars, and trains near each other, and think of this as the “transportation zone.”
3. Label EVERYTHING! A great strategy for keeping things tidy and organized is to take a picture of the items that are stored in each bin. Print and laminate the picture, then add a label below the picture. This can be tied onto the outside of the bin with ribbon/yarn, or you can use a bin clip. Not only does this promote pre-literacy skills in young children, they will also know exactly what belongs in each bin.
4. Make sure to store things at the child’s level so that they can take ownership for putting things away. Keeping things at the child’s eye level helps them feel connected to the space and definitely makes it easier for them to clean up after themselves.
5. Carve out time to teach your child how to care for their space. Take the time to go through the system with your child. Teach them how to put their toys away. And, as always, model the behavior you want your child to learn.
6. Consider only putting half (or less) of their toys out at one time, then swap them out every few months. Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed by too much stuff. Remember, less is almost always more!
A gentle reminder – as parents, we want to give our kids everything. This is totally normal and there is nothing wrong with having that urge. But try to resist this temptation. The truth is that children want connection, not stuff. They want to know they are loved and cared for, and that their needs matter. And let’s be honest, oftentimes that “stuff” we buy ends up becoming a source of friction between parent and child (“put your toys away!”). Not exactly the “gift” we intended to give. So remember to be mindful about what comes into your home and make sure it is in alignment with your values. When in doubt, ask yourself these key questions:
· Do they need it?
· Will they really use it?
· Will they truly love it?
If the answer is “no,” or even “maybe,” that is your clue that this item does not belong in your home!