Want Kids to Play with Their Toys?

Trains are boys best friends

As a parent, I know the familiar frustrations:

  • There are so many toys and activities in the house and the kids are complaining they are bored.
  • You have to get dinner ready and want them to play with toys but they are under-foot.
  • They finally find something to play with and it lasts 6 minutes (you were banking on 20).

Answers:

  • Introduce and then occasionally play with them WITH their toys – When they get a new toy, it can be helpful to play with them with it.  Help arrange furniture in the dollhouse, build a lego structure next to theirs.  The more you can get down on the floor with them and play, really engage and play, the better.  Through playing with them, you are showing them new ways to use the toys and ways to interact.  Through your attention you are letting them know the play itself is valuable.
  • Have a stash of toys you can start with them and they can continue on their own – If you child is good at puzzles, set aside a few that you can start with them and then make trips away.  If they love to color, sit to color a page and then take regular breaks while they continue to color.
  • Focus on open-ended toys – Open ended toys are toys that can be used in a wide variety of ways and are often simple. There isn’t a right or wrong way to use open-ended toys. This includes blocks, balls, lincoln logs, bowls, legos, boxes and dress-up clothes.
  • Buy the low-tech toys that “do nothing” – If you are buying a new doll opt for the one that does nothing.  If you buy the one that grows long hair or the one that speaks Spanish, that dictates to the child how to use the doll.  It narrows the play.  If you are buying a dollhouse opt for the one that is quiet.  If you buy the one that has a doorbell and tv sounds and barking dogs, it lessens creativity.
  • Think multi-age – This means to look for toys like dress-up clothes or art supplies or building blocks that children will use when they are 3 years old and use when they are 7 years old.
  • Give them things to do that are like what you are doing – Need them to play while you cook? Give them a kitchen set and put it nearby your kitchen or give them pots and pans with spoons and a bit of water so they can “cook with you.”
  • Provide accessories – If your children like to play dress-up, add shoes, hats and bags. If it’s the kitchen set, give lots of pots and pans, place settings and food.
  • Organize the toys with all their accessories – It is helpful to their play if all a toys parts are stored together.  When they go to play farm, it’s best for all the animals and tractors and people to be right there.
  • Organize the space so the toys are within reach – To play with toys, they need to have open access to them. Choose low shelves and clear bins.
  • Give them regular practice at independent play – It is good for kids to have real downtime (not screens), it is good for them to get bored.  Every day, children should have time to themselves.  If your child is not good at independent play, they need more practice.
  • Encourage them or challenge them to keep at it – In is helpful to give an encouraging word such as “Wow, look how tall that tower is” or a challenge, “Can you build it faster this time?” to keep the play going.
  • Limit screentime – The more they are on screens, the less they are playing with toys.
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Comments

  1. mimi minnick says:

    I had an experience today that might interest you. I teach a preschool three class, and during periods of “free play” time, one child would take the toy cars and run around (and around!). I was wishing I had one of those road map play mats, but even they can be a little limiting, when it dawned on me that we could make “roads” using colored masking tape on the floor. I helped him tear off a few strips and he got busy. Soon, all of the children were tearing off strips and using them to make roads. When they decided it was done, they got down on the floor to drive cars and planes on them (no more racing around!) , then began using blocks to make ramps, buildings and parking spaces. They were super pleased with their city, which took about forty minutes to construct. It was creative, interactive, open-ended, and solved a problem – and cost virtually nothing! Yay!

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