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 or 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 your 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, tv sounds and barking dogs, it lessens creativity.
  • Think multi-age – This means to look for toys like dress-up clothes, art supplies or building blocks that children can use when they are three years old and when they are seven 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 of a toys parts are stored together. When they go to play farm, it’s best for all the animals, tractors and people to be right there.
  • Organize the space, so the toys are within reach – To play with toys, children 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), and it’s even 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 – It 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.

Downtime Play Tips

Downtime is truely unstructured, “go play” time. It’s suggested children have an hour of downtime a day through 10 years old. With the pace of life, downtime can be hard to come by. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Turn of the tv and computers – Screentime is anti-downtime. When children are in front of a screen, they are still being otherwise entertained. If the tv is just on the background, it’s a temptation. It can be helpful to set guidelines for screentime for the family and then really stick to it.
  • Provide space – It may be setting up a play area with their favorite toys, a reading area with comfortable beanbags or a craft corner with supplies and a good size table. Think about the activities your child prefers and then create the space around them.
  • Build downtime into the schedule – If you tend to overschedule, you may have to actually put this on the calendar. Block off the time they can be unproductive.
  • Focus on true toys – It may be helpful to provide more basic, open-ended toys such as blocks, dolls, balls, craft supplies or a cardboard box. Once given, let children plan the play.
  • Get them outside – Outside play provides trees, sticks, rocks, puddles and dirt. There’s also room for tag and throwing balls.
  • A little boredom is good – Children who can’t entertain themselves and get bored easily when given downtime, likely just need more practice. Given space and time they will learn how to entertain themselves. Have patience, this is a good skill to develop.
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