Keeping Your Toys (and Your Child) Organized
Keeping Your Toys (and Your Child) Organized
The guests have gone and the decorations are packed away. Now that the holidays have passed and a New Year has begun, this is a great time of year to re-organize. Your house may be filled with many new toys, adding to an already filled bedroom or playroom. Your child continues to make progress and reach new milestones each day, so you should take inventory of the toys you have and the toys your child actually uses.
For the toys which remain unused, try to determine why your child is not using them. If a toy has been mastered and is too easy, think about donating it to a friend or younger sibling, or even selling it. Other toys may require skills which have not yet been developed, and is perceived as too challenging. These toys can be put away in a closet or attic for a later date when your child is developmentally ready. Once you’ve sorted through the too easy/too challenging toys, you will be left with a smaller, more manageable group of toys. These remaining toys should target several different skills, such as language, fine motor, cognition, and socialization.
Next, decide where the toys will be kept. You may use a playroom or a child’s bedroom. Children with special needs often rely on environmental cues to learn. Keeping the toys localized to one area will help define the space and keep the toys in the appropriate area. Use an organizational system which works best for your child and family. If your child is able to play with some toys safely and independently, keep those toys on a low shelf, easily accessible. This will help promote initiation of play activities. Toys which require supervision or assistance (i.e. play-doh, games with small pieces) should be placed on a higher shelf or in a closet, requiring the child to request the desired toy and interact with others.
It is possible to have too many toys! Being surrounded by toys can be disorganizing to a child, and he may have a hard time choosing one activity. A better option would be to present two options, asking “Do you want a puzzle or the train set?” Once the activity is finished, or the child loses interest, the toy should be cleaned up before another activity is started. This may seem rigid, but children with special needs often find routines calming and organizing. This type of system also encourages task completion and sequencing skills, important for the school environment. Best of all, it will eliminate the task of having to clean an entire playroom at the end of the day!
Children with special needs, such as Sensory Processing Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, or motor planning difficulties often crave consistency and predictability. Having a “home” for each toy makes clean-up easier and promotes independence for younger children. Keeping toys neatly organized, instead of thrown in a closet, will help them last longer and decrease the amount of broken or lost pieces. You can return many toys to their original packaging if they have come in a sturdy box or plastic container. If you’ve lost the packaging, a plastic Tupperware-type container works great. Add lids and you can hide the contents, as well as stack more containers on top. For a more sophisticated style, soft-sided storage bins or wicker baskets can be color coordinated to match any décor. Ziploc bags secure small, loose items, such as puzzle pieces, beads, and pegs. Craft items, such as crayons, scissors, and glue, stay neatly organized in a pencil box or even in a fishing tackle organizer, which has adjustable compartments to accommodate various-sized items. Containers provide opportunities for fine motor development, as the child must open containers, manipulate latches, and “zip” the Ziploc bag. Mount hooks on a wall or door to hold dress-up clothing. You can also keep workbooks or coloring books neat by placing them into a mail sorter.
Many children are visual learners and benefit from visual systems or organization. You can create your own visual labels by using a photograph of each toy (or category of toys). Take a picture of the desired item(s), print on cardstock (a 1”x1” works well), laminate, and add sticky-back Velcro to adhere it to the toy and shelf. A software program such as Boardmaker will make picture symbols, which your child may already be using during therapy sessions. Handwritten labels are easily created and promote letter/word recognition for reading development. Please refer to photo for some examples.
Clean-up can be an activity itself. Children will practice matching, sorting, and categorizing (i.e. put the cars in one bin and the blocks in the other). When the child searched the shelves for a desired toy, they are practicing visual perceptual skills, such as scanning and figure ground (finding an object in a busy background). They will also be learning about responsibilities and being a family member.
Having a consistent system of organization will teach your child valuable daily living skills. Personal organization is a skill which needs to be practiced and is a skill which lasts a lifetime.
1. Target, Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Ikea offer many storage solutions, such as crates, bins, baskets, and hooks
2. Office Depot, Staples– bookends, sorters for workbooks and papers
3. Clutter Free Kids (www.clutterfreekids.com) offers dozens of child-oriented storage ideas
4. Mayer-Johnson picture symbols (www.goboardmaker.com)
5. Super Duper Inc. (www.superduperinc.com)
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