How to Organize Kids' Play Spaces

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Unless children's play areas are organized and easy for them to maintain,
there's a good chance they'll feel overwhelmed and not want to
play there--no matter how many toys they have. Kids like to help, and
organizing toys and games is a good activity to do together. Besides
helping them take pride in their space, it is an opportunity to learn
more about counting, sorting and grouping, as well as sharing--when
they donate items they no longer use.

  • Consider your child's personality and interests. If your daughter likes to paint, prepare an area with paper, paints and an easel and put down a plastic floor cover. If your son likes to have friends over to play board games, put them on a shelf that he can safely reach. See 74 Organize Kids' Rooms.

  • Set up activity centers. A block or Lego area needs a flat surface to build on (a hardwood floor or tabletop) while a game area should contain comfortable seating (floor cushions, beanbags). Set up painting easels on linoleum floors for easy mop-up.

  • Store according to age. Younger children like open bins on low shelves or the floor for easy cleanup and storage. Older children can use drawers, underbed storage, shelves, pegs and pegboards, but items should still be within easy reach.

  • Avoid using large toy boxes as a catchall. What is out of sight rarely gets played with. Sort toys into groups (dolls, dinosaurs, plastic food) and then stash in smaller baskets, bins or boxes.

  • Label everything. Use photos of items (cut from magazines or printed from Web sites) for labeling young children's toy bins. Children who can read can create stickers with a label maker (see Xyron.com), cut words from magazines or print labels from a computer. See 57 Live Better Through Labeling.

  • Have containers around the house for easy pickup and transfer. Even if you have a separate playroom, toys will invade your entire house (and car). Do a quick cleanup each night and take the toys back to the play area for proper storage. This is a great chore for kids. See 17 Streamline Your Morning Routine and 18 Organize a Chore Schedule for Kids.

  • Organize outdoor toys and equipment so you're ready to go at a moment's notice. Use a large basket to store balls, mitts and bats. A bucket can hold sand toys--add sunscreen and you're ready for the beach (see 47 Prepare Grab 'n' Go Activity Bags).

  • Enforce cleanup rules and consequences. Learning to put things away and stay organized takes time and practice (even for grown-ups). Children need adult help to learn new habits, so be consistent with expectations and routines. Remind kids that keeping their play space tidy is not a chore, but a way to make playtime more fun.

Tips & Warnings

  • See 73 Make Your Home Safe for Small Children and 264 Blend Families.
  • Rotate toys and games, and leave out only a reasonable number at any given time. When your child has outgrown a toy or game, give it away.
  • If space permits, set up a separate play area in the basement or another room to keep your child's bedroom less cluttered. See 87 Turn a Basement Into a Media Room or Playroom.
  • Put costumes, old scarves, gloves, hats, costume jewelry and other goodies together in a laundry basket so your child and his or her friends can play dress-up.
  • Let your child help. If kids are involved in organizing their own space, there's a much higher likelihood they will maintain it.
  • Don't set up a system that is too hard for your child to maintain. He or she will become frustrated and you'll be back where you started.
  • Don't organize your child's play space to the point of stifling creativity. Part of the value of play is keeping it open-ended, and combining toys and games in unique ways.

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