“I’m bored!” Those words can be some of the most aggravating words to hear as a parent. Sure, it makes sense if you are in the grocery check out line or even in the car, but at home? When there are toys EVERYWHERE?! Nope. Sorry kid, no sympathy. Find something to do!
Yet, it doesn’t seem to matter how many toys kids have or how new those toys are, kids get bored. Toys that your kids were just DYING to have weeks before Christmas quickly get neglected in the toy box. While there are a number of reasons that this can happen, I think we as the parents can help our kids actually play with their toys by doing a few simple things. Now my kids are 5 and under, so I am speaking from experience with younger kids, but these principles can easily be applied to older children as well.
Control the quantity
When you limit the toy options available to your kids, it allows for more actual play. When your playroom or toy bins are bursting with toys its overwhelming and then the fun really becomes “dump out every toy imaginable!” or “trash the playroom.” Now you have a super messy room and super bored kids. Not fun for anyone. While it may seem counter intuitive to take away toys to help your kids play, it really works!
If it were up to my kids our house would resemble a toy store. Piles of every toy imaginable! Thankfully, I’m in charge so this is not the case. Every so often (especially around Christmas) we toss out broken toys or pass along toys that our kids have outgrown or no longer play with. I control the quantity of toys in our home and try to keep in manageable.
I also control the quantity of toys that are accessible. We have a flexible toy rotation in our house, so basically that means that some of our toys and books are always in storage. I’ve noticed only positives about limiting my kids options. Less toys=less mess & more play! And honestly just having things a bit more organized will help your kids know where to find things and notice what you do have.
Not all toys all created equal. Some toys are just better and allow for more possibilities for play. Open-ended toys allow for imagination and therefore have unlimited possibilities for use. A lot of toys that make noise, light up, or require batteries also require less imagination. When a toy has less ways to be played with, it only makes sense that you won’t get as much use out of it. We do have some toys in our house that fall into this category, but only a few.
Some of our current favorite toys that allow for open-ended play include: blocks (wooden, plastic, magnetic), animals figures, dolls, stuffed animals, dress up clothes, cars, puppets, and Playdoh. These toys may not be flashy or catch your child’s eye on the store shelf, but they really provide the most play options. Filling your toy box with better toys will be beneficial in the long run.
When was the last time you got on the floor and played with your kids? It’s easy to pull out a toy and just tell your kids to play. But it’s another thing to take even 20 minutes to play with your child. So much learning happens when kids sit down to play. Everything is helping them learn cause and effect, logic, spacial awareness, and so much more. Helping your kids explore through play helps your kids learn.
Something to remember is that no toy will replace you. Your kids want to play with you and that’s not a bad thing. Of course kids need to learn independent play or how to entertain themselves, but not ALL the time. You taking time to play with them shows them you value them enough to give them your time. It’s ok to take a break from your to-do list and simply play.
Try something unexpected
We all can get stuck in ruts and used to the familiar. Sometimes even the simplest thing can provide necessary change. As I mentioned before, a toy rotation can be helpful and keep things fresh. Another way to keep things fresh is to use toys in unexpected ways. Don’t overthink this one. Just try something. For my kids that sometimes looks like bringing a few of their kitchen toys (play ice cream scoops, pots, pans) outside to use in the snow. Or maybe I let them bring their plastic animals from the toy bin into bath time. Little things that allow them to play differently.
Another way this can work well is if you let them use household objects or recycling to play with. Couch cushions can become so many fun things. Boxes have a million possibilities too. One day I pulled out one of those plastic under-the-bed storage containers while cleaning and my kids got a kick out of it. They all piled in and pretended it was a canoe. A few minutes later they were looking for paddles and so I gave them each a wooden spoon and they were set for their voyage. I never saw that as a toy, but my kids sure did! A little imagination can open up limitless play opportunities. Sometimes you can help guide and direct that spark of imagination, or maybe just be willing to let your kids explore.
In case you are wondering, my kids still get bored. I am no expert. These are just a few simple tips I’ve noticed that are helpful in our household. What works in your house? I’d love to hear your tips too!