Toy Sorting and Storing Skills
->Choose a room
->Go to work
I have said it, and you probably have, too: If you use it, you put it away. This is one of those stewardship laws children can learn early, and it eventually grows into this mantra: If it is your responsibility, it is your responsibility. This is the core of stewardship. As we carefully plan the organization of children’s rooms and teach them the skills they need to maintain their spaces and their things, we help them become good stewards.
Less is Best
In planning your system, remember that fewer things are easier for a young child to track than many things. This principle applies as well to the total number of toys available for play as for the storage system: a few large toy containers may be a better solution than many smaller ones.
Standards for Neatness
In a successful system, an acceptable level of neatness is well defined and also very possible for a child at his skill level. If everything were gathered into the toy room and put away, would anything be homeless? Do you (the parent) know where each item belongs? Does each child know the home for any given toy, and is he reasonably able to put it where it goes? On many occasions, I have gathered and stowed all of the toys to demonstrate what my idea of “clean” looks like, discussing what does and what does not fit in the picture. If this is done together at a relaxed time, it can feel like a game to the child, and you will gain valuable insights to his level of understanding and capability.
Make toy sorting and storage solutions intuitive and not reading-based. Chances are, neighborhood children and their mothers will also be using your system after a single play session at your home. When new children come to play, instruct them on your neatness expectations and the locations where toys “live” after they are used. We use clear plastic bins because everyone can see at a glance what set belongs inside. Draw-string bags for sets of toys are easy to construct and a simple silhouette iron-on effectively proclaims the contents. One neighbor installed pegs on the wall so her children could easily hang bags of toys.
Make it Easy
Portable toy containers make play and clean-up easier. Our stackable toy bins usually live under the bunk bed, out of the way, but they are light enough that a whole set of Legos or toy dishes can be conveniently moved (for storage or play) into a different part of the house. The hinged lids, which meet in the middle, never get lost and do not allow any child to become trapped inside. Every so often, the children and I have a twenty-minute toy sort to reestablish things in their homes and eliminate junk. Sometimes an entire set, zip-tied inside its bin, goes on a vacation to the shed as proper stewardship patterns are reinforced.
Accommodate personal treasures and publishing needs. Accessible shelving, treasure chests and places to hang and store artwork and awards help everything have a place. Closet shelving that faces out and therefore is more accessible is generally more efficient than the kind that hides in the corners. Bulletin boards, accessible tack strips, or binders contain artwork much more neatly than letting children randomly cover walls with their creations and provide opportunities for personal expression.
Although picking up after children may initially seem faster and easier than the efforts required to teach them to clean their own messes, having a neatly organized home is not the only goal. Learning sorting and other organizational skills prepares young children in many ways for the important work they will face later. Regular work provides meaningful opportunities for children to demonstrate their personal capacity and have satisfaction in doing a task well. And where stewardship is concerned, we all hope someday to hear:
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. —Matt. 25:21, KJV.
~Daunell Clarke, 08/2010
Find more helpful ideas in the “House of Order” Handbook.
Photo from sxc.hu. Used with permission.