(Last Updated on December 8, 2023)
I’ve tried – oh, have I tried – to get the kids to clean up one thing before pulling something else out. “One toy out at a time” I’d call in a sing-songy voice…
After years of trying, I’ve finally accepted that it’s just not going to happen. There just will be lots of things out at one time and you know what…
…the world isn’t going to end!
It’s amazing how much less stress I have when I change my expectations to match reality.
One of the reasons I’ve decided to drop the super-strict clean-up rules (apart from my complete and utter failure at enforcing them) is how much creativity and imagination I’ve seen in my kids when toys are mixed.
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Don’t Clean Them Up – Mix Them Up!
All kinds of new learning opportunities present themselves when we let our kids play with multiple toys at a time. My toddler used to love finding ways to use her bead collection in combination with any other toy she could find. We made up a sorting game with part of her clock puzzle and it became one of her favorite ways to learn colors and numbers!
You can expand the value of almost any toy by pairing it with others. I’ve found this to be especially true with STEM and building toys like K’NEX, LEGOs, wooden blocks, and MagnaTiles. Kids can build houses for their stuffed animals, garages for their toy cars, storage containers for their collections – the list goes on and on.
Update: Can I just say how grateful I am to whoever invented MagnaTiles?! It’s been years and I still find all three of my kids bringing these out from time to time. There’s very few toys that can engage a toddler AND a teenager – but MagnaTiles are one of them!
Let your kids use several toys together and you’ll be blown away by how much it fosters ingenuity. My kids have used train tracks and Hot Wheels tracks as marble runs and slides for their tiny dolls. And they’ve used store-bought marble runs as aqueducts for their play villages.
You’ll find your kids coming up with interesting solutions to problems – ones that you might never have thought of. In the picture below, my son was frustrated with blocks that wouldn’t stay up but found that the wires on his little harp made a great support system.
Homeschoolers are generally resourceful people and teaching your kids to be resourceful is one of the most helpful life skills you can give them!
Give your kids the time and freedom to take out multiple things at a time and encourage them to check their stash of clean recyclables for their inventions. It’s music to my ears when I hear my kids thinking out loud, “I need something small, square, and flat – ooh, I know what I can use!” Loosening up on the strict “one-toy-out-at-a-time” rule promotes problem solving in very “real life” kind of ways.
And yes, if you’re wondering, your house will look like this
every day at times.
But allowing multiple toys out at once doesn’t mean you’re doomed to living in a pig sty. We usually do quick 5-minute pick-ups (more about those in this post) throughout the day to keep things manageable and we work together on a big clean-up before dad comes home from work. For the most part, everything ends up back in its proper place (or at least in the right room).
Rules and limits are still a good thing. Just make sure your rules aren’t squashing the creativity and imagination you’re trying to cultivate in your homeschool!
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