The Art of Chaos or How to Keep Playtime Fun

The Art of Chaos or How to Keep Playtime Fun toy blocksIt’s the end of the day, the childrens’  toys are everywhere, sofa pillows askew, crumbs under the table. And, you wonder, “how did this get so out of control?”  Really all you can do is sigh.

Having children forces us to reexamine the way we approach many things in life, housecleaning is one of the smaller adjustments. I remember living in a  very tiny apartment in upstate New York when my first son was a toddler. We were struggling financially, dad in grad school, me at home with our son. I bought him a set of small colored blocks, they came in a box. There were about 40 blocks in the set, I think.  Every time he played with the blocks I would insist on putting them all back in the box at the end of playtime. And, I counted them. I didn’t want to lose one block and if they weren’t all there, then we had to search for the missing one.

As I think about it now, it seems a little obsessive. But I wanted to make sure he had the full set. And, his father was a neat-freak type. He once walked in at the end of his day to a little disarray and asked what I’d done with my day!!!

Kids, by nature, are explorers, restless wanderers. They are not going to sit quietly and play with one item, put it back in its original spot and ask permission to take another toy off the shelf.  They don’t operate that way, as much as we might like them to. They flit, like bees on flowers. Check this out, take a quick taste and move off to the next unexplored delight. It is how they experience things at an early age.

I think children need a certain amount of structured chaos to encourage their creativity. Constant demands to put the book back or keep the crayons in the box straddle that fine line between rigidity and good ‘cleaning up after yourself’ habits. It is a good idea to help toddlers learn that toys have their place and must be treated with respect. That may require some modifying of  personal habits  for mom and dad.

So, how can you set up playtime and play spaces in a way that allows your children free access to toys, books, and craft items in a The Art of Chaos or How to Keep Playtime Fun pbbook shelf 300x264way that doesn’t turn into full blown chaos?

Set up a designated area where children can play. Near your watchful eye but in a child-friendly area.  Take the time to invest in a few baskets or attractive plastic containers for toys. Consider a small shelf where books and toys can be stored-within arms reach of little ones. Have a container for crayons, and a separate one for other toys. You could even find a picture of the specific toy or craft and tape it to the outside of the container. Let your child help you with this, explaining to him as you go what the purpose is. Tell him how this will help him know where his toys are. Try and get some investment from him, or her. I know that sounds odd to use that word in relationship to a toddler but go with it. Eventually they’ll understand and will, hopefully, want to take good care of ‘their’ things.

After an activity, ask him to clean up. Make it simple and upbeat. Offer to help, again talking about what you’re doing at that time. Praise them for picking up their toys, even if you’re doing most of the work. Praise is positive reinforcement.

If you discover that the  play space has gone from order to chaos, suggest a break. Maybe it’s time for a little snack,  it’s ok to require a quick clean up before eating. Once  the two of you have gotten it straightened, step back and say something to your son about how nice and neat things look. Reinforce the behavior you want to encourage, help him associate the cleaned up area with a job well done.

I know at least one of you is laughing at this …. yes, this is unlikely to happen too quickly. But if you don’t ever set an expectation for your child and work with him or her to achieve the look you want, it will not spontaneously happen. Parents are there to guide, reinforce and nurture. Our children need it and want it… even when they’re on the floor screaming.  They just may not know it!

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