NOTE to Pinterest Group Board Contributors: To be added to a board, simply go to the board and by the follow button is a button to request to be added to the board. Please do not email or message me to be added to a board.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

No more toy messes 101

No more toy messes 101
How I trained my twins not to trash their play area (Part 2)

First off, if you have not read my first post in this series,  How I trained my twins not to trash their play area (Part 1) I will ask you to stop now and read it first before you read on. Otherwise, none of this will make sense or work for you.

Indoor play environment present day

Outdoor play environment present day


I am constantly seeing Moms complain about their kids toys being all over the place, and how they never can keep their toys in order. 

The parents believe it to be the children's fault, but is it?    NO! 

Both the parents and children are at fault. It is easy to fix though. I can empower you to do the same. By the time you read this all, you should feel like you know where to start and how it should all end up. 

I am constantly getting asked the same question when I post pics of my Twins' room.  The question is "How long did it take you to clean the room before you took the pics?"  My answer, each and every time is, I did not clean it before I took the pics.  You must be thinking that my Twins do not play with their toys, quite the contrary, they play with them from early morning when they wake up until 8:30 pm at bedtime. They play a lot, they play with everything at one time or another, and they are so involved with their play!!!  

I have had many Moms show me photos of their children's playroom or bedroom, where ever the toys are kept, and I see the same issues with each one. The same issues that my kids playroom used to have.  I started learning about play based learning, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori in 2011. When I started to learn about how the Reggio play and learn environment is set up, I started to understand it all. I was in the wrong for  partially providing the wrong toys and for providing the right toys in the wrong way.  Plus the toys needed accessories.   The Reggio Emilia approach is a good way to really get your kids toys organized and to get them happily playing imaginatively and creatively. 

Toys need complimentary loose part accessories to make them more in depth and interesting to the child. This is a lesson that I had to just accept and jump right into. If I had not, I would still be dealing with awful toy disasters every day.

Another big issue is "wow factor" toys. Ya know, the toys that bleep, blip, woo-woo, screech, sizzle,  squeal, siren, talk, dance, flip, flop, hip-hop, cry, whine, blinky, flashy,  etc.

Kids need open ended, imaginative toys to really get into their playtime. Kids really need to be heavily involved in their play to really learn, grow, explore, and be creative.  

When kids have mostly all "wow factor" toys and not really any open ended toys, plus no accessories it creates big messes in their play space. Why?  Because the child is getting frustrated and bored, maybe even annoyed with their toys.  When a child feels that their toys can not help them play creatively and explore their imagination.  They seem to go endlessly searching for something exciting through their toy boxes to find that right combination of toys, and before you know it the room is in complete disarray!

So by the time you ask them to clean up the toys, it is the last thing they want or can handle. They are so in over their heads with the amount of toys that they spread all over the room in search of something fun to play with, so how could they even know where to start.  You direct them to clean one thing up at a time, and it looks to them like they are in a sea of toys during high tide, and no buoy in sight to hold them out of the water.


When kids have mostly all "wow factor" toys, the excitement wears off quickly. What I mean by "wow factor" toys are any toy made by fisher price, playskool, mattel, v-tech, and even the leap frog toys, anything that dances, plays music, talks, blinks and flashes, etc. Those toys seem really great and also try to be educational in some way shape or form, but in the end they are just novelty. When kids are presented with an array of open ended and imaginative toys, things change. Basically what I experienced was we would get all of these cute toys that were advertised or were what you see when you browse toys r us, wal mart, or targets toy shelves, it would just make things worse. I would always be saying go play with your toys or go clean up your toys. However the toy mess was so overwhelming that the kids would probably have rather been shot in the foot than clean it up, let alone play with the toys sometimes too. It was hard to let go and change things, but I forced myself to realize that the "wow factor" toys were the biggest part of my problem. I started to make changes with their toys and I started to take all those "wow factor" toys and stuff them into toy boxes, then move those toy boxes to a different room in the house. I did not get rid of the toys, they are still around but they are tucked away out of sight and out of their playroom/bedroom/homeschool room. Now what I see these days after a year is that once in a while my twins will go to those toys boxes and pull out 1-2 toys to add in with something else they are playing. Then they end up returning them to the toy box they got them out of and going back to their open ended toys. I can hardly pry my twins away from their room on most days. They LOVE their toys and are always, always, always so very busy with them.. Same with our back yard. I have the little tikes and step2 yard toys but am using them in a different way with a different atmosphere around those toys. I added a whole bunch of open ended items and started to see the magic happen. I see a lot of magic happen now when they play with their toys indoor and outdoors. They are creative, inventive, imaginative, and really into their play. I used to think they were really into their play when they had the "wow factor blinky flashy noisy" toys....but now I look back and realized that they were not at all compared to now. I changed the environment and added strategically placed mirrors of various sizes, you would be shocked how much mirrors change things and add to your children's in depth and imaginative play. Kids love looking at themselves and when you add that into play, holy cow they love looking at their toys in a mirror to see the toys at different angles.


Do you all want to know why my twins no longer make giant messes with their toys? They no longer feel it is necessary. I did what I call box training with their toys but if I had not changed out the toys, it would never have worked.

So where do you start?  Well,  I changed out the toys gradually but as fast as I could, when I could. Now, when I enter toys r us, target, or wal mart... i will now find less than 5 things to buy. I go to specialty stores and amazon now for their toys. I have changed because I saw big changes with my twins. I know that the holidays just passed but if you want change, you have to just let go and go for it. The toys are a huge part of the change, but the box training that I did was the other big part of it. Plus you have to get all family, friends, and guests on board. Then the last big thing is to be present. That doesn't mean you have to be always playing with them, just be there in visible sight near them. This is important to children. They feel secure and if they see that you are close by and visible to them, they feel like you are paying attention them and their VERY important business..... playing with their toys. They want you to see what they are doing with their toys and wow you with their play. Most of all, whether they are twins, triplets, just one child, or 5 children, or even 10 for that matter.. they don't want to feel alone. Being present is important with young children.  

So what is box training???  You can read all about it HERE

But here is a recap of it:

If the child is presented with a tidy room of well organized, open ended, imaginative toys... it changes a lot. Each toy or set of toys has to have a "home". If the toy or toy set have no "home", how on earth will anyone in your home, let alone your child ages 0-5 know where these toys go when it is time to clean them up?

I prefer labeled clear plastic bins. I have some from wal mart and some from the dollar tree. Both are effective. I buy common inexpensive packages of white rectangular labels. I put one label on each box and write the name of the toy. You can also include a photo of the toy, printed from your computer. Use scotch tape to cover the photo of the toy. It kind of laminates it to the box.  The label plus printed photo would be very effective for a child who is under age 3. Each toy set goes into a clean plastic bin. Each bin is clearly labeled with that toys name and optional photo of the toy. The boxes go onto shelves, stacked no higher than 3 in a stack. If you go any higher than 3, expect a big mess when the bins are removed from the shelf for play.

You start off with ONLY allowing one bin off the shelves and opened for play, at a time. After a couple of months, 2 becomes the limit.

You remind your children that the toys are theirs to play with any time they choose, but they can only be out one at a time. We dont want a big mess or to loose the pieces to our wonderful toys, so One at a time.

After 8 months of this. We then had an open box toy display.  A month later, I moved the bins to stacks of One on the shelves. Still only allowing two boxes out at a time.

Note that some toys can not be boxed and have to be displayed in a different way. The rule applies still. All toys with their pieces, neat and tidy. One toy out at a time, until you decide it is ok for two.

Have you ever seen a child play with 10 sets of toys at once successfully, without a huge mess?
How about 5?

Once the children learn the rhythm of the play room, mixing toys will come.  They can use a few of this toy set, and a few of that toy set... for fun, imaginative play. Until they learn to keep the toys tidy and are able to handle keeping it tidy and only playing with one set of toys at a time, they don't need to be taking a few from each set for play.

The toys are key in this process.  I started to learn that the plastic toys that blink and make noise are a novelty that wears off rather fast. They have some good value but they become old hat, faster than I would like. I had to really start digging for toys. I found new ways to search for brainy, open ended, imaginative toys. The research payed off and things are really great now.

Examples of open ended, imaginative, brainy toys   Plus any toy that you see my twins playing with in any blog posts from late 2011 and all of 2012 and 2013 to date.

How do you get your kids playroom in shape?

1. obtain 20+ clear boxes with lids of various sizes from dollar tree and/or wal mart

 example HERE.

2. purchase an oil drip pan from wal mart's automotive section or from an auto parts store. It is a big flat metal gray pan. This will be your floor play tray for all toys. Toys they have out must be played with on the floor play tray unless they are on a table or a light table. No toys on bare floor. Get two trays if needed. You can leave them as is OR do what I did and cover with colored or white duct tape. I started with colored and then changed to white, the colored was too busy and distracting.

example HERE  (in the pics here it is with colored tape, which i changed to white later.

3. Find, buy, obtain, borrow some shelving.... DO not be concerned if it is all mismatched in size, shape and color... just get the shelving. trust me. Example of the shelving here: get what you can. NO TALL SHELVING, trust me on this one! I did not use it but I know it can be a huge danger in a playroom to kids under age 6.

Example HERE

4. Get the kids out of the house for the day with another trusted family member or your spouse, or at least keep them FAR from the playroom or living room or bedroom..where ever your play area is!

5. Volunteer a friend or older child or family member to help you. trust me on this one.

6. Start sorting toys into the boxes. Different toys will need smaller or larger will figure it out as you go and in the midst of the organizing of the toys project if you find you need a few extra boxes of whatever needed sizes.. send the volunteer friend to the store or have them keep working as you go to the store.


7. Make sure the lids can fit properly on each box and then LABEL THE BOXES! Get white sticky labels: examples here: 

**These labels have a duel purpose, for you and other family members to know what goes in what box and for the child to start familiarizing themselves with the labels. Then I also recommend taking a pic of whats in the box and printing a small photo of the toy or toys inside the box, then paste that small photo to the box under the white label. I only did this on some of our boxes, but I should have done it on all of them.

8. Put all stuffed animals into a large toy box

9. put all cars, trucks, trains, planes, and other various vehicle toys into one large toy box.

10. Put all of the "wow factor" toys into 1-2 (or 3) large toy boxes or large rubber maid totes that are NOT CLEAR! Then send them to another part of the house, not in the playroom. DO not keep the "wow factor" toys in the playroom unless they are paired up and boxed up with stuff to make them less close ended and more open ended. (with lid on them)

11. Invoke a NO TOYS unless you ask me to help you get out ONE box of toys rule to your kids, their cousins, friends, guests, neighbors, etc.

12. Have a talk with the entire family about the new toy rules and organization system.

13. Talk to your kids (who play in the playroom) DAILY about the toy rules system. ONE box/bin of toys out at a time. (NO WOW FACTOR TOY BINS OPEN FOR THIS TIME. THEY STAY BOXED AND UNTOUCHED UNTIL THE TRAINING IS DONE!) 

14.) After a few months you can start allowing two boxes out at a time, and keep working with that until you can move to three.

15.) Soon after that you can start moving the boxes into single rows with the lids still on for a month or two. Have talks along the way about respect for toys, how we want their parts to all stay together and all e put away together properly after playing with them. Teach them to play gently with their toys and not to be rough with them or bang them on things.

16.) After 8-10 months or so, and when you feel your children are ready for it you can then take all the lids off the boxes, the training is done and now all toys can be on display.

Examples of open ended toys, loose parts, accessories

  • a light table, light panel or light box
  • magna tiles
  • mag formers
  • imaginets
  • wood blocks
  • citiblocks
  • waldorf rocker board
  • window blocks
  • small plastic buckets and small tote bags (dollar section target) -kids like to put stuff into baskets, buckets, and tote bags-
  • plain wooden play castles, barns, light houses, towers, cottages,  etc, (Michaels and JoAnn's have lots of these)
  • plastic farms, small doll houses, littlest pet shop houses - my twins use these with everything-
  • tree blocks (cut from trees in various thickness and sizes)
  • LED finger lights (for everything in play)
  • playdough and plastic playdough accessories, cutters, shapers, rollers, shape cutters, straws, beads, craft sticks, feathers, seashells, sticks, mardi gras beads, 
  • lauri pegs and lauri peg sets
  • bristle blocks
  • crystal climbers
  • crystal connectors
  • lacing beads of various sizes
  • waldorf playstand
  • plastic dinosaurs, animals of all types, birds, trees, people etc.
  • dress up clothes and accessories like hats, sunglasses, costume jewelry

Loose Parts/ Accessories List:
  • sticks or various sizes, extra small, small, medium in height
  • rocks
  • pebbles
  • pine cones
  • colored glass gems (plant decoration)
  • wood pieces and small boards (sanded well)
  • leaves (laminate them to preserve them for play
  • bits of yarn and cloth
  • play silks (various sizes)
  • silk flowers and leaves
  • seashells
  • pipe cleaners
  • pom poms (craft puff balls)
  • plastic bottle caps
  • acrylic mirrors
  • large buttons
  • small dowel rods
  • wood drawer knobs (large or medium)
  • glass gem accents for fish tanks, like seashell shaped or gems
  • fish tank accessories like caves, bridges, volcanoes, etc. 

Extras that tie it all together and create a great environment:

  • pillows
  • blankets
  • fluffy or fun patterned rugs
  • black lights, party disco lights
  • Christmas lights 
  • LED battery operated lights and night lights
  • fiber optic lights
  • plasma lights
  • lava lamps
  • LED fingers lights
  • mirrors and acrylic mirrors
  • art and craft supplies:
  • paper
  • water color paper
  • construction paper
  • poster boards
  • markers, bingo daubers
  • liquid water colors
  • tempera paint
  • paint brushes
  • small paint pots or paint jars (spill proof or with screw on lids)
  • glitter glue pens
  • glue
  • glue sticks
  • pom poms
  • craft sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • cotton balls
  • beads, pony beads, tri beads, multi faceted beads, tube beads
  • feathers
  • straws
  • crayons separated UPRIGHT by color into small baby food jars or into a crayon caddy (otherwise plan on them being broken often)
  • playdough and plastic playdough accessories, cutters, shapers, rollers, shape cutters, straws, beads, craft sticks, feathers, seashells, sticks, mardi gras beads, 

Suggestions on where to shop:


  1. Great ideas, Kristen! It's awesome that your boys have learned to keep their environment organized. It makes such a difference! Thanks for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Organization and Preparation Board at

  2. Wow, there is so much great info here. Love the suggestions for open ended toys. I struggle with keeping our playroom organized and these tips will help.

  3. Could I send you pictures of what we have going on and you tell me how to most effectively improve???

  4. We have a hard time with loose parts ... my girls love loose parts ... my 4 year old especially uses things such as pom poms, colored matchsticks, glass beads, pony beads, etc. etc. etc in her kitchen to "cook". While watching her make recipes and foods is awesome - what we end up with then is all of the "ingredients" are now mixed together and sorting them back out is a tedious project that often isn't done ... then she can't 'cook'. Any suggestions??

    1. pour her ingredients onto a plastic tray and put small/medium sized clear jars or clear containers by the tray. Put one of each item in each jar or plastic container and have her sort the rest with a small pair of tongs or tweezers. It makes it a fine motor, "math" sorting game!!

  5. thanks for your reply - sorry about my double post ( i thought it didnt take, but i was on the wrong post .. lol) that is kind of what we do, but without dumping it into a big tray - that may make it a little easier!

  6. Excellent Share! An exciting dialogue is well worth comment. I think you ought to compose much more on Northstar Truck Campers, it may well not be considered a taboo issue but typically individuals usually are not enough to speak on this sort of topics.


Search by Subject

#ULTG (159) light table (142) twins (126) home preschool (109) preschool fun (59) reggio (57) backyard play area (45) light box (45) light panel (39) light play (39) reggio inspired (39) outdoor fun (35) fun with light (29) homeschool (29) water beads (27) parenting multiples (24) playdates (24) preschool science (18) sensory play (18) enriched outdoor play (17) product review (17) art (16) playing with light (16) preschool art (16) magna tiles (15) reggio emilia (15) choo choo wagon (14) messy fun (13) water play (13) lightbox (12) black light (10) glow in the dark (10) indoor play area (10) light cube (10) light table manipulatives (10) outside play environment (10) reggio inspired environment (10) science (10) LED lights (9) kindergarten (9) learning through play (9) light table toys (9) reggio light play (9) smart outdoor play (9) DIY light table (8) Sensory bins (8) outdoor toys (8) pinterest (8) play based learning (8) reggio fridays (8) waldorf playstand (8) art and light (7) autism (7) liquid water color (7) overhead projector (7) blocks (6) kids (6) light table worksheets (6) outdoor learning (6) outdoor play (6) preschool arts and crafts (6) reggio inspired play room (6) scented water play (6) slime (6) OSC (5) awesome toys (5) math (5) messy outdoor play (5) messy playdate (5) oil drip pan magnet board (5) preschool math (5) sensory playdate (5) valentines day (5) imaginative play (4) kindergarten homeschool (4) playroom organization (4) projected play (4) reggio linky (4) scented sensory play (4) toys (4) acrylic mirrors (3) action figures (3) bubbles (3) educational toys (3) mirror play table (3) mirrors (3) overhead manipulatives (3) overhead transparencies (3) preschool crafts (3) scented science experiments (3) spielgaben (3) trampoline (3) ultimate light table guide (3) usborne books (3) automatic bubble machine (2) cellophane paper (2) diy spielgaben (2) homeschool room tour (2) preschool spelling (2) reggio inspired homeschool room (2) scented science (2) scented slime (2) science experiment (2) science for kids (2) sensory tables (2) 1st grade (1) ULTG (1) ping pong fish bowl toss (1) scented play (1) scented playdough (1)