• Vicki Manning

Help your child make the most of their toys


Do you have toys that are gathering dust on the shelf? Are you forever tidying boxes of toys that are tipped everywhere? And does your child seem to get 'bored' of toys really quickly? Try these simple steps and I guarantee your child will see their toys through fresh eyes!


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When my eldest was a toddler we'd amassed quite a collection of toys. Nothing unusual in that - Christmas and Birthday presents soon build up.


We needed to think about how to store them, and the shops were full of boxes and bins that are perfect for busy Mums and Dads to hide mess quickly. We started with your typical IKEA storage unit with 12 boxes in the living room and a similar unit in mister's bedroom.


Like most people, we found this was a really practical solution for storing toys. Problem was, it never stayed tidy for long! So often my eldest (and visitors) would empty all the boxes until we were in a sea of plastic.


My little bundle of joy had turned into a 'tip every box he could find on the floor' toddler

Learning to tidy is an important part of a child's development, but let's be honest, parents and caregivers do most of the heavy lifting as we want to get the job done quickly.


I started to look for ways to avoid this box tipping and help mister get more from his toys -we are now on toddler number three, and over the years we've learned a few things that I want to share with you.


Colourful plastic toys, duplo, animals, tipped over the floor

1. Presentation


The main problem with having lots of toys on display is that your child can't see the wood for the trees, they're overwhelmed and they inevitably end up chucking them everywhere. It's the same principle as when you're weaning - if you give bubba too much food on the plate it's more likely to end up on the floor than in their mouths!


The answer is simple - it's just about re-thinking the way the toys are presented. Giving your child less toys but making them more accessible means they can make more considered choices when playing.


Researchers in Germany, as part of the ‘Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten’ (The Nursery Without Toys) project, found that removing toys from children can have a positive impact as they become not only more creative in their play but more social too.


Try it yourself - take a small selection of toys and place them on a shelf or surface at child height. You don't need a specific unit, I often use the end of the TV cabinet in our living room. Imagine you're displaying them at their full potential with lots of space and completely visible. You can also place a few toys in an open basket or tray on the floor.


If your child has a current favourite toy, keep this out - we're not trying to make them unhappy, just help them make choices! Put the rest of the toys out of sight for now.


You have now limited the choices for your child. This is a good thing! It means your child will play in a more considered way and you will have far less to tidy every day.


Your child will play in a more considered way and you will have far less to tidy

Give it a try, I promise you won't be disappointed!


2. Rotate


This is my second important tip for keeping your child's interest fresh and it explains what to do with all the toys left from my first tip!


To rotate toys, you keep the lion's share of toys stored away and occasionally (when little one is asleep or out of the house) change what's available to play with. Find somewhere your child doesn't have access but you do, such as a garage or under-stairs cupboard, and spend a little time organising them before storing away.


Toy rotation sounds like a lot of faff but it really isn't once you get into the swing of things. You can be amazingly organised and have a rota to swap out the toys (check out this post by One Hundred Toys) but I prefer to see when my little one is getting disinterested in a toy and change it over then. Equally, if they are still getting a lot from a toy, keep it out.


Two young children using a puppet theatre with read curtains
This puppet theatre was a favourite toy for a couple of months last year - it's currently stored away

You don't have to rotate all their toys in one go, just having that turnover of toys in general will keep your child engaged and getting more out of their play.


3. Sensory bin


Sensory bins are a great way of giving old toys a new lease of life - an added sensory element encourages using toys in more diverse and experimental ways.


All you need to create a sensory bin is a tray or shallow tub, a base material such as rice and some suitable toys. Read how to make a sensory bin here.


The great thing about sensory bins is that the possibilities are limitless. I love to give my children a themed sensory bin - for example tractors with corn for a harvest bin or sponges with a tea set for a washing up bin - but sometimes just adding a bit of water is enough for them to show renewed interest!


4. Playdough invitation


Playdough is a great material for mark-marking, sculpting and imaginary play, and giving your child toys instead of traditional playdough tools will challenge them to think more creatively.


You can either buy a pot of the well-known brand or you make your own (see how easy it is here). Just pop it on a tray with a few toys and let your child explore and create.


Toys that work really well with playdough are:

  • toy soldiers

  • dinosaurs

  • peg dolls

  • toobs of insects

  • puzzle pieces

  • Duplo / Lego

  • construction vehicles

  • Mr potato head

  • animals

  • sea creatures

  • toy picnic set

  • play food

If some playdough gets in toy nooks and crannies just use a larger ball to stick to the playdough and pull it out.


5. Mix them up


Putting toys together based on a theme is a great way of helping your little one to get more from their play. You can demonstrate how different types of toys can be used together in a different ways, which will naturally encourage experimentation.


You don't need to go mad with a fully themed display like you would find at nursery or school, just bring three or four things together to inspire play, maybe a few toys and a book, and pop them on a low surface or in a basket.


Ideas for themes:

  • Things that make a sound (e.g. instruments, electronic toys)

  • Colours (one at a time)

  • Animal habitats (e.g. desert, arctic, jungle)

  • Things that move

  • Seasons

  • Places you visit (e.g. seaside, museum)

  • Fairy tales or nursery rhymes

  • Events (e.g. Valentine's, Earth Day, Bonfire Night)


6. Model play


It may sound obvious, but just taking time to play with a toy yourself is a great way to get a child interested. They may not have even realised the full potential of a toy - by modelling curiosity you could be showing them an entirely new way to play that they really enjoy. It's also a great way to demonstrate sharing and teamwork.


You don't have to spend hours playing for this to work, I find that for around 10 minutes of 1-2-1 play like this, my toddler will play for around double that time again. Obviously this will vary depending on the age and development of your child.


A quick word of warning - whilst this is a great way to help renew your child's interest in a toy, you need to avoid too much 'adult-led' activity as the majority of your child's play should be following their lead.


You can read more about helping your child get the most from their child play here.


7. Location, location, location


Sometimes the location of a toy will make all the difference - environment has an impact on how your child plays and a different setting can give a toy new appeal. There may be new structures, textures and objects to interact with that will fuel imagination.


Diggers can go in mud at the park, instruments can be played full volume in the garden, dolls can go on a visit to the zoo, a teddy might enjoy a ride in a shopping trolley. There are so many ways to extend play with your toys out and about.


Next time you visit somewhere, try popping an old toy in your bag, or ask your little one to pick a toy to take with you.


Two children playing with Lego Duplo on a patio outside
Taking Duplo outside on a sunny day

8 . Add some everyday objects


Children love getting their hands on everyday objects; things that may seem boring or mundane to us can be fascinating to a toddler or pre-schooler!


Here are some suggestions for everyday objects you can add to toys to get more from them:

  • Kitchen toys - add recycling boxes, bottles & packets to 'cook' with

  • Tea sets - add dry teabags, sponges for cakes

  • Dolls - add some real flowers to transform them into fairies

  • Marble run - add water beads in a sensory bin

  • Diggers - add some pebbles or beans to be scooped and moved

  • Cars - add short pieces of guttering for ramps

  • Dress-up sets - add bangles, scarves, chunky necklaces & glasses

Have you got any tip for giving old toys new life? Let me know in the comments!


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Hi, I'm Vicki!

I'm an author and mum to three energetic boys who love learning in a playful and creative way! For more playful learning, creative inspiration and crafts, visit us at:

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