A designated room, storage areas, and recycling will contain the trail left by play, says Kya deLongchamps.
I CAUGHT my eight-year-old ‘tidying up’ — wistfully decanting dozens of exploding boxes of obsolete toddler booty into my recently cleared-out closet.
She was assembling a museum of childhood on my pinched avenues, creating space in her garret for the Christmas of more-to-come. I got up on my hind legs. Stunned at my gene-level selfishness, she selected one, tiny, sacrificial plastic doodah (which had been found on the floor at playschool and thrown into a drawer for four years).
Fastening it resolutely to her chest, eyes urgent with tears, she stumbled towards the kitchen and theatrically flung it at the merciless snap of the bin.
This micro-drama was followed by a physical and spiritual collapse onto an obliging soft surface, accompanied by loud weeping for ‘the death of memories’. Lillian Gish at the height of her powers in Broken Blossoms (Paramount 1936)- couldn’t do better.
Christmas is accompanied, for any household with children, by heaps of largely plastic, floor-dwelling stuff.
Once this arsenal has been off-loaded under the Christmas tree, it’s invested with an emotional glamour, and will be difficult to dump for several years.
This is a transient, fragile time for our little shape-shifters, so help them to help you to stay on top of the avalanche of material goods.
We’ve all seen it. A house where the adults have surrendered control of every centimetre of communal space. Too many toys and a lack of understood boundaries can make a misery of even a rangy home.
It’s not Dickensian cruelty to designate an area for children to play in, downstairs, at the heart of the action, and to expect them to stick to it. A full playroom with a closing door is the dream, but occasional spaces, such as conservatories, make great play areas, with lots of light and passive warmth even in the bleakest days of winter.
Cul-de-sac ends of corridors, and larger rooms where circulation traffic is low, may also suit. Next, it’s a matter of keeping the toy count to sane levels.
If you are offered a present of a stuffed toy for a child who is aged over six, and the wee angel hasn’t spotted it, leg it across the room, grab the midget animal and hand-pass it out the front door.
Such a lazy, annoying, obvious cop-out of a gift and favoured by all visitors in a panic. My obese cat relieved himself in a box of 98 of our teddies to a loud ‘hurray’ from Kya.
Yet, years on, we still have 95 faintly pungent petrochemical survivors, stitched mouths a-grin, poked into fruit boxes all over the blasted house.
TOY IN/TOY OUT
Gifting something less enthralling, but in good condition, to charity is a good guiding principle, easily understood and acceptable to most children.
KID FRIENDLY STORAGE
Encourage youngsters to do the right thing. Storage should be simple to use, close by, and easily identified for sorting goods by type.
Carry toys to the garden in large, clear plastic bins, which can be reloaded and returned.
If the children are too young to read, categorise the bins with a picture they can identify, like a dolly or a stack of blocks.
Ensure clips, lids and hinges are child-safe, otherwise dump the lids. Shelves and blunt, peg-style hooks make favourite toys available.
Involve the children in the discussion of storage and have a place for everything. Are they messing up the kitchen because their designated play doesn’t have enough room to launch a rocket to Mars?
You might be surprised by their solutions and their priorities. Einstein couldn’t fold clothes at age four, but he could pitch his jaded knickers in a laundry basket. Expect more of them, but be realistic.
This tried-and-tested method, which has been used for generations, builds responsibility, but relies on you to be fair and consistent.
If toys are left on the floor and your repeated, clear, calm directions to pick them up are ignored, the toy is whisked away to a locked cupboard and held hostage for a preordained period.
This works well for toys that are driven or flown to different parts of the house in the course of a game, and then abandoned for some programme on TV. One short, sharp lesson provided by walking on Lego in a bare instep will focus your mind.
Don’t give in to your child’s whining; keep the pawn for the full term. Avoid putting things up on high shelves when taking things away, this is temptation to the little Edmund Hillary.
If you’re still overwhelmed by an archipelago of things, it’s probably time to permanently edit their neglected collection.
Young children have the attention span of a gnat. A massive array of choice in all-singing, all-dancing detritus numbs their creativity and focus to two minute-shuffles.
Circulate half a dozen toys. Stage them teasingly on Monday morning, in a basket, to refresh a toddler’s interest and coax out their vital talents of make-believe.
Whether you can afford all these stimulating playthings or not, it’s natural to question the wisdom of delivering Christmas every weekend, with further ballast clogging up the house. What about setting up a ‘toy bank’ or swap-out with a group of other parents?
Fun, sociable, virtually free, if you slap even €1-2 on each item, you have a great way to give back with a charitable donation. Look up the Baby and Children’s Goods for Sale/Swap on Facebook.
If you want to remind yourself what children can do with just about anything, put away the excess of 21st century mania, and gift them a massive cardboard box, a few blankets and a friend, and stand back.
Put the fun into toy clean-ups
Toy clean-ups can be a natural extension of a play period rather than a form of discipline. If you form the equation of bad behaviour with tidying up in a child’s mind, they will always see it as bad news and something they are entitled to escape when they are behaving themselves.
If you are tempted to forgo the battle to encourage your children to take responsibility, keep in mind its place in your parenting. Organisation, hygiene, expectations and routine are all life skills and you can deliver these messages in a fun, communal atmosphere. So, make it a game.
This clean up song from Simple Learning makes me want to burst through an exterior wall and run down the road screaming, but it’s worth a try with under 4s on repeating loop (it’s only one and half minutes long). Over 4s will stalk out. http://supersimplelearning.com/ songs/original-series/one/clean-up/.
¦ The whole house cleanup: This is a sort of 15 minute high energy domestic workout for the whole family. Put on some upbeat music, set a kitchen timer with a good loud ring and yell ‘go’. Ensure everyone has their task and storage target, even down to the youngest child. The excitement and fun of participation in this quick joint effort can really get children moving.
¦ No toy rewards: Put up a pin board or sticker board and reward good work in clean-ups immediately with a bright sticker featuring the child’s favourite play character. When they reach a certain number of stickers (don’t make it unreasonable or motivation will fade) let them choose a family activity, such as a trip to the swimming pool or a walk in the woods.
¦ Act up: Small children alive with imaginative play may want to mix things up and use one box of knick-knackery along with another. Be patient and ask them to help you sort things out at the end. Let them show you how it’s done, deliberately making a mistake or two to swell their sense of achievement.
¦ Build in a little learning: Colour code your storage bins and ask the child in your best ‘this is a game’ up-speak to put all their dolls in the yellow basket and call out an excited ‘go.’ There may be some over-enthusiastic flinging to start with, but hone their behaviour over time rather than nit-picking.
¦ The freeze game: Put on some music and while it’s playing everyone must clean up (properly). When the music stops, everyone should stay in place like statues. No one is ‘out’, of course, otherwise you’ll soon have them plunked in chairs watching you finish the game.
¦ Cleaner warriors: A superb tip from the infant emergency behavioural specialists at Nanny 911. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to a spray bottle of water and give the kids a cloth to spray and wipe off their toys and play surfaces. The soda acts as a natural disinfectant and is perfectly harmless in solution.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved