How’s that for a click-baity title, eh? I’m not usually one to go that route, but it’s the truth. I don’t. Why? Because it’s helped them to become more creative people. That’s it. That’s the whole blog post. Because I don’t make my kids pick up their toys, they’re tiny creative geniuses who will someday rule the world.
Want smart, creative kids? Hate nagging? Don’t make your kids pick up their toys.
Consider your life officially hacked.
Kidding. I’ll explain myself. You know me; I never say in a few word what I could say in a few hundred.
I know a lot of people who insist that their kids put things away once their done playing with them. You want to color? Get out the crayons and paper. You’re done coloring? Put them away before you get something else out.
That is, generally speaking, not how we roll at our house.
Part of that is because we just don’t have that many toys. With the obvious exceptions of sandbox toys and bikes, and the drawers of dress-ups that live in the girls’ room, everything else fits into a few bins in our family room. When the bins are overflowing, it’s time to purge. We do rotate some things in and out; for example, I just brought out a bunch of baby toys for Ryan that I’d packed up when the girls outgrew them. Mostly, though, there’s aren’t that many toys to pick up anyway.
The bigger reason I don’t make my kids pick up their toys, though, is so they can play with them all at the same time.
It does make a bigger mess, but it’s a fascinating mess. Instead of just playing tea party with the tea set, then playing trains with the train set, then twirling their rainbow ribbons, they tie teacups to train tracks with rainbows and voila! Helicopter!
Let’s take Magna-Tiles, for instance.
(Yes, I am using an affiliate link, so I might make a few pennies if you click. But seriously, you should click and then buy because these things are AMAZING. They’re what baby boy is munching on in these pics.)
We first played with Magna-Tiles at my friend Rachael‘s house, LOVED THEM, and got the set I’m linking to for the girls the following Christmas. That was two years ago. We have played with them nearly every day since then. They are probably the most frequently used toy at our house. Their versatility makes them an obvious playtime staple.
On any given day, my girls could use them to build a barn for their stuffed animals or a school for Anna and Elsa to attend. A garage for their cars. A fish tank for a stuffed Nemo. A mailbox to send letters to each other. A train station. A staircase to the fireplace/stage.
But it goes even beyond that. They could just build buildings or other three-dimensional shapes. Or… they could (and do!) use them as sandwiches at a tea party. Pretend a stack of squares is a book. Make flat “puzzles” of suns and stars and any other shapes they can imagine. Use them as plates, cups, fans, shoes, and ice cream cones.
Many of these games require other toys to work. Matchbox cars. Crayons and paper to write letters. Various dolls and stuffed animals. The whole train set, which fills an entire toy bin and is too heavy for the girls to lift on their own. It gets chaotic and messy, but it also gets really creative. And that’s just their play based on one kind of toy.
Mila has put together wagons and sleds, ice skates and mermaid costumes, restaurants and shops and entire cities out of the unrestricted contents of our toy bins. Heck, sometimes she even uses the bins themselves. Margot’s current favorite game is having the princesses ride the ponies to rescue the bears from the ninja turtles. They build podiums out of stacking blocks, baby rattles, and the chairs from their play table, then sing to or lecture me, depending on how much they like me that day. It’s ridiculous and awesome.
I don’t make my kids pick up their toys because if I did I’d be reinforcing the idea that a ball is just a ball, a teddy bear is just a teddy bear, a basket is just a basket. By letting them have free rein, their imaginations can run wild. A ball can be a planet, a bear an astronaut, a basket his space ship…and five minutes later they can all be something different.
In all fairness, I do make them pick everything up a couple times a day. Usually before we leave the house and always before bed. And certain things, like puzzles and LEGOs, get put away immediately because we don’t want to lose pieces or let the baby eat them.
It’s not total anarchy over here.
But sometimes it gets close. And it’s a surprisingly, wonderfully creative thing.
What was the clean-up policy when you were growing up? We we lucky enough to have a basement that could be messy all the time without guests ever seeing a single toy. It was great. If you have kids, do you make them pick up their toys before getting something else out? I’m endlessly curious how other parents do things; there’s so many clever ideas out there!
All photos by Photography Hill