Promoting Playtime: How Less Really Is More

playtime

It’s the middle of summer. Already. I had grand ideas of how I’d keep my kids occupied and engaged without heavily relying on screen time. Don’t get me wrong, shows, videogames, and tablet time definitely have a place in our house. Sometimes I need time in the morning to nurse the baby and drink my coffee. There are some great games like Minecraft and Osmo that build valuable skills. And I honestly love watching Bluey. But I’m trying to find a balance, especially when there is less structure to our days. 

We have definitely been hitting up local parks, participating in stroller meetups, and our lovely public libraries! But what about when we’re home? We have LOADS of toys, but I still hear the dreaded “I’m bored!” come out of my sweet, creative, industrious children. Sometimes I’ve been putting together an activity, but even then it may only hold their interest for a short time. So, I hyperfocused on researching solutions for playtime and found two that have been working:

Toy Minimizing

Okay, hear me out. In spite of how great it would probably be, I am NOT a minimalist. I like to shop and I get attached to stuff. I actually love getting my kids toys and I have been known to buy toys more for my own pleasure (my children have barely touched this Hearth & Hand Bookshop but it makes me happy. No regrets.) So, I decided to try toy rotation. There are waaaaay too many options of how to do it on Pinterest, but finally settled on putting together bins that had at least one type of building toy, set of vehicles, characters, games/puzzles, and pretend items. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of what was where. 

I left out one bin’s worth plus our Lego’s downstairs (where baby can’t get to them) and Duplos and baby toys upstairs. And guess what? My kids have been playing way more with this super limited selection than they were when everything was out in the open. The rest of the bins are just stored in our playroom closet so we could get out any toys my kids are missing. After a month, they have not asked for one thing from the bins during playtime! It’s much easier to pick up for the kids and for me since there’s a manageable amount. Less toys also means my kids are less overwhelmed with choices so their play has been more focused. They keep themselves entertained longer than when we had all their toys out.

Open Ended Play

Open Ended Play is a catch-all term for any type of play that has no instructions, rules, or goals. This is a helpful article that explains open and closed play and why both are important: Close-Ended vs. Open-Ended Toys in Montessori 

My current favorite type of open ended playtime is Loose Parts Play which is gathering an assortment of objects and letting kids experiment with them and play however they like. The beauty of it is YOU don’t have to think of what the items are for, you just get to put out a few options and let your kids’ imaginations do the work!

Loose Parts Ideas:

Take It Outside

  • Rocks
  • Sticks
  • Pinecones
  • Acorns
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Ropes
  • Boards
  • Hula hoops
  • Chalk
  • Water
  • Cups
  • Buckets
  • Shovels
  • Carts
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Ladders
  • Spray bottles

Indoor Ideas

  • Blocks
  • Scarves or silks
  • Corks
  • Pegs
  • Clothespins
  • Poof balls
  • Marbles
  • Shower rings
  • Paper rolls
  • Craft supplies (crayons, paper, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, etc)
  • Wooden train tracks
  • Boxes
  • String/yarn
  • Buttons
  • Bottle caps
  • Cups
  • Game pieces (dice, meeples, checkers, etc.)
  • Utensils (scoops, chopsticks, spoons, etc.)
  • Pillows
  • Climbers

How do you keep your kids engaged at home during playtime? Are you doing a toy rotation? What’s the most random thing your kids have played with?


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Olivia grew up just outside of Cedar Rapids in Mount Vernon, IA. She moved to Pella, IA for undergrad and loved working in the library, so she continued her education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned her Masters of Library and Information Science. She originally intended to be a higher ed librarian, but an internship at a public library working with kids convinced her to change her plans. After 9 years working as a full time children’s librarian, Olivia is now embarking on an exciting new chapter as a full time mama.

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