Friday, September 20, 2013

Toy Library

We have a new toy library! Before I tell you all about it, here's a little history of us and toys:

When my kids were babies and toddlers, I rotated their toys.  I found that they just played better with fewer options, that clean up was easier (and faster!) with fewer options, so I split them up into thirds or so, put the "off" toys in big plastic bins in a closet, and rotated them about once a month.  This worked well enough, especially since they didn't really remember what was missing, so they didn't ask for things that weren't out.  I didn't like the job of rotating boxes, though, so it got put off sometimes.  It was sort of a pain, but I felt it was worth it.

We moved here just over two years ago when my kids were newly 4 and newly 3.  We had a playroom at first, so I didn't split toys into rotations, I just dumped them all in the playroom.  Sure, it was always a disaster, and the kids were too overwhelmed with the volume to clean up effectively, but I also didn't have to go in there, so I was able to turn a blind eye and tackle the mess infrequently.

About 15 months after we moved here, we had exhausted all the room sharing combinations and came to the conclusion that my kids sharing rooms was just NOT going to work.  We needed to sleep a kid in the playroom.  I split the toys up between the bedrooms and for the last year, it's been a big toy nightmare.  Hazel's room absorbed the "girl" toys (play kitchen, barbies, dollhouse, baby dolls, American Girls, My Little Ponies, other ponies and barns, etc).  Jono doesn't like a lot in his room.  He likes a large pile of stuffed animals, some action figures, and that's about it.  That meant that Charlie's room (the former playroom) had all the rest.  Trains, lego, dress-ups, tool bench/tools, blocks, cars, Imaginext Star Wars, Mr. Potato head, etc.  He was regularly melting into a puddle because even though his siblings would go into his room to play with toys there, no one wanted to help him clean, and it was FAR too much.  This is what it looked like most days...

We needed a solution.  I wasn't willing to take on rotating their toys for them again.  And they wouldn't want that anyway, since they have favorites.  Some things they play with daily, some things much less frequently.  They're 6 and 5.  They needed choice and freedom if this was gong to work.

After some time with my friend Google and a little blog reading, I started to hatch a plan. I started by paying the kids in lollipops to bring all of their toys out of their rooms.  ALL of them.  Every single toy they owned.  I sorted them into groups in the living room floor.  I ended up with somewhere around 30 individual "items" for check out.  Dolls, barbies, blocks (3 different kinds) cars, dress ups, stuffed animals, ponies, play kitchen food and dishes, action figures, transformers, puppets, and on and on it went.  

Then we bought bins.  LOTS of bins.  I was willing to try this without this step, and use the myriad randomly sized containers and baskets that toys had been living in, in bedrooms.  My husband suggested (and he was SO right) that I might like the uniformity of a just a few sizes of bins.  Not cheap.  Worth it.  

not pictured: a box of those big 2 gallon ziplock baggies for those things that didn't require a full bin

Everything then found a home in a bin in the shed. Several of the blog posts I read used space in their basement or a spare closet.  While I'd give my left arm for a basement, my house is actually below sea level which means that our water table is something like half an inch below the grass in my backyard.  Yeah, so, we don't have a basement.  Luckily, I do have an awesome big shed.  

one corner
yep, toys. right there between the edger and the extension cords. awesome. 

the other corner
with the card table, the bird seed, and some sports equipment.  whatever.

(closer up)

My kids checked their first toys out of the library yesterday afternoon and it's been a huge hit!

My initial plan was to have two types of bins, big and small, defined by how big of a mess their contents made, not necessarily how big the actual bin was.  I was going to allow kids to have one "big" and three "small" bins checked out at any given time.  I initially divided the bins in the shed along the same lines.  Big bins in one corner, small bins in the other.  My kids don't appreciate this distinction. In the first afternoon, Charlie wanted to swap superheroes (a small bin) for log cabin blocks (a HUGE bin).  I had just started to protest when Hazel bounded around the corner and, having heard her brother was finished with superheroes, wanted to trade the trains that she had (big bin) for his superhero bin.  It was not worth arguing with both of them over bin size.  So I dropped that distinction before the 24 hour mark, and now they're simply limited to four bins apiece.  

My initial thoughts?  AWESOME.  My kids have four bins of things in their rooms.  This is about the same volume of toys that Jono used to voluntarily keep in his room, so no big change there.  But Hazel and Charlie can now clean up without weeping!  Wahoo!! I am not limiting how often they swap things out.  So far, Jono is happy with his initial four choices.  Hazel and Charlie have traded bins multiple times.  I don't want to limit their access to their toys. I just want to limit how many they have access to *at the same time*.  

The most interesting thing to me has been what they've chosen to play with.  This is the first time in their lives that specific toys have not had a "home base".  Even shared toys (like dress ups, play kitchen, and blocks) have been stored in one room or another.  Hazel currently has her My Little Ponies, the superheroes, the dinosaurs, and the small animals in her room.  She's got a big mash up world going on in her (empty) dollhouse with all the components of those different bins.  I love it!  I have a feeling that besides her MLP, the other "girl toy" bins will rarely leave the shed.  She's just not into them, and that's OK.  

I'll keep you posted as we use this for a while, but so far, I'm really excited! 

No comments: