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5 things you should be doing to help your child engage in more meaningful play

Your home may actually burst from all the kid’s stuff you own. Between all the birthdays, holidays, and random gifts, kids sure do accumulate a lot of stuff. But’s it’s all good right? Because surely all of these toys will keep them happy, busy, and engaged! They won’t ever get bored because how can you possibly be bored when you have a literal mountain of toys right?! Well friend, I’ve sadly found this to be wrong. I’m sure we have all asked ourselves questions like:

“Why aren’t my kids playing with these toys?”

“Why will they only sit and play for 5 minutes and then get bored?”

“Why won’t they engaged in any of the activities I set up for them?”

If you are asking yourself any of these question, first I want you to know that you are not alone. I still even find myself wondering some of these things from time to time. When I do start asking myself these questions, I know it’s time to re-evalaute what I’m doing.

Next, I want you to know that this post will briefly outline some of the main topics you should be considering. For more detail, refer to my Guide for Keeping Your Child Engaged in Play which goes into more detail (available here).

1.  Are the toys or activities developmentally appropriate?

I know this sounds basic, but toys or activities to that too easy or too complex may not hold your child’s attention for long. Toys that are not challenging enough for an older child will not keep them engaged, and an activity that is too complex for younger ones may just end up causing them frustrations.   It is also important to remember if what we are expecting from our child is realistic for where they are in their development. It would be unrealistic for a 12 month old to sit down for an hour engaging in pretend play.

2. Are you following their interests?

Your child is going to be far more engaged in an activity when it has to do with something they already love. I know as parents and as educators we want to expose our children to new and exciting experiences, but if your child is having a hard time engaging in activities you set up, try putting a spin on it by following their current interests. Do they loves tractors? Try painting with them; their tires leave such fun prints on paper! If “new” isn’t keeping them engaged, then why change what is already working- stick with what they know and love.

3. Are you overwhelming your child with too many toys to choose from?

This is a big one; your child does not need to have access to every single toy in your home. It will not keep them busier having hoards and hoards of toys everywhere. It will only overwhelm them, making it harder for them to focus and engage. Studies have even shown this! (see notes at the end). You have probably even experienced this for yourself; have you ever set foot into a grocery store and had absolutely no idea what to buy even though you are surrounded by options?? Simply select a few toys from different categories for your child to play with and put the rest away. (Bonus: this will also make tidy up time sooo much easier!)

4. Are you switching up the toys?

Since your child now only has a select few toys to play with at one time as the majority are being stored away….this naturally leads to a toy rotation. Toys rotations are magical things! This is where you pack up the toys that are in use, and bring out some of the ones that they haven’t played with or seen in a while. Keep your child’s interests in mind here too; I always have vehicles out and available, it’s just a matter of which ones. For example I have a big bin of vehicles and will just switch the ones I have out. Or I will switch different types of building materials. Also, now that my kids are older, they tend to have favourites that they always have out (Lego or special figurines).

5.  Have you considered how your toys and activities are being stored/presented?

I used to store all of my kid’s toys in a baskets in our living room and I would always wonder why they didn’t all get used. “Out of sight, out of mind” my friends. Try finding a flat surface in the area where toys are stored and have a few toys out on display. For example, ff you have a small shelf in the family room, you could have some of the toys in bins or baskets, and others set up as “prompts” or “invitations to play”. This means take out some of the blocks and make a little tower, this will invite your child to come and build upon this.

Once you have taken all these things into consideration and set up an appropriate environment for your child, it really should help with how they are able to engage, focus, and play. Keep in mind that some children will need your help at first; your child may be able to engage and stay interested, but may still prefer you to be there with them. This is completely normal for younger children; they have not yet mastered independent play. You can teach them this (I had to teach my oldest child this at age 3!), but this topic is for another blog post friend!

Do you want to know MORE about this topic?? My FREE Guide for Keeping Your Child Engaged in Play goes into more detail, you can get it here!

Here’s the research I found about the number of toys in a child’s environment affecting their quality of play.