How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys

As many of you know, my house is a mecca of toys. Is it educational? Is it a logic puzzle? Does it involve building blocks or wood or MAGNETS? Is it a Lego? Or crafty? If so, I probably own it.

I’m a sucker for anything with a magnet. Or logic. Or building.

But the thing is, my children NEVER played with these toys. They were obsessively on their iPads. Otherwise, they were busy using each other as meat punching bags and smacking the crap out of each other with Minecraft foam swords and axes and plastic pointy light sabres.

So, all that money I spent on real wood blocks and Magnatiles and Magformers, etc.? All wasted.

What really upset me was that they LOVED to play with these toys at other people’s houses. Just not mine.


But these past few weeks, since we got back from Taiwan, things have changed. And I think I know why.

Despite this being only a few weeks implemented, I have a feeling the changes will stick. (Possibly because most of these tips are things I have read before. I never said I was re-inventing the wheel, people!)

So, without further ado: How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys:

1) Get rid of your toys.

Now, unless you already were some minimalist or just amazing (and therefore, I kinda hate you but want to be you all at the same time), you probably have way more toys than you need or want and they’re just pissing you off.

Way back in the end of February, my friend, Danielle Faust at OkDani and FitNoire wrote a post about how she threw away all (or almost all) her kids’ toys.

Now, when I read her post at the time, I agreed and thought, wow! That’s amazing! But I could never do that at my house because so many of my toys have already been culled.

I was wrong. So wrong.

And four months later (what can I say? I’m slow.), I threw out a bunch of my toys. In fact, I threw away or got rid of any toy that pissed me off – no matter how educational or age-appropriate or “good” the toy was. If it made me angry or cringe, it was out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have a lot of toys. I am not getting rid of expensive toys that I love. But I did get rid of 6-8 bags of toys that I HATED.

It was a joyous and beautiful day.

2) Have a place for every toy.

I know. None of this is the stuff of genius. We read about it all the time in those organizing articles.

But it’s true.

If there’s a place for the toy, and the kids know where it belongs, then they know where to put it back when they’re done with the toy. (And the answer is NOT the floor.)

It helps if the place is a clear box so they can see what toy is in which box (especially since my kids can’t read English). I also have painter’s tape on each box with Chinese/zhuyin and English on the label so the kids and Hapa Papa know what belongs in that particular container.

About two years ago, I had an organizer come in and buy appropriate shelves and storage things so that I have plenty of space, I just need to keep them OPEN.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t so much a lack of enough organizational materials as much as a lack of space. If lack of space is a problem, confer back to point 1.

The arts and crafts center. It’s not at all neat, but it will serve.

One shelf with toys. Some have been pulled out for play.

Another shelf filled with toys.

3) Take out 2-4 activities each day.

So, I have had a pretty organized home with toys and activities for months, but STILL the kids wouldn’t play with the toys. They instead would reach for their old standbys – the swords and sabers and then proceed to beat each other to a pulp.

I was annoyed. I mean, other than the toys looking so pretty in the boxes, what’s the point of having them if the kids won’t play with them?

That’s when I remembered what our home-based preschool teacher, PW would do at the start of each class time. She also has lots of fun toys in her house, but instead of having them all put away, each class period, she would take out 3-4 activities and put them on the floor for the kids to explore.

That didn’t mean she didn’t let them play other things, but it did mean she gave them direction.

Because if you think about it, having lots of choices can be overwhelming unless you are one of those people (and by those people, I mean people such as I) who always order the same things at restaurants. Otherwise, you end up paralyzed by all the choices.

Same thing with the kids and toys.

In the face of so many toys, they go to their easy standbys and don’t even consider the other toys.

So, now, either the night before or the morning, of, I take out 2-3 activities and put them on the floor. I usually take out:

a) one type of building activity (blocks, Wedge-Its, Magnatiles)

b) one type of sorting/sensory activity (a big box of rocks, fuzzy balls, plastic dinosaurs, glass beads, etc.), and

c) one type of puzzle or other game.

And then I go against every instinct and let them keep those three activities out ALL DAY.

In fact, I far prefer this to “rotating” toys. Mostly because I don’t really have to think about “storing” toys and then remembering to “rotate” them. I hate extra work and brain power I need to exert.

4) Limit screen time.

I hate this suggestion. It’s really Captain Obvious and judgmental and self-righteous.

But it’s true.

Kids really can’t play with your toys if they’re glued to a screen.

Keep in mind, I don’t care how long your kids are on the screen. I won’t judge. My kids spent the last week in Taiwan entirely on the iPad. Like, from morning til night. For a week. Blowing through $1,000USD in Airbnb rent just like that.

I don’t judge.

However, like I mentioned before. It’s difficult for kids to play with toys if there is no opportunity for them to actually play. So, limiting some of your screen time is probably necessary.

For us, my kids are limited to 2 hours of screen time where they actually choose what they can watch. Then, I will likely add Chinese science videos or TF Boys (their current obsession) on top of that because I’m a sucker and I don’t mind.

That has made a huge difference at our house.

Now, with all their newly freed up time, and seeing all the toys I have pulled out, my kids actually play with their toys. And somehow, it’s as if a mental block was pulled from their brains. As if they remembered all the other toys our home possesses.

Not only do they play with the toys I “suggest,” they also pull out their other toys. And since I usually have most drawing and art materials out on the table, the kids use those more, too.

Before, I would force the kids to clean up right away. But now, I am a little more relaxed about it. Instead, if the floor gets dangerous and too full, that’s when I make them clean up. And then I definitely make them clean up before we go upstairs for bed.

I don’t mind the extra mess as long as the toys are used and the kids are playing with each other and not a screen.

Anyhow, I realize that nothing I suggested is mind-blowing or new. But hopefully, still helpful. And not only helpful – applicable.

Let me know what you do to get your kids to play with their toys. (Or maybe you don’t have this problem at all!) See you Friday!

We Made It!

Greetings from the other side of the world! As expected, it is hot hot hot and humid. But hey, that’s what hiding inside is for.

Thank God for my mother because it would have been super difficult on the plane ride without her. My kids decided that despite the flight taking off at 1:40am, sleep wasn’t necessary. They barely slept a broken 5-6 hours (yes, including the baby) and I was cranky and exhausted by the end of the flight. Since we arrived in the morning, we tried valiantly to keep the kids up until evening.

Glow Worm tapped out for the day around 4:30pm. Gamera and Cookie Monster were next at 5:00 and 5:30pm. I finally caught some sleep at 6pm. Welp, Glow Worm was up at 1am, Gamera at 2am, and Cookie Monster at 3am. The younger two fell back asleep but Cookie Monster is seriously a monster and did not go back to sleep until he fell asleep at dinner around 7pm. He curled up on two chairs and was out for the night.

Gamera barely woke up for dinner. Cried the whole time and fell asleep on me. Glow Worm was in a good mood after a three hour nap and ate and was passed around. After dinner (all in our hotel), Gamera was in the ergo, Cookie Monster was piggybacked by my eldest cousin, and Glow Worm was carried by my aunt.

They are all asleep. I really should join them. I am exhausted.

Everything is fine though. Cookie Monster is starving because he refused to eat lunch and fell asleep before dinner. So you know, it’s a normal day. Gamera is trying some new foods and having a reasonable good time. Glow Worm is a saint and eats almost everything and is just glad I am remembering to feed him.

We have mostly just caught brief glimpses of my 91 year old maternal grandfather (he sleeps a lot during the day). We got cellular and wifi phone service (super important). And most importantly, we have been eating.

We are mostly at our hotel because it is connected to so many restaurants and a huge mall so we don’t even have to go outside in a million degree weather. Cookie Monster particularly enjoys the escalators. I enjoy buying “educational” toys. (I’ve been here two days and I have already managed to spend $200+ on famous Taiwanese educational math/logic puzzles.) My mom is taking these home for me so I don’t have to. Another reason why mom is so great!

Tomorrow afternoon we will be meeting up with one of Cookie Monster’s preschool teachers as well as one of his old classmates. That should be good for him to see some familiar faces.

Alright. I am about to pass out while thumb-typing. Boring update, I suppose. But then again, we really aren’t doing anything.

New Rule: No More Toys in 2014

I am feeling a deep and abiding hatred for all our toys right now. No more toys. None. Not even (actually, especially) from my MIL. I can’t stand it.

I’m serious. No more fucking toys. Especially cheap, crappy ones that break and make noise and Cookie Monster won’t let me throw away. (From my MIL again.)

I can’t stand it.

It’s not like my kids even play with toys. They play with and obsess over a few toys at a time – and they’re not even the new ones we bought. Cookie Monster ripped through all his presents but I bet if I wrapped up crap we already owned he’d have just as good a time.

The thing is, Cookie Monster has a freakishly good memory. He knows who gave him what and when. He remembers where I got a beat up old firetruck about two years ago. He remembers who I give his toys to. It’s creepy.

It doesn’t matter. I am sick of having no place to put toys and having them explode out onto every possible flat surface of my house. It makes me want to scream. I now totally understand why my father used to threaten to throw away all our toys. I have found myself threatening the same.

I have no one to blame but myself. I guess 2014 is the year I delete my craigslist app and leave all those Facebook yard sale groups. If I can manage to ignore Amazon Prime, then a true miracle will have occurred.

Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it. Especially since in my brain, I seem to think that if I de-clutter and there is empty space, the point is to re-fill that empty space versus just keeping it empty.

Perhaps my theme for 2014 should be Keep Empty Space Empty. There. I’ve said it on the interwebs. It must be so.

Friends in real life, make sure you throw this back into my face when you see me binge Amazon Priming!