Creating a welcome play space that invites endless hours of creative and productive play requires just one well-curated bookcase. Just one!
We asked Lacy Arrowsmith, a mother of 3 and a Waldorf homeschool educator, to weigh in with her best practices for putting together a toy shelf that will spark your child's imagination throughout the year.
How To Decide What To Toss or Keep
A good first step is thinking about your end goal for the space. Do you want to have less toys, more high quality toys, or less plastic? For your kids to play more with the toys they already have? To spark creativity and imaginative play?
When Lacy's two young children came along, she knew she wanted to be intentional about the toys in their home. "We decided to have primarily wooden toys, but I really believe that you can create a beautiful and intentional space on any budget" says Lacy. When deciding what toys to keep or purchase, she suggests that open ended toys are the gold standard. "These are toys that can be used in a variety of ways and leave room for the imagination and creativity. Play silks and wooden blocks are a perfect example!"
How To Determine What Toys Get Shelf Space
If you’re trying to declutter an existing play area, the first step is to leave out the toys your kids are most interested in. "For us, this means blocks, silks, a few special dolls and wooden vehicles."
In one of Lacy's favorite books, Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne talks about the benefits of open ended toys, as well as approaching toys with a mentality of quality over quantity. "Those two things have always stuck with me!"
Pay attention to the toys that are getting less attention, and tuck those away. Lacy also suggests you change up how they’re displayed (place them directly on the shelf instead of in baskets) and add in a few picture books or seasonal nature items to draw your child back in.
The Best Ways to Display Toys
Here's the fun part. "I like to display some items on their own and have some stored in simple baskets," says Lacy. "For example, some wooden animals might be sitting on the top shelf, while others are down lower in a basket. Most of our baskets came from local thrift shops so you can organize on a budget."
"When it comes to organization, less is always more. I find that it's better to have less toys on the shelf, which could mean storing some in other areas of your home or rotating them," she says.
For young children, items that require supervision should stay on top shelves out of reach. Small baskets of toys should be lower and made accessible to small hands. "Nowadays, I focus more on the aesthetic and making sure everything is tidy and inviting. Big items (blocks and large wooden vehicles) that don’t fit on the shelf get tucked underneath. I often decorate the top shelf with seasonal items and books."
As children get a bit older, include simple picture books on the toy shelf as well. Beautiful books can spark the imagination and encourage creative play.
Make Clean Up a Cinch
Having a home for everything makes tidying so much easier. Lacy uses a specific cleanup time each day and a time-honored technique. "I ask my children to clean up the toys in categories or groups (dolls, blocks, trucks and trains, silks and doll clothes). This makes it feel less overwhelming, especially when there are a lot of toys out," she says. "When my children were younger I sang a simple clean up song and modeled, carefully and contentedly, placing the toys back on the shelf."
Toy Rotation Isn't Always Necessary
For minimal toy collections, a constant rotation might not be a necessary tip. But it is always a good idea to stash some toys out of sight so that when they do come out, it's extra special.
"I have one container of toys (bird blocks, wooden moon puzzle, wood stacking bears, lincoln logs, small gnomes, Tegu magnetic blocks) that we mostly keep stored away. I often pull these items out during quiet time or lesson time, so playing with them is sort of a treat!"
Find What Works for Your Family
What works for one family may not work for yours. "You might find that your child thrives with even less toys out than we have, or they may thrive with more. There’s really no right and wrong here! If you pay attention to your child’s play, you’ll probably see which toys spark their imagination and which toys might need to be tucked away," says Lacy. Above all, this is about creating a lovely space for your child that can even become a great source of joy as you tidy."