Is your child not playing with the toys in their play space? We have been there. It does get frustrating when we spend our money and have great plans for the toys but the reality differs from that. Sometimes my children stop playing with the toys in their play space and I have concluded some valid reasons from my observations on why that happens. When I address these issues, this rarely happens in our play space anymore.
1. There are too many toys around leading to clutter. It may seem counterintuitive but less is more when it comes to the numbers of toys displayed in your play space. An overwhelming number of toys can cause an overwhelm in your children - the indecision to pick a toy to play with leads to stagnation.
Imagine yourself in a library trying to pick ONE book out of the thousands of books, that is a tough choice isn’t it? Or when you have to pick one food at a restaurant with 20 pages of food menu to plough through?
According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, this is choice paralysis - more choices make us less likely to take action. Although there are plenty of fun toys for your children to choose from, the overwhelm and clutter becomes paralysing for them to choose one to play with, hence they stop playing with the toys altogether.
Decluttering and toy rotations are great starting points to this problem.
2. The toys are not developmentally or age-appropriate. Young children are constantly developing various skills and building neural connections. If the toys and resources in your play space do not meet your children where they are, they are unable to engage deeply with the toys or resources. For eg., A 10-piece puzzle may be too challenging for your 2 year old but the same puzzle is too simple for your 3 year old who has worked on it repeatedly.
They also go through phases of different schemas and will need appropriate toys and resources to match the schema phase they are in. For eg., if your child is in a transportation schema (moving objects from point A to B), it does not help when no baskets or push carts etc. are provided.
Provide toys that are slightly more challenging than their existing skill sets, so that they can constantly improve.
3. The toys are not displayed in visually-inviting ways to your children. Do you recall the time your eyes feasted on your scrumptious food before your mouth? Visually inviting toys can make children reach out to them and to play with them. If your toys are kept in the packaging on the toy shelves, take them out! Make the toys stand instead of lying flat, pre-build some structures for your child to take off from and use front-facing shelves.
Imagine yourself as the child, would this display invite you to start play?
4. Your child is dependent on others for play. So after decluttering, picking developmentally appropriate toys and displaying them in an inviting way, is your child still not playing with the toys? Well, this is not uncommon. Has your child always been relying on companionship and creations from others during play time? It is time to reverse this; yes it is never too late, habits can be broken.
During independent play, children tend to be more engaged and immersed in their play. It is time to encourage independent play. Overtime, gradually taper down your input and presence during their play.
It is normal to expect resistance and bouts of "I am bored", "I don't know what to do" and the likes during this transitional period. There could be frustrations too as they weather through the breaking of habit. Provide plenty of support and encouragement. We can scaffold their play and set them up for successful independent play.
5. The toys are not of your child’s interests. As adults, we have different opinions and interests over different times, so it is perfectly normal for our little beings to have their preferences as well. Your child may simply not be interested in the toy in question now but it does not mean that your child will never be interested in the same toy.
Exposure is key to pique interest as well. Keep the toy and take it out again 2 weeks later if you observe and think your child may have gained interest in that said toy. Keep trying! It helps to observe your children’s interests and follow your child’s lead.
Every child and every family is different. It is important we do what fits our own family the most.
Which of these do you think is a road block to play in your play space that needs to be addressed, so that your child can reclaim their fun play time?