With three kids, you accumulate a fair number of toys. They’re generally stored in the basement playroom, but they have a tendency to spread around the house. I don’t require that they be put away with any regularity. I don’t feel like spending my life cleaning. I see no reason why everything needs to be neat before I go to bed, as if there’s going to be an 11 p.m. inspection. The house will just get messy again, and I’ll never get that hour back.
But I realize this is not a universal feeling. In Better Homes & Gardens this month, a mom of 4 talks about her house being toy free by evening. And this month’s Family Fun magazine (Meredith’s parenting magazine) has a “We asked” section with tips from moms on “How do you encourage your kids to help clean up?”
Some are fine — make a chore checklist, turn it into a game — but the first bothered me. An Illinois mom wrote in that “The rule in our house is that each child can have one set of toys out at a time; before he can go on to another, he has to clean up the first set. If the kids aren’t in the mood to clean up, they don’t have to — they just have to keep playing with the same toy. With this approach, we’ve been able to head off a big mess in the kids’ rooms and the constant ‘clean up your room’ lecture.”
That may head off a big mess, but it also heads off a lot of creative play.
Because here’s the thing — so many toys are so scripted these days, it’s the combination of pieces from multiple kinds of sets that makes the imagination start to work. In our house, Lego cars may become a train that takes you through a dinosaur amusement park, created out of plastic toy dinosaurs and a blue mat (representing a lake) that originally went with a different game. Dozens of stuffed animals may become pupils in a school where you make your own books out of construction paper and markers.
What does this look like? It looks like a mess. But as Maria Montessori always noted, play is the work of a child.
We’re definitely working on getting the kids to pitch in with chores, and keeping the playroom (and the living room, and their rooms…) at a reasonable level of cleanliness. After all, if the puzzle pieces go missing, or toys disappear under piles, the playroom becomes less fun. I will admit that I sometimes say no to things because I can’t stand the thought of the ensuing mess. Still, the one-kind-of-toy-at-a-time rule sounds bleak. It seems a shame to start life thinking that pulling in items and ideas from multiple categories to solve a problem is a bad thing — a thing that makes mommy unhappy and gets you in trouble. This is the nature of creativity. I tend to think that nurturing that is more important than a spotless house.
In other news: Modern Mrs. Darcy also tries to tolerate messes that are about children discovering things
This is not a photo of our toy car bin, but it could be. Photo courtesy flickr user Slack pics.