Keeping my boys occupied is seriously a challenging part of my everyday existence. I know those out there spending any number of hours with kids in a day, let alone being their primary caregiver for 10-12 of the hours in a day, will agree. But let me tell you that when they are occupied, I can see a huge difference in growth, development, and their overall contentment and enjoyment of each other. I am a user of technology with my children, just ask anyone who knows us. Especially since I have two non-nappers now at ages 3 and 4.5. I use the technology to get chores done, safely use the restroom, or even sometimes to help me get dinner on the table or a blog post actually published. I do think this is okay and you won’t find me defending our choice. You will however find me using our non-technology time to a maximum which is part of our decision to use it sometimes and put it away in others. We turn it off during meals and when not using technology I try to get us outside or I provide them with several great areas and options in our home that lets them play together or independently – both of which I believe to be very important.
They dynamic in my house shifts by the moment and by the overall time of day. When Cashel is at school Camper is the big kid and Corban and he get along beautifully. I can guarantee there is more arguing when all three are home and awake. Cashel and Corban are two peas in a pod when he is home. Corb is kind of an all purpose kid and he has things in common with both his brothers. I am so grateful for his cheery disposition as a third kiddo. That being said I also have toys that are more developmentally appropriate for them at different stages, and I have other things that work great for everyone no matter their age.
Our musical instrument basket is one of the things that all the kids like and use! They love to be a band, play solo, play along with music or with their Papa. Musical instruments make many lists of important things to have around for kids. I just snag them at second hand stores, we have been gifted some and others we have made ourselves. I do keep them in a large basket high out of reach so I’m not driven batty all the time. Just when they ask, I pull them down and I am prepared for the extra noise and work it may take to facilitate. I love watching them explore and teach each other. I also just adore seeing their personalities come out and seeing which of the kids are drawn to which instruments.
Another thing you’ll find a plethora of around our house is BOOKS. As a primary school teacher, who got my degree in Literacy, having books around is of utmost importance. Not only do I see the value in having them exposed to books (one of the best things you can do to promote early literacy) but also I love the way it expands our world and exposes our kids to things we just can’t give them ourselves. The culture, diversity, and adventure that books provide is truly priceless. Watching them imagine, create, identify, learn reading strategies, and explore at such an early age has made the stacks, piles, and shelves of books I prioritize in our home worth every square inch we dedicate to them. Most family adventures either start with an idea and then a trip to the library or come straight from a book. For example we met our cousins chickens which lead to checking out a million stories about chickens and non fiction books to teach us about chickens. Within the month the boys were building our coop and shortly there after our family grew by 5 ladies. Books are just part of how we function. We keep books in the car, Momma carries a bag of books with her everywhere, Papa takes us to book stores – they are just a part of our lives. Thankfully that means our boys are very occupied by them!
Building blocks are a frequent part of my boys lives. I have rubber blocks, wooden blocks, lincoln logs, and several other varieties that I rotate; but duplos take the cake. Again they are another multi-age toy that the boys will self monitor and use right at their own developmental level. Corban LOVES balls so we have also added a box of “safe for inside” balls that are his constant companions. The kids also go in phases (usually at different times) of enjoying ‘little people’ and animals. So I do have a couple little people structures that I rotate with a small bin of figurines. I have found that putting these near the duplos provides variety in what they build and how they play. Another tip that comes from that is that rotating toys (for developmental ages, just for variety sake, or in their locations in your house) can keep interactions higher and the kiddos challenged differently by the same toys. Changing how they are stored, where, or what they are near can go a long way in making them feel fresh and new.
The next very clear propensity my boys have is for “real” toys, or in their words “tools.” So yes in these pictures Cashel is using a hammer and the boys are creating an arena using some left over wooden stakes. You’ll also find child size, metal, gardening tools like a rake, spade, and hoe they got for Easter strewn in our lawn next to Papa’s real tools that they also bring out. We are careful to differentiate power tools, sharp tools, and even just the difference between tools and toys. But, it is true that more often than not they gravitate toward real tools and real tasks; plus helping Papa with a real job. It’s why they also love the kitchen. We have just had to be very intentional about the guidelines, helping them understand safety and why there are rules, and to be very present MOST of the time.
affiliate links below to some of our favorites…
This brings us to trucks, on this day it was monster trucks. Really it’s any toys with wheels. Monster trucks are definitely a big part of our lives and they love to smash, crash, and create arenas for them daily. That being said the large ones also break very easily, at least very easily considering what a monster truck’s purpose is – to smash and crash. We love these little hand held ones that were hand me downs from a family with four boys. Camper got them for his third birthday and they are played with every day in some capacity. I will also toss in here that trucks by green toys are another favorite. We have the ferry that is often in our bathtub, the fire truck and the dump truck and the boys push them around constantly. I love how sturdy they are, they are cute and colorful, and very versatile. All three boys ages 18 months to 4 find different uses for them.
Here is where I’ll mention water toys. We have a water table, several ‘bird feeder’ fountain sculptures and more buckets that I can count that they boys play with. Many of the toys that are in water are left over containers or utensils from the kitchen that they can pour from or into, that have holes in or cut into them so they act like a colander – just things that make water fun. Camper and Corban especially enjoy this and in the warm weather I just love that it also keeps them outside and cool. That being said we get a lot of mess with this one. There are a lot of mud pies, outside soups, and dirt that gets tossed into the mix. I love it! I am okay with dirty, messy, and all around disaster if it means they are outside and using their imaginations. We just do a lot of laundry and bath time (bath time is also a way to keep them occupied!)
Finally craft supplies. Here Camper had found an activity book and marker and a spot in the yard. I just loved this. When it comes to craft supplies I like to rotate, throw away partially used or dried up supplies frequently, keep small things from packaging like egg cartons, berry baskets, filling/stuffing, bubble wrap, toilet paper tubes and pair them with washi tape or colorful painters tape, glue, paint, markers etch. Cashel LOVES to create and has more recently gotten into drawing. A tip I use in this arena is to keep a tub of these types of creating materials (garbage really) in a pantry or garage that you pull out for creating time. I also have a galvanized metal caddy that has basic supplies that can stay out and accessible. This includes crayons, stickers, pipe cleaners, markers (but if the lids are left off they go in the garbage – no reminders), playdough (anything that lands on the ground I let dry out and throw away) and occasionally I’ll add in something new and exciting. This caddy and a basket that has coloring books, activity books, and paper is often found on our dining table and will even be left there for days if they are really using them. Most playdough and painting supplies are kept far out of reach for special projects though.
The only other thing that gets used quite a bit and definitely makes the cut of things that help developmental growth and promotes imaginative play are dress ups. We have two trunks of costumes that I rotate in and out of our spaces. Plus a small cube of masks, hats, and accessories that are readily available to them all the time – I rotate what is in this cube too though. My boys love capes, hats, vests, coats, and other accessories that are easy for them to put on and usually “serve a purpose.”
We no longer have a dedicated playroom, at least not until they are old enough for us to use an upstairs room. So for now I have created some areas for play within our living spaces that serve the same purpose. We have one wall (the stairway railing half wall) that houses a child size table and chairs, some spice rack book shelves, their toy kitchen and small white toybox with toys that are geared toward Corban’s developmental stage. Then creating the sense of a space their own I used the back of the couch and the bottoms shelves of some crate styled book storage to keep the blocks and little people nearby. This creates the illusion of a space their own without infringing too much on a place for grownups to sit. Then in the same room we have a large cubby system that houses other toys and books but since they are labeled and in cubes it seems less visually stimulating and looks a little less like a playroom. Plus the boys know how to clean up and where to put things – I use hand drawn pictures on the chalkboard labels, and consistency, to help with knowing where to find and put away things. Balls, and larger baby toys, plus board books are on the lowest shelves and things that Camper gravitates to on the next shelf up. Cashel can reach 3 levels up so there are things there that are more specific to him.
And then finally in the dining table room where we have the craft caddy, a large classroom chalk board and a piano I have recently started keeping one tub (literally just a rubbermaid bin that can be whisked out of sight if necessary, or as a consequence) of toys that really were meant for Corban. Simpler, younger toys. I typically bring these out when a babe hits 12-18 months. However, all three have really gravitated to this space and the big boys have been doing a lot of teaching Corban how to use the toys, so that has been a lot of fun to see!
I hope you are leaving Inspiration Clothesline feeling inspired to refresh, reorganize or rethink the toys you have. I know I’m going to move some things around so they’ll be refreshed for the boys. I may even put a few more wintery type collections away and bring out some more dress ups, water toys, and sunshine inspired things. Not to mention throw away broken toys, and give away those things the kids just don’t use. What are you going to try? What are some toys I forgot to mention that really hits the spot for your kiddos?!