Real Parenting: Toy Pick Up Fun!



Toy Pick Up Fun!

by SM Ford

Is it a battle at your house to get your children to pick up their toys? Have you tried bribes and threats and found neither work well? Do you sometimes feel like giving in and just doing it yourself? Don’t. Here’s a method that worked well at our house and might work for you, too.

Tell your kids you’re going to make a game of cleaning the room. Here’s how it works. You tell Johnny and Sarah, “You can only pick up a toy that fits the category I give you. Ready? Pick up something red.” Sarah chooses a red ball. Johnny picks up a red Lego. The kids put those away and come back. “Pick up something you might use at school.” Johnny finds a book and Sarah grabs a crayon. If your children have any competitive spirit, soon they are racing to get to toys and racing to be the first back to you for the next category.

The rules of “Pick Up” are simple:

  • Mom or Dad (or other adult) choose the categories.

  • Only toys or items that fit the category may be picked up. (Children really enjoy not being allowed to pick up other toys. When else do they get told, “No you can’t pick that up and put it away.”?)

  • Anything picked up must be put away.

  • Each time the child returns to the parent, a new category is given.

  • Whoever gets back first waits until the other(s) are back so each is given the same category. (Otherwise, it gets too confusing for you, the adult.)

The game works best if you are not in the same room—though as more and more things get picked up, you may need to peek to invent a new category.

Suggestions for categories:

Colors—don’t limit yourself to standard colors only, say “stripes” or “floral” or “multicolored,” too.

Shapes—square, rectangle, oval, circle, etc.—remember to use three dimensional figures, too, such as boxes or spheres.

Textures—soft, hard, squishy, furry.

Sizes—use comparisons such as bigger than a loaf of bread, taller than your hand.

What it’s made of—plastic, metal, wood, paper, fabric.

Types of toys—dolls, trucks, stuffed animals, connectives, dress-up.

What you do with it—something to write on or with, something to wear.

Letters—go through the alphabet or tell them to use the first letter of their first name.

Location—where it is now or where it belongs—under the bed, on the table, near the rocking horse.

If your child doesn’t know the meaning of a category (i.e. spheres), now’s your chance to teach him or her.

In addition to getting the job done, there are other benefits to the “Pick Up” game:

  • Children like Dad or Mom being involved. Yet, you can still load the dishwasher, fold laundry, or do something else that doesn’t take a lot of brain power.

  • Often kids don’t know where to start when they are asked to pick up their toys or room. This game gives them clear direction.

  • It’s fun, so there’s not as likely to be whining or complaining.

The best part of playing “Pick Up” is you don’t have to nag or threaten, and the job gets done. Yeah! No more battle over the toys!

About the Author


SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, who has also lived in the Midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.

Sue likes traveling and animals, especially those in the cat family, and has a dog and cat who own her.

She loves kids and writing. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter.

You can read Sue’s “Real Parenting” column on the 4th Thursday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.


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