The other morning at preschool pick-up, the topic of small talk was the creepy crawlies we have all been plagued with in the last week. Everyone is sick with strep, flu, colds, ear infections, and sinus infections. It's pretty bad.
Our family had it's share of germs last week. I was out of commission for a few days. Daddy took off work to help one day, but like moms do, the other days I had to dig deep and push through. Poopy diapers still need to be changed and children still need to eat.
In our house, we have a pretty strict limit on screen time. When mommy and kids are sick, that flies out the window! All bets are off! This works out fine for the big girls, but the baby is another story. She is great at entertaining herself most of the time, besides the classic post-nap witching hour when I am trying to make dinner. At this time of day she feels the need to climb my legs and in the process pulls my pants down while I chop onions.
Anyhow, apparently when mommy is sick and wants to rest on the couch, suddenly our independent toddler is super needy. She and daddy were the only two to escape illness last week. She was not about to lounge around like the rest of us. Her little brain does not fall into a zombie like trance in the same way her big sisters' do and she has little interest in vegging out. I needed to occupy her and quick, because my energy was fading fast.
Thank goodness for our toy library!
Before the toy library, our kids had access to an overwhelming amount of toys in various places around the house. Our family of five lives in a 1300 square foot house. There is not one toy room (you would be surprised how many homes have more than one) to just pull the door shut on. Toys were stored in the built-ins of the living room and girls' bedrooms. We had plenty of storage space actually. Storage wasn't really the issue with the toys.
The problem was the girls being able to focus and play deeply with their toys and then put their toys away...all of them. You see, with so many options, they became easily distracted and would bring out more and more and more toys. On a good day I thought, "Oh, they are just being creative, incorporating all their different toys." Other times the enormity of the mess drove me a bit crazy.
The girls would insist that these elaborate creations should be left as-is since they were imaginative works in progress. What they really meant was, "Mommy, we are little kids and we don't have the self-control to clean up one thing before getting out the next like you try to show us. Also, we are geniuses and can manipulate the situation in our favor, so we don't actually have to clean up this mess. We took out too many toys and the thought of cleaning up all of them overwhelms us. Now leave us alone and go make us another snack like a good little mommy."
Some days I would choose to crack the whip and get the kids to tidy their toys, but it was super frustrating and I ended up doing a lot of the work myself. Other times we ignored the messes in their rooms for a few days, too tired to deal with them. Neither way felt right. How can a kid have a restful night in such chaos? Also, what about the likelihood of stepping on Legos should they need you in the middle of the night, or God-forbid you should need to rescue them from a fire? How we would not kill ourselves on the toys and make it out alive, was a question I had had more than once.
Enter the toy library. After reading about a toy library in Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, the girls helped to sort out any toys they thought they could donate first, and the rest were stashed away in the toy library in our unfinished basement. They understand how a library works and were actually very excited about making their toy library.
They are allowed to check toys in and out as often as they like with the Librarian's (my) supervision. Each child is only allowed to check out an amount of toys that can be cleaned up in five minutes by themselves. A new toy cannot be checked out until the checked out toy is cleaned up and returned. It's very simple.
Surprisingly, the kids aren't constantly checking toys in and out. Our library is stocked with good open-ended toys, and they will check out a toy, like Legos for instance, for weeks at a time. Our four-year-old has been playing with Mr. Potato Head in her room during her one hour rest time for a solid week.
They are genuinely happy to have this arrangement. They are so proud to clean their rooms and do it quickly. In fact, our four-year-old pointed out how quickly she is able to clean and could she increase her amount of toys if she kept up the good work? Incredible! She is learning to be disciplined in a pain free way. Such a joy!
So at the beginning of last week when I felt crummy and was minimally functional, I went to the toy library and looked for inspiration. What toy was sure to engage my toddler? Perhaps something she had never played with before. And then it came to me. The toddler dollhouse. She was so excited about the dollhouse (particularly the potty and she made all the dollhouse family members go potty many times) that she played with it all the way to lunch time and I got to watch her play from the couch where I rested.
Not only did the toy library help to engage and entertain, but it helped keep the house to a manageable disaster, with the biggest mess being a few dishes from the day soaking that my sweet husband took care of after getting home from work. What a guy!
My next post will give you the nuts and bolts of creating a toy library. I'm off to get the onions chopped before nap time ends today!