I wrote this awhile ago and then didn't post it because it made me sound neurotic but you know what? If you have been following this blog you probably already know that. So here it goes...
I don't know if I just made this up or read it somewhere or it is my own neurosis leaking into my parenting but I have this theory of "effective play" or at least that is what I call it. Effective is really not the right word. It should be more like efficient or productive or some other word beyond my grasp right now but here is an example of how I use my theory-
When I'm giving Rich a reason as to why we should clean up the toys I say, "They can't play effectively in such a mess." or "How could they play effectively when they are falling down from stepping on toys" or "(insert name here) it sure is hard to play when you are dodging toys. Please help me pick up the toys."
They can take all the objects that are movable by those little hands and spread them all over a room in a matter of minutes. It can be toys, stuffed animals, books, magazines, pots and pans from the kitchen, laundry pulled out of baskets, chairs, balls, strollers, boxes of wipes, whatever. If they can move it or reach it, it is fair game. I need to video tape exactly how this happens because we can come downstairs to a totally clean living room. I go into the kitchen for as long as it takes to make toast and come back to total destruction. I understand total destruction is expected with 3 19-month olds. But I just don't understand the exact method because when I'm watching it doesn't look that destructive. Are they just throwing things in the air when I'm not looking? Are the pugs helping in dumping out buckets of toys that would normally be too heavy for my kids? Do they have super human cartoonish speed when my back is turned?
Anyway, back to the theory. I just don't think that they can play without getting frustrated or even hurt if they can't even walk or push a baby stroller without running over or tripping on something or can't find an item they are looking for.
Here are a few examples-
-We have 1 spoon and 1 juice box that make the baby dolls say, "umm, umm, umm, umm" and then something in Spanish that I don't understand. Eloise gets super freaked out if she wants to feed the dolls and can't find the proper utensil to make them talk.
-When I am washing dishes or cleaning up the kitchen I have them do learning tasks like I name various animals and they have to find that animal magnet on the fridge or I name a food like a banana or grapes or bread and they bring me that item from the fake food bin or I ask them to pour me tea into a cup. I always ask things that they know and I know we have. When they can't find that item they sometimes will bring me something different but many times get frustrated and have a meltdown.
-Two weeks ago Beckett tripped on a toy and fell into the window ledge and gave himself a huge shiner that immediately puffed up next to his eye. Because the injury was so close to his eye, it became black and blue and now still green surrounding his eye. It looked really bad and made me second guess the decision to take him to see someone.
I know kids are clumsy and fall down. Still, I feel like they should be able to walk around and know where to find things without frustration in order to foster their imagination and creativity and have productive play time. I'm not a total freak, I understand at this age that some disorder is good because that in itself fosters creativity and problem solving but it has to be balanced with consistency and boundaries.
So, two sometimes three times a day I put every single little toy back in place. I don't just scoop up the mess and throw it back into bins. Every little person goes back in the bus, every piece of fake food goes back in the food bin, every dish from the tea set goes back on the shelf, every baby doll goes back in the stroller, every book goes back in the bin, every Matchbox car gets lined up back on the window sill, every block goes back into it's bin, every rubber reptile goes back on top of the kitchen set, all the animals magnets go back on the fridge and every truck gets lined up back in the corner.
I just think that they should come down the stairs when they wake up or after nap to a fresh start. They should know where to find the toy food, know where the baby bottles are to feed the baby dolls, and know where to find the tea set or whatever. I also think this helps because then they know where things go when it is time to put the toys away. They do help put things away if they are not distracted by the next activity and they still think that doing tasks is fun. They haven't figured out the "chore" aspect of it-yet.
Maybe I've concocted a theory to dismiss my need for order. Or maybe, their "playroom" is actually our living room/dining room space that is shared by 2 adults, 3 children and 2 snorty pug dogs. But what I really think is that this "theory" is a way of giving meaning to something that consumes so much of my time and energy on a daily basis. Okay, gotta go. The kids will be up from their nap soon and I have a room to clean!