How to organise old toys to maximise play benefits

June 13, 2017 Published by

Out with the old – in with the new?

With summer just around the corner it’s a great time to have a sort out.  Why not turn your attention to those old toys behind the sofa, under the bed, and stuffed into cupboards?

A good sort out can be great for the mind but there are other benefits too, including a positive effect on how your children learn to play. In this post, we’ll look at the types of toys suited to your child’s needs and how to organise them to maximise opportunities for developmental play.

Choosing developmentally appropriate toys


Toys should reflect your child’s interests. Try standing back and watching how your child plays. You may see a pattern to what they like doing or how they react to different toys.

For example, they may love filling up and emptying pots or pushing along anything that has wheels; they will happily repeat these actions over and over.  These repeated actions in play, or schemas, are actually helping your child to learn. They are helping your child make sense of the world.   

As adults our interests also affect what we choose to do and not to do. When faced with something we don’t enjoy we try and put it off or get it done as quickly as possible. Then, we move onto something that really interests us. When an activity captures our attention we are able to engage with it for longer. In the same way, by providing your child with toys and activities that reflect their interests, you will help them engage in play for longer.

Have a look at what toys your child has. Have they moved on from playing with them for a reason? Perhaps the toys don’t stretch their skills enough?

For example, a toy might have just one function, such as putting a ball down a runner. Your child might have gone through a stage of repeating this action but now shows little interest in the toy or plays with it only briefly before moving on. This suggests they have mastered the skill associated with the toy and need a new challenge.

Making your home a better place to play and learn

Research carried out by Kathy Sylva, professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University, on children aged 3-5 years found that,

‘When they [children] have a large number of toys, there is a distraction element and when children are distracted, they do not learn to play well.1.

Distraction can be heightened if a child is already struggling with attention or has a learning difficulty.  When children have toys within easy reach they are likely to move from toy to toy rather than focussing on one activity.

So what can you do to minimise distractions?

  • Have rooms and outdoor spaces that are toy free, or a clear area within a room. This will help you and your child to focus without unnecessary distractions.
  • Tidy away toys each day and encourage your child to help you. Your child may be interested in a toy they haven’t seen for a while; you might see that they play differently with it the next time it’s out
  • Find a good way to store toys, such an old trunk or toy boxes, rather than putting them all in a corner where they are still visible. You could even paint  old cardboard boxes (ideally with lids) with your child
  • Use one of your toy free spaces to play together with your child with one chosen toy. Start with ten minutes and gradually increase the time. This is a great opportunity to bond with your child as well as encouraging them to focus their concentration and interest. By playing with your child you are supporting their learning through modelling language and different play ideas
  • Try having different play themes and dedicate time to just one type of activity at a time, e.g. puzzles, books, puppet play, messy play, pretend play
  • Avoid having duplicates of the same toy; more variation but a smaller quantity of toys will offer your child broader learning opportunities

By clearing out those toys your child has outgrown and organising your home you will optimise play time and learning.

Recycling old toys




According to research by Argos, approximately 13 million toys are thrown out in the UK every year, and a staggering 474 million toys within homes are not played with.  Here are some ideas for recycling toys that are still in good condition:

  • Children’s charities – donating toys will help raise money for your chosen charity
  • Local charity shops – again, your donations will help to generate revenue for worthy causes
  • Playgroups –ask your local group if they accept unwanted toys
  • Freecycle – a website set up for people to give and get free stuff within their local area
  • Jumble sale – a great way to raise money for a local community cause


Borrowing toys

Did you know there are also libraries for toys? You can search under the National Association of Toy & Leisure Libraries for a library in your local area. This is a great way of trying before buying or simply an opportunity to rotate toys without parting with any cash!

Written by Penelope Ball, Fundamentally Children Associate


1 Leake, J., & Colicutt, D. (2001). Children Play Less the More Toys they Get. Sunday Times : 9.

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This post was written by Penelope Ball

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