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Every once in a blue moon, the boys’ play room needs a good cleaning. It’s the kind of things where kids need to not be present. Momma needs a chance to sort through juice box straw wrappers and annoying little toys that serve no purpose. She needs to throw broken car track pieces and partially-torn paper airplanes in black trash bags. She needs to organize the toys back in the bins where they are supposed to be.
Cleaning and organizing the play room always a somewhat frustrating process. The toys, so carefully organized and sorted, end up all mixed up (again). The bins are collapsed. There’s random crap everywhere. There is a pile of 12 12-piece puzzles in a pink canvas bin that belongs in MY office, not the play room. I begin putting the puzzles together, just hoping that we have all 144 pieces. (Spoilers: we do.)
I continue to trip around an elaborate town the boys have set up.
It’s when I take the time to really look at it that I find myself in awe.
It’s a mishmash of toys that makes my organizational inner being a bit twitchy:
A Little People fire station and accompanying Little People fire truck and police helicopter.
Tiny firemen from a different firetruck set.
Cars made out of Legos driven by multiple little Lego men.
A large tow truck and a jeep driven by more Little People and a few 1980s-era GI Joe men.
One of our toy buckets is turned upside down and placed carefully in the curve of the track. I assume it’s a building of some sort.
Nothing matches, but it appears to be a fairly harmonious, well-functioning city or town of sorts – created from the brains of my two little guys.
I destruct the town and return all the toys to their rightful bins. Animals in one. Figures in another. Small cars in a car bucket. Mid-size vehicles in their own bin. I print more labels with my label maker that say things like “Rescue Figures,” “Play Animals,” and “Medium Sized Vehicles.” I know even as I place the labels above the bins that this is futility, but I do it anyway.
Pinterest, Facebook, Etsy, and even retail websites have moms convinced that this is the way it MUST be, but I have become less and less convinced.
I pull K’Nex pieces out of the Lego bin and vice versa. I pick up crayons and markers scattered all around. I think about the audiobook I just finished listening to, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. I am reminded about all of the things I’ve learned about the importance of play and how it prepares kids for life.
I feel slightly guilty destroying the boys city creation, but I know it will be rebuilt. It is during this process that I am filled with gratefulness for the progress they have made.
Two months ago, both of our boys began programs run by an organization that specializes in caring for special needs families. This organization has programs designed not just for special needs kiddos – but also for their siblings, who often fall through the cracks. They also realize that sometimes, some kids need a little extra help with behavior and social skills, even if they fall short of diagnostic criteria for something like ADHD or autism.
Their programs are play-based and focus on social skills, emotional skills, and behavioral regulation. There are no “bad” kids, just “our friends” that need a little extra help.
LB attends this behavior and sensory-friendly preschool four days a week in the morning. Ezra attends an after-school program for grade-school children a few days a week in the afternoon. While they are in different programs, they share staff members and a main teacher.
I realize as I clean the play room that the disorganization…the chaos…the mess…are proof that what they are doing in these programs is working.
We have seen such an improvement both in their independent play skills and their cooperative play skills. They are becoming true best friends as they have moved from parallel play to cooperative play.
Sure, they will still whine and complain when I tell them to “go play” when they want to watch a show, but once they get “over the hump” of resistance, they go downstairs and work together.
Sure, they still fight, but that’s happening less and less as they improve in their collaboration skills. They build, they create, they imagine. They come up with pretend scenarios, a combination of scenes from their favorite shows and their own imaginations. They build a town or a city. They combine Legos and Little People and it all works.
I was so glad to have the basement play room cleaned. I loved the order of having everything in its rightful place. I loved the fact that I could vacuum the floor for the first time in months.
The basement is now a blank slate, with clean floors and everything put away. But I am excited. I look forward to see what they will create next.
And maybe…from now on…I won’t worry about organizing the toys quite so often.
Thanks AFS for your hand in this!