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She Doesn't Play with her Toys...Oy!

The art of playing.  Is there a trick for kid's to self entertain?  Monica has a question she'd like to ask of the mamas out there.  She writes:

On the eve of Christmas eve, with a bunch of toys under the tree...  I am reminded of something that troubles me about my kids.  4 yo girl and 2 yo boy most of the time don't actually play with their toys!  It's crazy.  I try to very carefully purchase toys that will inspire them to play creatively and have fun.  Ella's bday is in early December and she received a bunch of fun toys... Equestrian Barbie ( I know... I know.. blond, perky, not able to walk with her proportions, etc., But, she had been talking about having to have it for several weeks) among some other fun things.  Her play method is not to creatively play, but to bang the toys on other toys, make screeching animal noises and so on.  Having her sit quietly playing with Barbie and her horsie is not happening.  And, yes, we do art a lot and play dough.. all for limited amounts of time.  It seems that we get one thing out and in a flash we need to play with or bang on something else.

A little background.. our girl is fiery, fearless, spazzy, loud, very sweet, extremely high energy.  She thrives in an action-packed environment.  Her preschool time is packed with activities that require her to wildy play as well as sit and focus on phonics and such.  Per her teacher, she's appropriately wild, but can also focus when needed.

So, my issue is... when she is at home, why won't she play on her own?  Why so crazy?  She acts bored, in massive need of attention and seems just WILD and it makes me feel uneasy.  I can't stand the noise and am irritated that unlike some of our friends kids, she can't sort of sit quietly and play ponies (even though she looooovves ponies).  Admittedly, I get annoyed and kind of recoil, which I think feeds her fire.

This is a bad time to bring this up what with all the new toys/new fun about to be bestowed on all of our lucky happy little children.  But with all the new toys/new fun, I am sitting here wondering, is/are she/they (boy is wayyy mellower) going to play or bang?  I need to take a fresh look at playtime, re-think it so that it works for everyone.  Any ideas? Also, do I need to suck it and deal with the constant noise?

Thanks uMamas for any thoughts and or ideas.  Have a magical Christmas and thanks for all your sage thoughts and encouragement throughout the year!


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Monica,I don't have first hand experience in this, but your description immediately brought to mind something I learned in college ... something about types of learners. Perhaps your daughter is a "kinetic learner" - meaning she absorbs and experiences her world largely through movement and gesture? I did a quick google search and came up with a few pages about it, and a couple of book titles ... off the top of my head, I'm thinking that playtime could involve music and dance, a felt story board so that she can physically place and move the shapes and characters (but felt pieces are hard to bang), a tumbling mat, one of those crawling tubes from IKEA? perhaps you'll find some answers or good ideas there, or via the other mamas who are sure to comment here! Have a wonderful holiday.

Um, I meant, perhaps you'll find some good ideas via google ... not at IKEA! Although I do looove IKEA. Heh.

Hang in there. I think kids "play" differently sometimes and you just have to go with it. It used to be that my son's favorite game was "dump." Basically, he takes every toy, puzzle piece, block, lego (you get the point!)and creates a dump pile in the middle of the room. While this may seem to have no purpose, for him it did. He was a garbage man and this was his day's work. Drives. Me. Crazy. Now that he is old enough that he has to start doing all of the clean up, he plays it less. Plus he's starting to branch out a bit. But in the middle of it, we just sort of went with it. We would help him hook up his shopping cart to his riding toy and he could actually then go around the house collecting garbage. He would put it out for pick-up, etc. We got books from the library on garbage collection, recycling, etc. While most kids use shape sorters to sort shapes, for him it was just more pieces to dump! As far as playing alone, my son had an easy time with this from the beginning, but when he's struggling I use the "play and walk away" concept. I start playing with him long enough to get started and to have him feel like I'm playing with him, and then I can leave the game and he'll stick with it. So, I'll build a track for him and watch him start to work his train. Then once he's involved, he doesn't mind if I leave. I don't know if that would work for her, but possibly. Good luck to you.

My son is eight now, and just in the past year I've realized that he doesn't really play with toys. I don't mean that he grew out of playing with toys recently--he hasn't played with toys for years. If he has a friend over, they might get out legos or music instruments. But more likely they'll make a fort and use a few dress-up props for a "let's pretend" game. He'll play with sports equipment, but he's just not into toys, no matter how cute or creative I think they are. Very frustrating! My daughter, on the other hand, has been a toy-player from day one. So I can imagine that the banging can be hard to tolerate, but maybe, like the first response suggests, she'd do better with "large movement" props and toys.

ckheck out books on temperament--my newest interesting thing to ponder as I observe children. great idea about the climbing, kinetic toys. my daughter's big thing is drawing, we gave her a suitcase of markers, crayons & paper and set up a desk in my office. she's in heaven. also try some musical things, the coveted item in my childcare was a "learning keyboard", lots of buttons, plays music, lets you play music. (it's on vacation for a few months so it can be new again).


I work with young children and have a 2yr. old son myself. Often children need less, rather than more toys to purposely engage and explore. If your daughter is not interested in her toys, one option is to assume that they are not meeting her current developmental needs and remove them, leaving only the few that seem to provoke real interest. You can rotate the toys periodically. Also, she may prefer to 'work' rather than play with her toys. Does she like to cook with you? Fold laundry, etc., etc. Children really do like to be a part of all these tasks and a few inexpensive tools (child size broom, small watering can, etc.) are all you need. Whatever toys she does have out should carry the expectation of respectful treatment. Kids are kids, yes, but a child who is throwing and smashing their toys is likely overstimulated and needs to engage at a level that also lets them practice some amount of controlled movement. Again, less is usually more. I hope this doesn't come off to over opinionated, but you seemed to honestly seek some real advice and feedback. I spend 40 hrs/wk with 3-6 year olds..I don't know your child but do feel I can offer some general counsel. best of luck

Monica - I would second fopomama's suggestions, not because I work with children, but because I just did this very thing for my daughter (who is 18 months) and it has worked wonders. I wanted to clear out to make way for Christmas, and my gut was telling me she was surrounded with too much to allow her to concentrate. It felt a little strange at first, as if she wouldn't have enough options or variety, but after reducing down to three puzzles, a couple of pull toys, a large set of colorful blocks, one set of stacking cups, a coloring table, and a basket of dress-up clothes near a full length mirror, and a few favorite "babies" (and everything else stored nearby but mostly out of sight) ... she has really started engaging in her toys!

The last comment is esepcially helpful. ha
Thanks to all. I am thinning out the crop of toys from christmas and before this morning. I also love the play and walk away idea. Keep em' coming.

Monica, does she like to build things? Anders is younger than Ella, but he's also spazzy, fiery, very physical and pretty sweet...he has never been one to play alone, except in the last several months when we've gotten him hooked on Legos. My husband very strategically started spending lots of time building things for him, and showing him how fun Legos can be, and sure enough, in the last few months he'll spend lots of time daily building and coming up with his own designs for things. We've been amazed at his creativity! It seems to ground him a bit--whenever he gets a bit spazzy, we'll suggest building something with the Legos and it engages him unlike most of his other toys.

My boys (5 and 3) are pretty much the same way. Eli, the 5-er, has gotten a ton better in the last year or so, but Gideon--well, we call him the Wrecker. Anything Eli spends hours setting up, Ghee will crush in under 3 minutes.

I definitely think my kids have too many toys. DH strongly disagrees, and keeps buying toys for bdays and such. I generally keep as many toys as possible hidden away, and only let them play with a select few at a time, usually rotating the toy selection every few months or so.

What I've found really works in getting my little guy to play is just sitting down with him and playing the toy for a few minutes. Usually in about 10 min. he gets the idea of what the toy can do, and I can slip away. He'll play for 30 min or so, without me, or if I pop in and "help" in that half-hour, he can potentially play for up to an hour. Which is a really long time for him.

I was shocked at a friend's daughter's 2nd birthday...the girl would open a gift, have dad take off the packaging and play with the new toy for 10-15 minutes! My kids have never done anything like that!

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