Use What You Have


Use What You Have

By Hallie Bulkin


Do you have bins and shelves and rooms full of toys? I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a families home or a preschool classroom and felt overwhelmed by the mess of toys in my pathway. If I feel this way, can you imagine what the 2 and 3 year olds feel like?

So many parents will do whatever it takes to keep their childs attention during a therapy session. I have one mom who used to buy her son a new toy EVERY…SINGLE…WEEK!! She felt that since he was non-verbal and could not yet express his frustrations through words, nor could he attend to tasks for very long, a novel toy was necessary to help him attend and get the most out of his sessions.

Like any other mother, she just wanted her son to succeed, so she felt she was doing what it took to help him have successful therapy sessions. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not judging this mother, at all. I share this because it is more common than not. The best part was that as soon as we came up with different strategies she slowed down with the toy buying and also started to enjoy playtime more.

SO what are these strategies that ANY parent can use? Here’s my top 3 suggestions:

  1. Use What You Have…In The Kitchen. Children LOVE to bang on pots and pans (so if you don’t want to hear that awful noise, give them something quieter 😉 in the kitchen), they love to stack tupperware containers, and they LOVE to put items IN and take things OUT of bowls. There are many ways to integrate different concepts into this activity. Put plastic animals, color blocks, cars, etc in and out of bowls. Put a car “on top” of the tupperware container, hide it “under”, place it “behind” or “in front of”…you get the idea. But go ahead and check out your kitchen, there are quite a few things that are safe and fun to play with in there! PS – if you are ever trying to decide what to make for dinner you can apply this strategy by opening the fridge and “using what you have” before it goes bad! This strategy can apply to many areas of life! Get creative.
  2. Use What You Have…Toy Cycling. Another one of my favorite strategies in my “bag of tricks” is to do what I call “toy cycling”. Your child does not need 20 different toys to choose from on a daily basis. 5-10 choices is MORE than sufficient. So take 5-10 toys and HIDE them in a closet (out of sight, out of mind). Now, you don’t want to take that favorite teddy bear that they sleep with every night, that will cause a BIG problem. I’m referring to some toys that sit in the corner and maybe get played with once in a while.  Let these toys sit in the closet for a month and then take them out and place them in the play area, now putting a different set of toys away in the closet. When you do this, the toys feel new and exciting again. The kids will play with them like they are new and it will keep their attention for quite some time. Try this out and save some money on all those new toys you’ve been buying.
  3. Use What You Have…Recycle Scrap Paper.  This can include, post-it-notes, magazines, junk mail (I know I get a TON of junk mail and “wasted paper”), newspapers (although this one can get messy with the ink rubbing off) and other paper you would typically recycle and place it in a “use what you have paper bin”. When you have a rainy day and you are looking for something to do with the kids, or your child needs to practice their coloring, cutting or ripping skills…you will now have a go-to bag of reusable scrap paper. This is something the kids can do at the table while you prepare dinner. You can create a language experience by talking about what they are doing (cutting, drawing, ripping, etc) or what they are creating, etc. Get creative with the scrap paper.

Are you seeing a theme here? The goal is to use what you ALREADY have! Go shopping for “toys” in your kitchen, start toy cycling, and start to keep a recycling bag full of scrap paper to keep your kiddos busy!

Do you have any other ideas for how to “use what you have”? I would LOVE to hear them. Comment below!


With Love,

Hallie Bulkin, MA CCC-SLP

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