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Sort—but not too much!

A while ago, I heard a woman on a podcast describe her plan for organizing her five-year-old’s Lego blocks: sorting them into bins by color. She was going to buy a bunch of new bins to make her system work.dreamstime_xs_23858960 She found the process of sorting meditative, she said, and thought it would be easier for her son to find what he needed if the blocks were organized by color.

I don’t know how it worked for her, but I wouldn’t recommend this kind of plan to my clients or friends.

Why not? For one thing, that mother’s system emphasized making it easy to retrieve items. In general, I think it’s more important to make putting stuff away easier. I wonder what happened after multiple sessions of dividing all those little pieces by color. Did the process start to feel less meditative, and more tiresome? How long did her child continue that detailed sorting? For most people—and especially for most kids—sorting to that degree is just too much trouble.

The solution? Don’t oversort. Make it easy for kids to develop the wonderful habit of picking up after themselves. Instead of using multiple small bins, try a few bigger ones, so children can quickly toss in their toys. Adopt a looser kind of sorting, perhaps by general shape or type, or even groups of colors (red/blue/purple). But don’t overdo it.

Even young kids are resourceful enough to find the pieces they need. Or they may decide to make do with what’s on top, or find a new way to play. Either way, isn’t that part of the process of play, and its purpose? To explore, solve problems, create, have fun?

My kids were never Lego fans. But for years, my son was passionate about trains, and that meant a lot of pieces to clean up every night. So we made it easy. We designated a couple of big bins for wood pieces, some others for one brand of plastic pieces, and a few for a different brand of plastic (because the three systems didn’t work together). Beyond that, we didn’t care. It was quick and easy work to toss the pieces where they belonged. For that reason, my son got into the habit of putting his trains away every night.

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Over the years, I heard constant crashes as he upended the bins to lay out all the pieces or find the particular engine he was looking for. But I didn’t mind. I knew how simple it would be to toss everything back into the bins, since we weren’t bothering with detailed sorting.

A different system might have worked better for another train lover. And that’s fine. The point is not to be too fussy. If you use too many categories, it takes too much time to put things away, and it’s likely that over time, you’ll stop making the effort. (And yes, there are some people, including kids, who enjoy and maintain more detailed systems. But for most of us, simpler is better.)

Make it easy for your kids to pick up after themselves. Then trust their resourcefulness in finding what they need. The storage systems may change as the years go by, but always try to keep them simple. Your kids will be happier because it will take so much less work to put things away. You’ll be happier too, because they’ll be much more likely to pick up after themselves.

And if they don’t? It will be a lot easier for you to pick up after them. 🙂

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