How to Get Your Kids Excited About Old Toys

updated Jan 21, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

In my house, we’ve been hearing a lot of complaints from our son lately that his toys are “boring” (and this is after the influx of new Christmas gifts!). Despite the fact that he hasn’t played inside at a friends house in going on ten months, he seems to have a photographic memory of his friends’ supposedly superior toy collections. When he’s not complaining that they’re dull, he says “I want to play,” but then can’t figure out what it is he wants to do or how to get started. So, I decided to get proactive about the problem. Here’s how I got him excited about our same old toys.

This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

Cubby. Real solutions for unreal times.

Join us for a weekly dose of fresh, modern ideas for life at home with your kids.

Set up invitations for play

I’ve often seen or read articles that suggest setting up art supplies as an “invitation” to get kids creating. I decided to use the same tactic with our toy collection. The bin of wooden trains had not been played with in ages, so after my son went to sleep one night, I set up an elaborate train track in one corner of the living room. My kid didn’t immediately go to the train track to play the next morning, but pretty quickly the “invitation” did the trick: He sat down and played independently with this trains off and on throughout the day.

You might set your child’s stuffies up to be having a birthday party or clear off a bookshelf and line up all the toy cars and call it a garage.

Carve out a curated selection

If a category of toys has grown to be quite large, it may be overwhelming for your child. So instead of presenting a huge bin of LEGOs, you might scoop up just a selection of bricks and a few base pieces and put them on a rimmed baking sheet. Or if you have an overabundance of toy vehicles, like we do, separating out the same size ones in a particular category (tractors, race cars, etc.) was a game changer. When I took all the construction vehicles out into a smaller box, my son was once again curious to play with them.

Rotate your collection

This is a classic toy organizing strategy that we discuss in this week’s edition of The Great Cubby Clean-Up. Essentially, you pack some toys away out of site for a period of time and then rotate them back into the collection every couple months to keep thing fresh. If you’ve got some toys in a tucked away corner that haven’t been played with in some time, you can “rotate” them in now and hide away something that’s lost its luster.

Credit: Lana Kenney

Change what gets the best real estate

This is another form of toy rotation that is more like a toy shuffle: Reorganize your kids’ toys to put new toys in the most visible spot in their room. If the top of the bookcase is normally home to the big toy trucks, move those elsewhere and set up the wooden blocks in a pleasing arrangement. Think about what’s at your child’s eye level. If you’re feeling extra creative you could gather all the toys of one color and put those together in a prominent spot to see if it sparks interest. I did this with my kid and I was really surprised how excited he was to find them arranged that way.

Trade toys with a friend

My friend Alison Mazurek, who writes the blog, tells me her family has had success lately trading toys with friends, so each kid gets something new to play with. “Offer toys that aren’t played with often to friends (with the understanding that it may or may not come back),” she says, noting this makes the child’s own toys new again if/when they do return.

Add to a category strategically

If there’s a set of open-ended play toys that has lost its allure, consider making a small addition to the collection to spark a new round of play. Here’s what that might look like in practice: Buy a set of clear Magnatiles to use as “windows” with your existing set and then prompt your child to build with the new element. Order a bunch of LEGO trees or wheels to direct your child to a new kind of brick construction (I love buying used LEGOs on eBay, by the way!). Purchase a few new furnishings for the dollhouse and suggest redecorating to work them in.

Get crafty with your playthings

Think about ways to bring toys into arts and craft time or to craft items to spark new ways to play with your toys. You might use your child’s cars to paint tracks onto paper or build a garage for them out of an old box. Or you might make superhero capes for your stuffies like my friend Amanda did on her site Project Kid. In Odette William’s book Simple Cake she suggests you and your child make a cake for a favorite doll or teddy bear and treating Teddy to a birthday celebration.

Have you had success reigniting your kids’ interest in his or her toys? If so, tell me about it.