My daughter and I went through all of her toys yesterday to make room for all of the toys she got for Christmas last month. I had her make various piles: one for toys to keep, one for missing pieces, another for toys to donate, and of course the trash can! Within the donate pile, I started to think of who I could give each item to such as a particular child on my caseload, her younger 2 year old brother, a daycare, or the Goodwill.
I go through the kids' rooms at least twice a year and it helps our whole home to not be taken over by toys! I plan to do my son's room tomorrow...but without his help! He is like the average two year old who doesn't want to part with toys even when they are broken. This is why he has a couple of injured Barbie dolls that were previously his sister's, you know, the one's that have a missing foot or received a "haircut" that wasn't so attractive!
This event got me to thinking that as an occupational therapist working in the homes of families with special needs children I am able to help families go through their toys and organize them. I can help find the toys that are appropriate for the child (and siblings) to play with as well as box up toys that are too young for them developmentally. So often the children I work with that have developmental delays get over-whelmed by too many toys in a space; so I find that removing toys not used anymore really helps them focus better on the toys that are still left. Something so simple can help a child to have a longer attention span or even less sensory defensiveness. For kids with poor motor planning, it helps them to make better choices of what to play with as opposed to choosing a "baby" toy. For example, if all of the rattles are put away, then maybe the child will reach for blocks, books, or dolls.
For children with delayed language, make sure you leave some musical toys and other items that promote language such as a tape player they can carry around, "microphone", megaphone, whistles, and books.
For children who are sensory seeking/ hyper-active, you may need to make sure you have some action toys in the room such as a mini-trampoline, tunnel, or balls.
For children with poor motor planning, low muscle tone, and/or sensory under-responsiveness (low registration), make sure you have toys setting out visibly and not all of them stored away in closed containers high up on a shelf. These children will most likely not seek those toys out when asked to "go play in your room". I recommend a few toys put in a couple of baskets within their reach. Too many toys in one basket can be over-whelming, so don't over do it! Also, have toys that they would be successful with and some that are for the next developmental milestone. Cars, balls, and dolls are simple toys, whereas a kitchen with plastic food, a race track, and Mr. Potato Head are more challenging. If all of the toys are too difficult for them then the child will just get frustrated and depending upon the diagnosis may choose to sel-stim.
A child with abnormal muscle tone who tends to slump or w-sit could benefit from a kiddy table and chair to offer support and an alternative to just playing on the floor; make sure the table and chairs are at the proper height. If the chair is too low then the child will lean and hunch over the table. If the chair is too high, then the child's feet will dangle which offers less stability for the posture muscles. If the chair is a good height but the table is too high, then the child will have his elbows too high for good fine-motor skills including legible handwriting for homework (older kids) or scribbling (younger kids). Some children will give up when a task is too hard and may even walk away whereas others will start to "act up".
Of course, one of the most important things is teaching the child to clean up. If he/she is not physically or mentally capable of cleaning the entire space, then think of at least one thing they could do. For some kids it may even be that you have to offer hand-over-hand assist through each step. For children with a poor ability to transition, then this is a nice transition helper, especially if it is done in a predictable way. Predictability could include singing the "Clean Up" song each time, or it could include watching a video for 10 minutes after the room is cleaned. There isn't a magic routine, yet structure and predictability help so many children (with or without special needs!).
The list goes on and on about all of the ways you could organize toys and alter a play space. Hopefully, the ones I've listed get you to thinking of how you could help your own child or a client!