Tips to Prevent Ransacking During Independent Playtime

Get 8 tips to stop your kiddo from making a huge mess during independent playtime in a room. Keep things as clean as possible.

Child with a big mess in the room

Independent playtime starts out in a playpen, but at some point, you move your child to having IPT in the room, so it is roomtime.

>>>Read: Roomtime: Structured Playtime Alone for Kids

I know a concern parents have when they move to roomtime from pack-and-play time is what I call “ransacking.”

This is when your cute little toddler toddlers go around the room pulling everything off of shelves, out of baskets, and out of drawers.

If you are lucky, you might even get every toy the child owns in a nice big pile on the bed like I did pictured below (but this was actually the combined work of Brayden and Kaitlyn during sibling play).

Pile of toys on a toddler bed

It is funny now, but at the time, I was in my third trimester with McKenna and this was a very daunting mess to clean up. Cleaning up is a lot harder when you can’t bend over.

Brayden was never a mess maker during independent play. In fact, before he turned two, he started cleaning up everything shortly before roomtime was over (he has an internal clock). It was fabulous. 

Insert Kaitlyn. She had an ability to make messes. Even so, she never made a huge mess all on her own (but obviously was adept with the help of her brother).

Now enter McKenna. There have been times I have called her my little tornado. She had quite the talent for entering a perfectly clean room and turning it upside down in about 2 minutes. 

When she first started roomtime, she didn’t move from her spot, so she only played with what I gave her. Before too long, however, she was getting every single toy out during independent play, along with every book.

Every so often, she would sprinkle some shoes or diapers in the mix. She has even pulled out every wet wipe from a full container…so yes, I feel your pain. But at least I wasn’t pregnant.

The first encouragement I have for you is that the child will outgrow it. McKenna only remained a tornado for a month or two and then she was over it. It wasn’t every day, either, during those two months. 

But of course I have some tips for you to help minimize in the meantime.

#1–Require Help Cleaning Up

No matter how large or small the mess is, require help from your child when it is clean-up time. Don’t make it a “punishment” to clean up, but it is a fact of life.

If you make a mess, you help clean it up.

Yes, it will take you longer to clean it with your toddler, but it will save you time in the long run.

A toddler needs lots of direction. Tell her exactly what to do (“pick up the books and put them on the shelf”)–you will likely also need to physically show the child what to do. 

My theory is that when a child cleans up after herself, she naturally starts to think, whether consciously or subconsciously, about a mess she makes. She will start to make smaller messes. You might also end up with a Brayden who cleans up before you even come to help.

Luckily for me, McKenna is as hard working cleaning up as she is making a mess.

#2–Understand that Playtime=Mess

There is a point where a mess created during play is beyond reasonable, but make sure that you understand that it is reasonable for there to be a mess when a child plays. Expect it. It is okay. 

#3–Set Toys Out

At the beginning of roomtime, set out the toys that are okay to play with. Give enough to play that your child can have fun but not so much that your child can’t focus on one toy for a good amount of time.

#4–Keep Toys Rotated and Interesting

Make sure the toys that are available for play are new enough and interesting enough for your child. This means they need to be age appropriate.

Children like repetition, but there is a point when a new toy needs to come out. If a child is bored, the child will look for ways to entertain herself, and if that means making a mess, so be it. 

>>>Read: A Simple Toy Rotation for Busy Moms

#5–Store Toys Out of Reach

Initially, you might need to store toys out of your child’s reach. This can either be in the child’s room or out of the room. All of my children have been able to quickly handle all toys within reach, but it might help you during training purposes to keep toys out of reach.

Make sure you keep things that are dangerous to the child completely out of the child’s reach. 

>>>Read: How To Child-Proof Your Space for Independent Playtime

#6–Keep Roomtime Length Appropriate

Too long of a roomtime will result in more of a mess. She might be great for an hour, but once that 60 minutes hits, she might go into tornado mode. Make sure you keep it the right length for your child. 

>>>Read: Independent Playtime Lengths by Age

#7–Instruct When Needed

I was never one to go through the room on day one of roomtime telling the child what was okay and what was off-limits. In all honesty, I didn’t want to give the child any bright ideas. I never had issues with Kaitlyn and Brayden.

The first time I walked into McKenna’s room to find wet wipes wadded in a big pile, I told her that was a no. She did it a couple more times randomly after that, and I again told her it was not okay to play with wet wipes. 

You might find you need to go through the room and tell your child anything that is off-limits. If you have a video monitor, you can keep an eye on your child during roomtime and intervene when needed.

When Brinley was a toddler doing roomtime, I could talk to her through the video monitor, so I would tell her “Brinley, that is a no” and she would stop.

#8–Sit Back and Be Patient

Once you have done what you can, just be patient. This is a new and exciting experience for your child. Once the novelty of playing in the room wears off, the huge messes and the getting into things she shouldn’t should wear off.


Don’t stress out. The ransacking will stop. Do what you can to minimize the mess, instruct when you need to, and be patient with the whole situation. 

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This post first appeared on this blog May 2011

Prevent huge messes pinnable image

10 thoughts on “Tips to Prevent Ransacking During Independent Playtime”

  1. I agree completely. It's a stage and they will definitely outgrow it. But if you do happen to be pregnant with a messy toddler, do yourself a favor and put away the legos or any other activity that has a million pieces to clean up!

  2. Hi Valerie,Great post as always. My comment has nothing to with your post in particular but with how you became so organized and motivated. I mean you are obviously a great mom, this blog takes time and the emergency preparedness binder is so impressive. How do you achieve so much? What gets you motivated to do all this? Is there anything (book, talk) or anyone in particular that helped instill this in you? I would love to accomplish half of what you get done but most of the time I lack the desire/energy to do it. I am the queen of starting things and not finishing them. Help please?best,Y

  3. Hi Val — if you have a moment, could you give us an example of which toys / how many you put of for independent playtime? I always worry I'm putting out too much…thanks!

  4. This is another great post. What really jumped out at me this time was the internal clock that Brayden has. My 23MO likes cleaning up and maintaining order and will hand me cleaned sets of toys so I can put them up in the closet where they go. He doesn't like me to leave them out. 🙂 But I've just started realizing that he has his roomtime toys cleaned up when I enter the room to end roomtime. I hear him playing during roomtime, so I have been a little surprised to walk in to cleaned-up toys. Very interesting to think it might be an internal clock kind of thing. Regardless of the reason, it is pretty great!

  5. I have a question, My daughter just turned 18 months and I used to do IP time in the playpen then I started putting her in her play area. I try and incorporate blanket time too. But now I'm thinking maybe I should put her in her room with a little fence, but she cries and poops/pees. I know its the time to start but how is it different then blanket time? I can't really get her to stay on her blanket for very long as it is, ugh I feel like I'm always having to entertain her or just letting her have alot of free play. I want more sructure please help.Our day starts around 6:30 and she naps at 12:30 and is in bed around 6:30. Everything in the middle I try and do; (blanket time or IP time-playarea or free time or structured time). Please help with maybe an example of a times and activities and how to help implement roomtime instead her in the playarea.Thank you oh wise ones 😉

  6. Aaron and Yuka,If your main thing is desire, I would suggest you pray for the desire. I would also suggest you think of the things you are are doing as opportunities to serve your family rather than as mundane chores or tasks. I am still working on that when it comes to laundry ;)As for energy, a great way to get more energy is to exercise daily. Even 20-30 minutes can give you a great energy boost. I exercise in the mornings before my kids get up. Also, diet and night sleep are important for energy, too.As for how I do it, it really just is who I am. I am naturally very organized. But I do have some posts that answer that in more depth:How I Get Stuff Done : How I Get Stuff Done With Three:

  7. Amy, For Brayden and Kaitlyn I let them get what they want to. I don't even give Brayden guidance 99% of the time. With Kaitlyn, I might suggest something, but she pretty much does it all on her own, also.For McKenna, today I got out the little people house and the Little People Farm. That is all I got out. Her books are on shelves in her room and she always pulls those out on her own. She also pulled out another toy on her own today. I usually get out 2-4 toys. I don't think it through carefully–I guess I just feel it 🙂

  8. Nene, Blanket time is similar in that it is also a structured playtime activity. But blanket time is typically much shorter and is always with mom in the room. IPT is in a room alone. The best time of day for roomtime is usually in the morning soon after breakfast. And be sure to check out the blog index and look at the Independent Playtime index. I have lots of posts to help you out! Good luck!


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