Toddler Dumping Toys Phase?


Have you got a toddler that tips and dumps toys everywhere they go? Is it driving you mad? If it is, there’s no need to feel guilty. It’s only natural. Other parents and childcare workers all over the world are experiencing the same thing. Read on to understand some of the reasons why:

Toddlers need to go through the dumping toys phase. It’s an important part of their development.

They are experimenting with their own strength, the space around them and the ways that materials fall to the ground. We know it as gravity but when you are only two, objects falling to earth is a fascinating new concept.

Have you ever walked into a neatly organised room, where the toys are stored into containers and boxes, only to watch your child tip them all out over the floor and just walk away? Join the club! Toddlers have an innate need to do this. In other words, they will do it no matter what. Partly, this is due to the way their brain is developing.

When your child was born, their new brain was smooth and unlined, not like the images of brains that we are used to seeing with all the wiggles and lines all over them. Everyday, since your child was born, they are learning about their new world all around them and with each new discovery, new connections or wiring is made in their brain. New pathways are being forged and their little brains are gradually changing and becoming more complex as each new learning pathway is made.

Now, imagine what the world must be like for a toddler. There is so much to process, so much sensory information to understand, so many sights, sounds, smells! So many new things to learn about. (Quick Plug!!!… Our course “Wellbeing & Mindfulness Accelerator” is a wonderful way to accelerate mental health, happiness, and learning)

It’s easy to forget just how much we understand and take for granted as adults. We understand that when we tip up a box of Duplo or Lego, it will make a loud crashing sound and it will look different when it is splayed out across the floor. But remember! – Your toddler doesn’t know this yet. Those kind of connections in their little brains haven’t yet been made. So, when they tip up a box of toys, that crashing sound is brand new and exciting! The way the toys look on the floor now they have been tipped is a brand new discovery to a toddler. Even the empty box is something to find out about and explore.

Toddlers are also constantly experimenting with their own body strength. They need opportunities to push, pull, crawl, lift and climb. Dumping their toys may be a sign that they need some more physical challenge in their day. Tipping up a box or container is a big challenge for a toddler. They may be testing out the strength of their arms and using their whole body to lift and tip. You may also notice them try to climb into the empty container after they have tipped, as they may also be experimenting with their size and position in relation to their world. Regular physical activity like Soft play, rough and tumble play or time in a park can often help.

It may also be useful to think about their environment. Toddlers need a lot of stimulation. Their brains are developing at a fast pace and they need to constantly try out new things to challenge themselves. If there is too little to interest or challenge them they may be tipping up or dumping toys because they are looking for more stimulation. They are tipping things out, searching for a new challenges.

On the other hand, if there are too many toys and we give toddlers too much choice, they may become overstimulated and overwhelmed and so they don’t know what to do first or where to start. They may be tipping everything out because they don’t know where to start. If you think that this could be the case, it may be time for a sort out or a de-clutter. Remove all the toys your toddler has grown out of and try to provide toys that challenge your toddler or have a definite purpose to the play. 

Toddlers will also look for your reaction when they do something new. If they get a big reaction and a lot of attention, when they tip or dump toys, they may repeat the behaviour because they want the attention again, so, as frustrating as this phase may be, try to keep your reaction to a minimum and calmly show them how to put the toys away again.

Providing other outlets for this need to tip and dump may help them to move through this stage.

Things like :

  • Soft balls or bean bags in a bucket can be tipped and filled over and over again. 
  • Pine cones and conkers in containers can be tipped and make a lovely satisfying sound.
  • Water play or bath time where they can tip up and fill containers of water
  • Sand play with lots of different containers so that they can fill and tip in wet and dry sand.
  • A basket of washing can be tipped and loaded into the washing machine or dryer.
  • Watering the garden with a watering can satisfy the need to tip.
  • Filling plant pots with compost, tipping and refilling can also help.

For more ideas try:

Toddlers have an inbuilt need to dump and tip toys. Remember : they are finding out, they are curious about their new world and how it works. If you have a toddler in the dumping stage, reassure yourself that they are a curious little investigator and they are doing what toddlers are supposed to do. Sometimes, this stage is referred to as a schema.

Click here if you want to know more about schemas:

They are exploring. They are experimenting with gravity. They are learning about the different shapes and patterns toys make on the ground compared to in a basket. They are learning that if they tip something up there is a consequence. They are also learning that they can cause an effect. Their little brains will need to do this many times before those new connections become permanent. (This is sometimes called hard wiring the brain.) so try to be patient.

When they have practised this over and over, they will eventually pass through this stage and you can breathe a sigh of relief … until they move into the next stage!

Esther Evans

Esther Evans has worked in early education for over twenty-five years. She has worked as a Foundation Phase Leader, an Education Advisor, and an Early Education manager. She currently works for a Welsh local authority as the Early Years Additional Learning Needs Lead Officer.

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