Eight questions to ask when buying toys to keep kids occupied in the waiting room

Waiting in an office with kids can be challenging

We have four kids. Ages 9 through 1 1/2. We know the stress of waiting in waiting rooms. The best waiting rooms have toys to occupy the kids. If the toys are good, it usually knocks back the mayhem to a manageable level. We (my wife and I) are both "retired" professionals who also have a wooden toy store that supplies a lot of waiting room toys to various business, so we get the opportunity to see what works and what doesn't.

Things that don't work so well

I like to stay on a positive note, but I thought it might be beneficial to go over some things that we have experienced over the years that didn't work so well.

Crayons, pens, coloring books - These tend to be great at keeping some kids occupied and quiet for a period of time. However, inevitably you will have the child who will draw on the windows, walls, tables and anything else they can reach. It's not that these kids are bad. It's just that they love to draw on stuff. Also, crayons are notorious for escaping the crayon bin and getting under foot. Not only do they pose a slipping hazard, they get ground into your rugs. A waiting room will look better over the long haul if these aren't made available. Crayons also pose a level of staffing overhead. The office staff generally needs to monitor the crayon use and pick up after the child/children leave.

Cars, trucks, trains and other wheeled toys - We find these in offices all the time. From small die-cast cars to large noisy firetrucks and everything in between. These toys often have small parts that pose a choking hazard to small children and open the office up to unnecessary risks. They also tend to get spread around the waiting room, causing not only a messy looking room, but also are dangerous for other patients tripping or slipping on the toys.

Building block style toys - I love blocks, Legos, Duplos, Bristle Bloks, and all of their compatriots. Just not for a waiting room. They tend to get all over the place. Also I've witnessed more than once these play toys being used as missiles as siblings get into fights. Kids don't always behave in public, even when a parent is right there.

A really great wall panel

This wall panel has tons of activities and can accommodate many children at once.
This wall panel has tons of activities and can accommodate many children at once.

Here are some better alternatives

Wall Panels - These toys are my favorite for waiting rooms with limited space. They tend to be loaded with fun manipulatives for children to play with. Office staff will never have anything to clean up with these. Best of all, wall panels won't get in anyone's way. They are also designed with young children in mind, so you will not have to worry about choking hazards.

Play Cubes - A great choice if you have the space

The Sea Life Play Cube adds play value and is attractive
The Sea Life Play Cube adds play value and is attractive

Play Cubes - A play cube is just right for a larger waiting room where children can play around all sides.  You get TONS of activities on these toys.  They tend to be large set pieces that children will gravitate to naturally.  The best thing is that many children can play on these at the same time.  Again, these are designed for small children so you don't have choking hazards and there will be no requirements that the staff has to tidy up after children play with it.  Play Cubes really are the deluxe choice of waiting room toys.

Play Tables - Lots of fun and no mess to clean up!

The Jungle Rollercoaster Table shown here is only one style of play table.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  One is even shaped like a tooth!
The Jungle Rollercoaster Table shown here is only one style of play table. They come in all shapes and sizes. One is even shaped like a tooth!

Play Tables - My final recommendation would be for offices that will change their waiting room layout frequently or in the near future or waiting rooms that don't have wall space or a lot of space.  Play tables offer the same kind of play value as the previous two examples.  Their advantage is that they can be placed in corners, under windows or moved out of the way when you need to.  Play tables have the same benefits of being safe for small children and no-mess, no hassle for the staff.

Closing thoughts

When choosing toys for a waiting room it is best to ask these questions:

  • Where in the waiting room would I like to have the children gravitate to?
  • How much and what kind of space do I have available and what would best fit in that space?
  • How much cleanup am I willing to do/have my staff do?
  • How much monitoring of the play area am I/is my staff willing to do?
  • Are these toys safe for children who will be in this waiting room?
  • Are these toys durable?
  • How will the children use the toys?
  • Will the children require supervision to use the toys?

If you can answer all of these questions, I'm sure you will find just the right toys to keep children safely amused while they are in your waiting room.

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