Playing with toys is wonderfully beneficial for your toddler. But there is one drawback: the mess it leaves behind! If you're spending your days picking up, stepping on, and tripping over your child's playthings, you're probably wishing they'd all disappear. Take heart: With a little time (and effort on your part), your child will eventually learn to clean up after himself. Until then, here are tips for managing the mess.

Select a central play area . Ideally, this should be in a place that you can oversee from wherever you spend most of your time - the family room, your home office, the living room, wherever works for you. The trick is not to let the toys multiply and take over the entire house, so edit and donate every couple of months to keep the inventory manageable.

Make the play space inviting. You'll have better luck keeping your child - and his toys - in their designated area if the play space is comfy and inviting.Make it kid-friendly (and, of course, childproof) by installing a soft and colorful rug or wall-to-wall carpeting, a big-enough-for-two chair for reading (and snuggling), and a kid-size table and chairs for art projects, puzzles, or impromptu tea parties.

Practice - and praise - pay off. Remind your toddler early and often where he's allowed to play - and where he isn't. (The dining room table may look like an excellent place to race his cars, but he needs to know that it's totally off-limits.) Gently guide him back to his space if he's made a detour and give him plenty of praise when he - and his toys - stay where they belong.

Perfect a put-away plan. Make a game of teaching your child where each type of toy goes when playtime's over. A color-coded storage system can really help here: "Your blocks go in the big blue box and your trucks go in the green one." Or label each box with a picture of the items that go into it. Try singing a cleanup song or challenging your child to a put-away race and you'll turn this (formerly) tiresome task into part of the fun.