Thoughtful Parenting: Limit toys for kids

Deirdre Pepin/For Steamboat Today

Recent studies have shown that children age 5 and younger are often overwhelmed with too many toys. Too many options can be over-stimulating and make children anxious. Kids can lose the ability to concentrate on one toy long enough to learn from it, and they can feel compelled to play with every toy in sight without fully engaging with each one.

When a nursery school in Germany agreed to remove all the toys from their classrooms for three months, teachers reported the children were initially confused but had ultimately begun to concentrate and communicate better and use their imaginations more.

This kind of research was prompted by the prevalent apprehension that parents are too often substituting toys and screens for their children’s development, creating childhoods that are not only defined by prescriptive (or predetermined) play and patterns of consumptions, but also lacking in meaningful personal interactions.

With fewer toys in front of them, kids learn to be more creative. They tap into their imaginations and use their surrounding resources to invent games and activities. They also develop longer attention spans by spending more time per toy, letting themselves indulge in the toy and explore its value and possibility. If a particular toy seems too hard to manipulate or solve, kids are less likely to give it up for another toy; they show more patience, perseverance and determination. And, because fewer toys invokes scarcity, kids actually cooperate, share and get along better.

Toys are an integral part of a child’s development; they shape the child’s character and value system. The kind of toys we give, and why and how often we give them, teach children about the world, themselves and our own values. By constantly giving kids more toys, we teach them to rely on material items rather than their own inner resources. We also establish a standard of consumption. Some psychologists argue that everything other than a first transitional object, such as a blanket, is a socially generated want.

When toys are removed from the environment, kids will immerse themselves in nature and physical play. They will engage more deeply with their friends and parents, developing better interpersonal relationships. They learn to value what they have and find value in the things around them. They come to understand that happiness is not up to someone or something else to cultivate. Eventually, they might even learn that boredom is a gift.

A few tips to manage toys and play follow.

  • The optimum number of toys to have out at once is four.
  • Use a “one toy in, one toy out” policy.
  • Keep toys in boxes, and rotate them for play.
  • Put old toys out in new combinations.
  • Avoid prescriptive toys that limit fantasy play (“found objects” offer creative potential for free play).
  • Auditory (background noise) and visual clutter can interfere with play.
  • Encourage reading, singing, dancing, coloring, drawing and painting.
  • Allow children to be bored.

Deirdre Pepin is the resource development and public relations coordinator at Horizons Specialized Services.


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