If you’re wondering how many your a child needs, I’ve got a question for you. What shape is your family room/living room/play room in right now? Come on…stand up and walk over….take a look.
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Can you safely and easily walk from one end to the other? Is there a path? Or is the room littered with various toys from Fisher Price? Are you in danger of stepping on blocks, balls, and baby dolls by the dozens? If so, it’s time. It’s time to take a look at your toy situation.
How Many Toys? Why Does it Matter?
Why are we assessing our toy inventories? Toys are great for kids, and also a way for friends and relatives to show their love on birthdays and holidays. So what does it matter if my toddler has five, twenty-five, or seventy-five toys?
First off, does your mental health matter? Yes? Oh, good! There are many reasons that support reducing the number of toys in your play environment, one of which is directly connected to your stress level. Did you know that clutter is connected to stress and anxiety? It’s true. That in and of itself is a great reason to stop buying toys.
Unless you’ve been on a media/culture diet, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, the organizational guru who coined the phrase ‘spark joy’. She’s a pretty big deal, if only for her meditative method of folding shirts. Kondo maintains that we should cull our possessions regularly, only keeping those things we truly love. So is Marie Kondo responsible for urging us to downsize our toy collections? Nope.
Minimizing our toy collection isn't just a fad organizational strategy.
Research Shows Number of Toys Influences Quality of Play
The reason we’re counting toys is because of recent research. Many studies have explored the relationship between the number of toys a child uses and the quality of play he or she exhibits. Experts of late have found that, once again, less is more. One study, in a 2018 edition of the journal Infant Behavior and Development, noted that the quality of toddler play decreases as the number of toys increases.
What exactly is ‘quality of play’? This phrase refers to a few aspects of play, including how long a child plays with a toy, and what the play is like. Does the child get into a state of ‘flow’ with the toy, where his focus is solely on the toy? Or is he only minimally interested for a short time? Fewer toys can cause the child to focus more and engage in more creative, imaginative play for a longer period of time.
So besides reducing mess and clutter, limiting the amount of toys in your environment can help your child reap more cognitive benefits from the toys he uses. And that’s a good thing! (By the way, the word ‘environment’ is used to communicate the idea that you can have hundreds of toys in the house, but perhaps only make five or ten toys at a time available to your child.)
How Many Toys Should We Have?
When it comes to specifics, experts don’t have a particular number as a goal, they simply encourage parents to be mindful in reducing the number of toys available. So what if you made a radical choice and eliminated ALL toys from the environment? Would your relatives call the authorities because of your cruel neglect? Would they haul you off in restraints? Probably not.
Turns out many have tried this strategy. A British Nursery has seen nothing but positives after removing all conventional ‘toys’ from its school. And the idea isn’t new – some Nursery Schools in Germany have shunned toys since the 1990’s, with great success. How can this be? It’s simple! Children don’t care about toys!
Children Want to Explore Their Environment, and the Best Way is With Fewer Toys
You’ve seen it yourself! When your one-year-old unwraps the gift and protests when you throw away the paper…when your toddler takes the new toy out of the gift box and promptly crawls inside the same box, ignoring the toy.
Children don’t care what we categorize as a ‘toy’ – it’s all semantics. Kids are interested in exploring their environment! That’s why pots and pans are such a big hit. And plastic bowls and spoons. It’s really all about how we as parents set up the environment for our kids. If we fill it with shiny, noisy, battery-operated objects, that’s what our children will come to expect.
‘Objects’ Instead of Buying Toys
Think of the things your child is interested in or observe the schemas they play in – the aforementioned pots, pans, bowls and spoons. Would your child spend time in a laundry basket? Probably! Odds are you probably don’t need to purchase much of anything in order to help your child learn and grow.
Older children (those who aren’t mouthing everything) enjoy recyclables – toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, cotton balls, etc. The ‘dump and fill’ stage is easily (and inexpensively) managed and encouraged with water, sand, and even uncooked rice.
What about the gift-givers in your life? We know you want to buy something – and so does everyone else! Grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, etc., are just dying to put a new toy in a box to see the delight on your child’s face. And who can fault them? They are well-intentioned, just in need of some advice.
Instead of going the ‘shiny’ route, why not suggest a few engaging, open-ended toys? Examples of these types of toys include wooden blocks, puzzles, pretend-play props (plastic food for a grocery store or costumes for dress-up), art paper and supplies, and yes, empty boxes.
Generous friends and relatives can also be encouraged to purchase experiences instead of toys. Family memberships to the zoo, children's museum, or children’s theater will provide hours of engagement and wonderful memories! How about lessons? Your child can explore his inner Picasso with art lessons, or learn how to walk the balance beam with gymnastic lessons.
What should you do when those wrapped boxes keep showing up? For one, you can rotate toys.
Staying with the five-to-ten number range, introduce new toys as your child tires from the current collection. Put the alternates in a cupboard for a month or so – when they come out again, they’ll seem brand new! Your child will be happy – and so will you!
Check out our YouTube video below for more information about open ended toys.