The Fewer Toys Children Have the More They Play
“As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.” Kim John Payne
Does your child have a room full of toys, but only plays with a handful of them? Is constantly tidying toys and clutter stealing your sanity? Or time you could be spending with your child? You’re not alone. The average western child has 150 toys and receives an extra 70 each year. Our homes are being inundated with toys that aren’t necessarily serving our children well.
One Raised Good reader commented: “When my kids were young, my husband read an article about children having 10 toys and no more. We walked into their play room, he scooped up all their toys and told me to get rid of them. I was extremely hesitant. I thought they’d be at my feet with so ‘few’ toys. But no, they played better with 10 toys than with 40.”
This experience is backed by research that shows that children, especially those under five, are overwhelmed and actually play more when they have fewer toys. Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, says that “when they [children] have a large number of toys there seems to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted they do not learn or play well." Her research shows that children with fewer toys whose parents spend more time reading, singing or playing with them surpass youngsters from even more affluent backgrounds.
Fewer toys gives kids the freedom to immerse themselves deeply in imaginative rather than superficial play. With fewer toys children become more creative using household items to invent their own games. You’d be hard pressed to find a parent who hasn’t said, at one point, that their child loved playing with the cardboard box a toy came in more than the toy itself. With fewer toys children have the opportunity to truly value what they have and learn to take greater care of their things. They become less self-centred as they learn they can’t have everything they want. We send the message that they don’t need to look to external sources of materialism to bring them fleeting happiness.
But the problem doesn’t lie solely with our children; we need to look at our own habits too. For many of us, gift giving is a love language. The theory of love languages is that each of us give and receive love in different ways. The five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Most of us experience love through all of these languages but often one or two are dominant. Giving and receiving gifts can be a wonderful expression of love but I wonder if our consumer driven society is predisposing us to allow one love language to monopolize our relationships. We can show our love for our children in other ways. Spending quality one on one time with our kids. Going for an ice cream together. Wrestling with our two year old on the bed. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.
So, we know we need to eradicate the clutter but how do we do it? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Create four piles: keep, remove, donate, and rotate (by creating a toy library - we’ll get to that soon)
- Remove all broken toys
- Remove all toys with missing parts
- Remove any toys that limit a child’s imagination (toys where you press a button and it lights up or makes a noise are prime candidates)
- Remove toys your child hasn’t played with in over a month Always keep favourite toys that are often simple and classic toys
- Donate toys to a local Salvation Army, a child’s hospital or a play centre. If your children are old enough to understand the concept (my son isn’t just yet!), involve them in the process and they’ll feel good about helping other children and giving their old toys a new home.
By no means am I suggesting that toys are evil and that they must be eradicated. Toys are wonderful and add such joy to childhood - it's just that our society has taken it to the extreme. In tomorrow's lesson I'll give some tips on how to choose toys (and a few of my favourites) to help maintain simplicity (and sanity) in your home. Once you start clearing out toys, you may feel the urge to minimise the whole house. And I can almost guarantee it will have positive effects on your life - more on that in a couple of days as we delve into how simplifying our homes can make parents happier and parenting so much easier. For today, enjoy making more space for your children to play by removing excessive toys. Put some music on and make it a positive experience.