As parents, we love our children so much that we want to give them the world! Sometimes, with the very best intentions, we do indeed try to provide a world of stuff but new research is showing that this might actually undermine their curiosity and development.
In fact, the surprising thing is that the more vast that sea of toys grows, the more bored, anxious, and easily distracted kids seem to become...and downsizing that massive toy collection could be one of the best gifts you can give to your little ones.
What Happens When You Embrace a Minimalist Approach to Toys?
A recent study from the University of Toledo took a serious look at how kids’ play was affected when they had many toys to play with as opposed to just a few. In the study, 36 toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months were observed in individual free play sessions, in a room with either 16 toys to choose from, or only four. It turned out the kids given 16 toys exhibited a lower quality of play than those with fewer toys. But the children with only four toys to play with engaged in much deeper, healthier play showing greater imagination, more creativity and sophistication, longer sustained focus, and greater interaction with the toys. They also used them in more varied ways.1
The type of in depth play demonstrated here encourages kids to blossom in key areas including cognitive development, imagination, attention span, self-expression, problem solving, and even fine motor skills. And the added benefit of a tidier home that isn’t overrun with toy clutter keeps everyone feeling calmer and more centered.
On the other hand, the kids given 16 toys became distracted, moving from one toy to the next without fully exploring any single one for an extended period. The bottom line is that young children are easily overstimulated when surrounded with too many toys, causing them not to interact as deeply with any of them. And, that deep, meaningful, inquisitive interaction is really what we all yearn for, right?
I see this in my own boys. We can have endless fun with one really special pine cone (giving him a moss beard, making him a hat, transporting him from place to place, throwing a pine cone party, etc...) yet a playroom full of bright, shiny toys often leads to overstimulation, distraction, and a meltdown.
We’ve personally found that simple, non-toxic, sustainable, and high quality rubber and wooden toys made with neutral tones give our children exactly what they need for open-ended, free, grounded, and joyous play. A few wooden blocks can be anything you can imagine them to be whereas a cement mixer, well, it’s always a cement mixer. We’ve also found that when in nature, toys are not even needed as there are rocks to collect, flower crowns to weave, chickens to cuddle, and trees to climb.
How to Reel It In
If you’re feeling ready to simplify your child’s toy chest but not sure where to begin, here’s where I started: by taking a fresh look at each item in my child’s toy collection and asking myself three basic questions:
• Does my child genuinely like playing with this?
• Is this something that inspires his imagination to soar to great heights?
• Is this toy made of safe, natural materials?
With these three questions, our own transformation toward minimalism began. We feel much more rooted and resourceful as a family and our lives are more congruent with our values. We prioritize experiences and shared moments as opposed to material possessions.
We are also aware of the environmental impact of our choices and so our children are eager to make decisions that are healthy for us and our planet. And, since our little ones aren’t overwhelmed with too many options, they are free to relax into the deep, wholehearted play that brings out their full creativity, brilliance, and unique potential.
This experience has been profound for us on many levels. It reinforced our belief that minimal is magical and that imagination soars best on a blank canvas. It fueled our inspiration to create a line of simple, high-comfort, pattern-free play clothes that don’t clutter or barrage the senses and allow space for the journey of self-discovery to evolve organically and authentically.
1. Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. E. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development, 50, 78-87. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.11.005