Thinking back your childhood, it’s likely you had less toys, certainly fewer electronic ones, but spent more time playing outside and using your imagination. If you want your child to benefit from this they can and having a few less toys around the house certainly doesn’t mean they will be less contented, in fact it could make them happier!
Toys are big business
The toy and games industry in the UK is huge and has been growing as children are given more gifts for birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations.
In 2014 the retail value of the UK toy industry was £6.3 billion jumping by almost 10% when compared to the previous year. The UK is the world’s third largest toy market, only falling behind the US and China, and on average over £500 is spent on toys for a child each year. Christmas is definitely the time that children receive the most toys, with parents usually spending between £100 to £300 on presents for each child.
Yet, research has suggested that children would actually be more contented and would benefit from having fewer toys to choose from. So why do we continue to buy?
There are plenty of reasons from parents feeling guilty to toys being promoted as educational. There’s also often an element of keeping up with the Joneses, no one wants their child to be left out and children will often see or hear about what their friends have when at school or on play dates. If your child comes home telling you how much they loved something they’ve played with at a friends it can be tempting to purchase it for their next birthday, even if it’s outside your budget or you’re not sure how much use they’ll get out of the toy.
Psychologists argue that quality is definitely better than quantity and carefully picking out a few toys can make for more versatile playtime. For instance a typical doll can take on different characters, from being a baby that needs taking care of to being an honoured guest at a tea party, while a branded character toy has more limits.
The benefits of play
Playtime is really important to the way children learn about themselves and the world around them. It is crucial to their development and acquiring skills that they’ll continue to use later in life.
Natural play in particular is important. Natural play is where children are using their imaginations rather than watching TV, playing video games or using electronic toys where they simply press buttons to activate. This type of play can help children to understand how to manipulate situations and resolve problems.
However, with so many toys some children aren’t using their imagination and developing skills as much as they would otherwise. With so many options some studies even suggest that children are ‘ losing the ability to play properly’ because they can feel overwhelmed.
Having fewer toys around the house also has other benefits, from improving concentration to teaching responsibility.
The saying ‘boredom is the mother of creativity’ couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to children. Kids have wild imaginations and without loads of toys to distract them they’ll quickly come up with creative ways to play and entertain themselves.
A German study saw nurseries put away their toys for three months, leaving the children to play with tables, chairs and some blankets. At first the children are hesitant and confused but by the second they were getting creative building dens, creating inventive games and chatting with one another.
The same study also found that the concentration of children participating in the research improved enormously, especially when it came drawing and painting.
When kids have so many toys to play with they often want to try them all rather than spend time playing with one option properly. Having fewer toys can develop children’s attention spans because they’ll learn to focus on one thing for longer periods of time rather than looking for the next option.
Developing communication skills
Having fewer toys around can also help with developing communication skills and improving relationships. Whether they’re spending time chatting with you and other family members or with their friends, your child can learn a lot from simply talking. This is particularly true when playing imaginative games with their friends as they’ll have to explain what the story is and what is happening as well as listening and responding to their playmates.
Encouraging other pursuits
With fewer toys around the house you may find that your child is more open to and excited about other interests, from exploring the outdoors to reading a book.
If your child’s become used to entertaining themselves and using their imagination then in the summer months playing outside will offer them a whole new wealth opportunities that will encourage them to explore nature. With a bit of support your child may also develop a love of reading, writing, art projects or other creative hobbies.
With less toys children are likely to take greater care of the ones they have because there won’t be another to instantly replace it, helping to teach them value and responsibility.
There are benefits for you too
As well as the obvious money saving benefit to you as a parent, fewer toys will mean less mess and clutter around the house when the children have finished playing – a definite bonus for any parent!
If you have more than one child you may find cutting down on the number of toys in your house may actually also result in the kids arguing less. This may seem counter intuitive as kids often argue about toys but siblings may be forced to share and work together if there are fewer options available.
What’s more, by focussing on creating experiences at times when you would normally be thinking about budgets and what gifts to buy your child you can create memories that your child will cherish in the future and relieve yourself of some stress.
Is it time for a toy cull?
Toys can often start to stack up without you realising and then one day you look around and realise they have taken over your house! If you feel like this and want to encourage more imaginative play then it could be time to have a sort through and get rid of some.
When sorting through your child’s toys pick quality items that you know they will play with over and over again. Toys that are versatile and can be used in lots of different games are a great option but that doesn’t mean you have to throw out your kid’s favourite Barbie doll or action figure. If you’re thinking about doing a toy cull watch what your child plays with for a few days, there will likely be some that they will often reach for.
If your child is older and will understand why getting rid of toys is necessary getting them involved and asking their opinion is a good idea. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about donating and giving to others.
In the future think about carefully about toys that your child is asking for and set a budget. There’s always a new toy fad that comes then quickly goes and it’s often best to avoid these if you want to limit toys. That’s because while the fashionable toy might be played with a lot at first it will likely be discarded as the fad passes.
For some tips on how to have a toy cull and get away with it check out Posh Tiger’s handy guide!
You don’t necessarily have to get rid of toys to encourage creative play and improve concentrations. You could simply limit the number of toys your child is allowed out, put some toys out of sight and rotate them so there is less choice each day, or set some time aside where they aren’t allowed to use certain toys, like electronic devices.