Less Toys. More Play.
Tracy is a writer, advocate, mother, and the founder of Raised Good, the website she started to teacher other mothers, fathers and caregivers about natural parenting in our modern world. She believes that parents need to learn to parent naturally and consciously to hopefully save and help their confidence, mental health, and connection to their child(ren). One of her mantras is "when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos." On her blog, she wrote the article, "The Fewer Toys Children Have, the More They Play" to highlight the benefit of a minimalistic mindset and home when it comes to children and their free time. For children with autism, this mindset may be beneficial in regard to any sensory overload that they may have in regard to clutter or stimulation while playing by themselves or others. She begins with a story of a time when her and her husband were traveling to the beach with their son and told him to leave a specific toy at home so they could travel light and if he wanted it while they were there, they would buy one there, However, no where on their trip had that specific toy, but what they found was that when they got to the beach, their son was just fine without it. He started playing in the sand and got in the water, snorkeled, looking for seashells and just spent time outside on the beach enjoying it all. She lists five sections in her article that are worth noting in order to achieve this "less is more" mindset for toys. The first of those being, remove the toys and kids play more. This idea is rooted from a German project where all of the toys were removed from kindergarten classrooms for three months in oder to hopefully nourish self-confidence, imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and socialization. Their days in the classroom were purposefully unstructured in order to avoid the children being rushed from one activity to the next and to allow them to be free to make decisions and formulate ideas on what they wanted to do. Obviously, there was some confusion on the first day, but after that the children were seen building forts and running around the classroom laughing and chatting; they eventually were engaging in imaginative play, concentrating better, and communicating more effectively. The next thing she discusses is the stages of toy discovery: exploration versus play. Kathy Sylva, a professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University, concluded after her study of over 3000 children ages 3-5 that when children have a large number of toys they can become distracted and when they are distracted, they do not learn or play well. Her research showed that children whose parents spend more time singing, reading, or playing with them may surpass those from more affluent backgrounds with more "things." Dr. John Richer, a Pediatric Psychologist at John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, claims that when children receive a new toy, they go through two stages: exploration and play. When confronted with a plethora of toys, however, they enter that exploration mode more often than they do the actual play mode. They wonder what each toy does rather than what they can do with each one. It is during the play mode that creativity, imagination, initiative, and adaptability arise, so when we provide less toys, more of those special play moments can come about. Tracy also points out the potential impact of too many toys. Her reference for that theory comes from Claire Lerner, a Psychotherapist and the Director of Parenting Resources at Zero to Three. During her study of the potential impacts of too many toys she reported that children get over-stimulated and overwhelmed and in turn, cannot focus on anything for long periods, therefore, they are not actually learning to play imaginatively when there is an excess of options of toys. Christopher Willard, Clinical Psychologist and Author of Child's Mind, points out the importance of repetition in enhancing a child's cognitive development. Reading the same books, signing the same songs, and playing the same games can help to cement learning in children. Having fewer toys helps children use and develop their imagination, lengthen their attention span, and and encourages children to take care of and value the toys they do have. Not to mention that it means less clutter in the home and saves a bit of money as well. The next thing Tracy mentions is what type of toys invite more play. To adopt the mindset of having fewer toys, you want to make sure that the toys that are available provide the greatest play value. "The play is in the child, not in the toy." Toys that light up, play music, and move are not adding play value because the child only has to press a button. However, toys like wooden blocks, allow for the child to use their imagination and use them for an assortment of different games and activities. Determine if toys are "open" or "closed" toys, meaning that they can be used for multiple purposes or just one. Some closed toys, like puzzles, are still great and wonderful, so shoot for the ratio of about 75% open toys and 25% closed toys. Lastly, let's simplify our kids toys together. It can be difficult to swim against the mainstream current, but the reward is worth it. Not everyone will understand at first, but by sharing with other parents what you know about the benefits of having less and more "valuable" toys, then surely, other parents will want to adopt the same practices in their own home.