When it Comes to Toys, Less is More
I will never forget the wise words of one of my parenting and teaching mentors, Ebba Bodame:
“A child must foster a deep connection with a toy in order to be inspired to play with it, to use it creatively and to use it often. The fewer toys a child has the more he is able to connect on a real and whole-hearted level. Choose wisely. Observe your child and trust your intuition as their parent. Do not feel guilty because you have kept things minimal and simple because – less is more.”
Ebba’s words really speak to our experience with toys as a family. My children attach themselves to very few of their playthings. The toys they do use on a regular basis are simple and more often than not, open-ended (toys whose purpose is not fixed and that can be used and played with in many different ways).
I think it’s important to note that even too many beautiful, handmade toys can be overwhelming for children. We used to have a basket full of gorgeous felt and wood play food that never got touched. I picked through it and chose only a handful of items to keep and added some pinecones and acorns which are much more appealing to little hands. We used to have more felt, knit and wooden animals than I could count that often went weeks without being played with. I stored away 3/4 of these leaving out only a few beloved ones that we use for storytelling. I was even so bold as to cut down on our treasured silks and muslin scarves which are used every single day by every one of my children.
And the results of this extreme cull?
Renewed inspiration, concentrated work (play), more cooperation and synergy between siblings.
In his book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne gives some great starting points on which toys to keep and which to get rid of: give (or throw) away toys that are developmentally inappropriate, battery-operated, that break easily, that are annoying or offensive, commercial, media-inspired, corrosive and/or ‘fixed’.
Keep beloved toys that are cuddled and loved each day and open-ended toys (blocks, nests and stackers, play scarves, pinecones, acorns, empty baskets, rocks and shells) that can be stored away in less than five minutes or can be kept neatly into baskets tucked away.
The philosophy, less is more, can be applied extracurricular activities, daily routines, screen-time as well as to toys. The only time it doesn’t seem to work is when I’m cooking dinner for four hungry, growing children! Only in that case does it seem that I am always in need of more!
Feeling ready to recreate your play space? Have Dad or a Grandparent or friend take the kids out for an afternoon and start clearing out and making space, if you’re not removing something truly ‘beloved’ it’s very likely your kids won’t even notice it’s missing and all they’ll be able to see are new and fresh opportunities to play!
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