Every year, toy companies across the globe come up with new ways to educate children and keep them entertained. The problem, however, is that there are so many to choose from, parents end up buying more than they need. But the real cost isn’t money—it’s what having too many toys does to kids.
Other than the stating the obvious, that toddlers are easily distracted, scientists are now saying that children are far more creative when they have fewer toys. They also tend to play with each other for twice as long, while inventing new ideas and imaginative uses for each toy.
In a recent a study, researchers at the University of Toledo recruited 36 toddlers and encouraged them to play in a room for half an hour, with either four toys, or 16. Note: All toys were three-dimensional and few were battery-operated.
The analysis, which sought to determine if the number of toys in toddlers’ environments influenced the quality of their play, confirmed what parents already knew—that giving kids more toys created a source of external distraction. On the same token, less was more. Boys and girls who chose the room with fewer distractions were more engaged for extended periods with a single toy.
According to the study, children's cognitive development flourishes through sensory and motor exploration throughout toddlerhood, causing playtime to be very distinctive. For example, some kids are happy just running around, climbing on furniture or kicking balls, while others prefer to use their hands, fingers and mental agility to stack, build and draw.
Either way, children engage in play—an activity that is controlled by the child and allows them to pretend, imagine and express who they are as a person—because they want to, and the more we can do to promote their creativity, the better.
To keep kids focused, authors of the study urge parents, schools and nurseries to pack up their toys (or, at least, the majority of them) and rotate a small amount on a regular basis. Doing so will encourage children to exercise their full imaginations while strengthening relationships with others. Best of all, it will improve their overall attention spans so you don’t have to keep snapping your fingers.
Researchers hope to address repeated exposure to the same toys, home environments and children with developmental disabilities in future studies to demonstrate further how giving kids fewer toys can equate to healthier play.
In the meantime, when you find yourself getting sucked into toy advertisements this holiday season, take a second to reconsider the importance of quality, not quantity.