Fewer Toys Leads to Higher Quality of Children’s Play

Children can discover so many things to do in nature
Children require very few toys or resources to create a rich, imaginative world.

It is very common place that children’s bedrooms and toy rooms are over run with toys.

In a study of 32 middle class American families, researchers reported that family homes had an average of 139 toys visible, with most homes having at least 100 and some as many as 250 toys.(1)

What toys and why they should have those toys are questions that many parents are asking.

Toy manufacturers have promoted the idea that children need to be surrounded by stimulating, colorful “educational” toys and materials.  What children play with and the resources that are provided for them are driven largely by corporate interests. In the United States, $24 billion is spent annually on toys with $3.1 billion specifically for infant and preschool toys.

Our message is that walking in the park, playing in the back yard with sheets and sticks to make a cubby house, and making mud pies have a far bigger contribution to make to  children’s well-being at little expense.

An excellent study on the influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play looked at whether the number of toys in toddlers’ environments influenced the quality of their play. They tested the idea that fewer toys in children’s environments would improve the quality of play.

The study looked at children’s play in a room with four toys and then with sixteen toys. With fewer toys present, the children engaged in longer periods of play. The time children spent playing was twice as long in the fewer toys environment.

What can parents do?   Children’s creativity and well being can be supported by opting for fewer toys in children’s play environments through

  • Packing away excess toys.  Some families have had success by rotating toys, putting excess toys in a black plastic garbage bag and putting out of sight of the children.  If the child asks for a particular toy, then that toy can be ‘found’ and returned to the play space.
  • Selecting open ended toys like tree blocks, pine combs, baskets of shells and simple cotton or natural fabric cloths.  These ‘toys’ provide many opened ended play possibilities for children.
  • Choosing toys made of natural materials rather than brightly coloured plastic toys.  Bright colours can overstimulate the child leading to distracted play.  Plastic as a substance has no natural warmth to it so children don’t feel such a connection.

To read the Fewer Toys study – The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play

More information on how to set up a simple nature based play corner will be covered in forthcoming blog.  It is also covered in our book ‘Parenting as an Art’.

I’m grateful you’re reading this blog.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Have a wonderful day!

with warmest wishes,

Jane Hanckel


(1) Dauch, C. et al, , “The influence of 2018 the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play” 2018

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