As teachers and parents, we spend a lot of time thinking about what kinds of toys we give to children. We want toys that will encourage spatial reasoning skills, facilitate motor development, inspire collaboration and spark imagination. But how often do we think about how many toys are in our bins?
In a recent blog post, minimalist Joshua Becker (author of “The More of Less”) argues compellingly that if we truly care about the values listed above, we should consider limiting the number of toys we provide in our classrooms and playrooms. Through a list of twelve benefits he demonstrates how having fewer toys will help stimulate children’s creativity and problem solving skills, executive function, and socioemotional skills.
For example, he cites a study conducted by German public health workers where all of the toys were removed from a kindergarten classroom. As a result, students were forced to be creative and invent their own games based only on what the classroom provided. This example reminds us that anything can become a toy, and giving children the opportunity and motivation to make their own toys helps spark their creativity and teaches them to solve complex problems. Having fewer traditional “toys” also inspires children to find toys in nature, to appreciate art, and to look for satisfaction outside of consumerism.
Fewer toys can also lead to improved executive function in young children. When children have too many toys to choose from, it makes it more difficult to focus on one, so having fewer options can lengthen children’s attention spans. It also encourages perseverance, because children cannot simply move on to another toy if a certain puzzle or type of play becomes too difficult. In this way, having fewer toys encourages children to develop plans, carry them out, and persist in the face of challenges.
Finally, limiting the number of toys children play with can facilitate socioemotional development. Fewer toys means children have to share, collaborate, communicate and have less objects to fight over. On the flipside, Becker argues having too many toys can lead to selfishness and in some cases even entitlement.
Plus, on a practical level, fewer toys makes for easier cleanup and motivation for children to take care of their things! Although many of the points Becker makes are compelling, implementation of his vision can be difficult. How many toys do you provide, and why? How do you manage the competing forces that might push that number one way or another? One thing is for sure: if we want to craft intentional play experiences in our classrooms and homes, we must be intentional not only about which toys we provide but how many.
Authored by Magen Eissenstat, Rice University Senior SLC Intern