Toys do more than just keep your little ones from getting bored — the right ones can boost your children’s motor, language, social, and cognitive skills. That’s why every new parent is guilty of buying too many toys at one point or another — it can help them. As it turns out, we need to be careful about putting out too many playthings for our child to see because it can affect their attention skills and affect a toddler's creativity.
A new study published in the Infant Behaviour and Development journal suggests that a toddler with fewer toys not only spends longer playing each one, they also increase their attentional skills and become more creative in their play.
University of Toledo researchers studied 36 toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months and gave them a total of 32 toys divided into the following categories: educational toys, “pretend” toys, action toys (which required an action like stacking or building when played), and vehicles. The toddlers took part in two, 15-minute supervised play sessions. In the first session, they were shown one toy per category (four toys in total) and the second session, the toddlers were shown four toys per category (16 toys in total).
Results showed that most toddlers played with three of the four toys in the first session, while they played with half of the 16 toys in the second session. Not only that, but the number of toys available seemed to affect the way the children played — the time toddlers played with a fewer number of toys was longer than when they had more toys at their disposal (two minutes per toy on the first session versus one minute per toy on the second session).
What does this mean? Too many toys are distracting. When a child could only play with four toys, they focused more on each one, exploring it more thoroughly and discovering different ways of using it.
“During toddlerhood, children develop, but may not have mastered, higher level control over attention. Their attention, and therefore their play, may be disrupted by factors in their environments that present distraction,” said Carly Dauch, one of the study’s authors. “When provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively.”
Having too many toys can backfire because the child might ignore it completely instead of playing with it. “You can overwhelm your baby if you give her too many toys to play with at any one time,” said child development expert Dorothy Einonin a column for Baby Centre UK. “The result is that none of them fully capture her attention and she does not play at all.”
But if you’ve already bought the toys, it does not mean that your toddler will never play with them anymore. One method you can use is the Montessori education method.
“In Montessori, it’s always child-led play. You only prepare the environment and your child chooses,” says Dr. Faith Buenaventura-Alcazaren, a pediatrician and a mom of two. “You have open shelves, and you rotate the toys appropriate for the development of the child. It’s the child’s decision how to play with it.”
Keep in mind: it’s not the number of toys that ensure a child’s learning. It’s the type of toys that you choose to give your child.
One type of toy to avoid are the “close-ended” ones. Once the child has accomplished the goal, i.e., complete the puzzle pieces, the tendency is to move on to the next activity. Puzzles, shape sorters, and push-button toys can be considered close-ended toys. Look for open-ended toys that grow with your child and challenge them to think more creatively. Here are some of them:
1. Wooden blocks
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These are good for developing fine motor skills. “Your child can also be creative with them and use them to pretend to build all sorts of things like a tower, a train, or a bridge,” says developmental pediatrician Dr. Victoria Dominique Ang. “Later on, they can also be used to teach different concepts such as colors and numbers.”
Imaginative or pretend play plays a vital role in many areas of growth including cognitive, social and emotional, language and communication, problem-solving and creativity, said Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist specializing in development, in an article for Psychology Today. Apart from dollhouses, play kitchens are a popular choice, too. Check out this DIY creation from a mom of two.
3. Toys that encourage constructive play
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Interlocking blocks, art supplies, playdough, and even water and sand give your child the freedom to construct things using his imagination. It helps build various skills like abstract thinking, problem-solving, and of course, creativity. See more open-ended toys, like the Rainbow Stacker, here.
Though we can forgive ourselves from going overboard when it comes to toy shopping, we should also remember that having a certain number of toys won’t ensure that our child will grow up creative or smart or successful. Remember to play with your kids, mom! “There is nothing that sparks a child’s interest more and that promotes learning and development in all domains, more than being with a parent,” says Dr. Ang.