I grew up in Romania during some hard times. The communist era is long gone (I was a 6th grader when the revolution that freed the country happened) but memories of that period are still vivid in my mind. Some sound so incredible like scenes from a movie, not my life. Despite all the difficulties, people were still trying to make the most of it and enjoy life. One of the happiest times of the year was Christmas. We would decorate the Christmas tree, mom would cook a delicious traditional meal, we would eat oranges (the only time you would find them in stores) and wait for Santa. Kids would only get one present and that was the only time, besides birthdays, when they received toys.
Years later, when I moved to the US and had my first baby, I was grateful he could benefit from playing with so many interesting and colorful toys, especially created to help him discover the world. In time, our house was invaded by his and soon, his little brother’s toys and by the time my oldest turned two I knew I needed to start looking for toy alternatives.
I have been trying to limit my kids’ toys but despite my efforts it still feels like too much and I dread the idea of our home turning into a children’s museum because of the abundance of toys my boys own. Besides, once kids go to bed I dream of a toy-free house but putting all those toys back where they belong is the last thing I want to do.
I decided to put an end to toy domination and started a little experiment about four months ago. One evening, after kids went to bed, I gathered all their toys, except for the big ones and some games, and boxed them. The plan was to take out one box per day. First day was for the box labeled “Trucks, Big Cars and Trains” as the kids hadn’t played with those in a while. I must say I was nervous. What will the boys say when they find all their toy bins empty? Nothing!!! They were so excited to discover their wheel toys that they couldn’t care less about the rest. I was surprised to see how quickly the boys adapted to the new rule and didn’t miss the rest of their toys. Since then I altered the rules to fit us better and now the kids are in charge of choosing what they want to play with and they can take out two boxes in case they each want to play with different toys.
This play with less toys experiment works well for our family and here are some of the benefits:
- Kids learn to be more organized with their toys. Toys are still scattered all over the house but once the play is over the boys know they have to put everything back in the box in order to get new toys.
- It helps them to take decisions because out the 10 boxes they only can have one and they are stuck with those toys for the entire day until they can choose a new box the next day.
- I learned which are their most favorite toys and which are the ones they can live without. A few boxes have never been requested in 4 months so I started giving them a second life with other kids.
- The boys are given more opportunities to share and experience collaborative play. One time my toddler chose small cars and my preschooler magnetic tiles. The oldest made a couple of garages out of his magnetic tiles and handed one to his brother in exchange for a car.
Kids don’t need tons of toys to play with and just because we can get them many doesn’t mean that we have to. A few toys is just enough. After all imagination is our kids’ most powerful tool that will help them turn anything into the most amazing toys ever.
This post is part of a series hosted by Encourage Play. Go check it out and see why play is the best way for children to learn.