Less is More
The effect the number of toys has on children’s play.
Why is play important?
Children make sense of the world around them through play. Play gives children opportunities to explore, problem solve, and learn new things. Play also promotes development in numerous areas. Language skills, cognitive skills (thinking and reasoning), gross motor skills (body, arm, and leg movements), and fine motor skills (hand, finger, and feet movements) can all be supported as children play with toys. Additionally, children who are exposed to play-based learning are more prepared for school. Still, with a booming toy market that provides a variety of options, storage and arrangement of toys can be difficult for families to navigate.
Play and Attention
Toddlers are in a stage of growth and development. Attention is a skill that develops over time, so young children may be easily distracted by things that are fun, interesting, or unfamiliar. Distractions that occur when a child is playing can impact the child’s interest in that toy. For example, previous studies have shown that TV can be distracting to play. When the TV is on in the background, children play with individual toys for shorter periods of time.
This study explored the effect the number of toys in the child’s environment has on the quality of play. The authors defined quality of play in two ways: length of play with an individual toy and playing with a toy in different ways. These two measures are important because they help children develop more advanced play skills. For example, children who play with one toy for a long time can discover new and creative uses for that toy. In this study, toddlers were observed during play with sixteen toys and during play with only four toys. Battery operated toys made up 25% of the options available in order to focus on simple and imaginative toys. Children did not get any directions from adults on how to play, but adults were present for supervision.
What did the researchers find?
The researchers found that fewer toys was related to better quality of play. In other words, children played with a single toy for longer when there were only four toys available. Children also played with a single toy in more ways when only had four options. This research adds to the evidence that distractions in the environment, including having a lot of toys, may reduce children’s attention.
While it is common for families to own many toys, the researchers offer suggestions to help children develop high quality play. An important recommendation is that adults provide only a few toys to their child at a time. To help reduce the number, parents can put away the majority of toys in storage and switch out which toys are available once a month or so. Not only does this promote higher quality play, but it also helps children stay interested in their toys longer because old toys can seem new and fun again when they come out of storage.
Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. E. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development, 50, 78-87.