As parents hit the stores and the internet for Christmas presents for their children, professional organizer Ashley Kippers of LaHave offers some perspective on potential purchases. Part one of a two-part series.
Toys have a way of taking over. It starts innocently enough. You love your kids and you want to make them happy. But before you know it, you find yourself standing knee-deep in discarded LEGO blocks and naked Barbie dolls. The kids are bored; the house is a mess, and no one is happy.
Sound familiar? You're not alone. What if I were to tell you that by reducing the amount of toys, your kids would play longer, deeper and use more of their imaginations?
Experts agree that the too-many-toys syndrome isn't just about the aesthetics of domestic order. It can have negative effects on kids' developing psyches. For toddlers and preschoolers, an overload of playthings can be overwhelming and distracting. They pick up one toy, drop it, and move on. They can't focus on using any of their toys to the fullest. Toy overload can lead kids age six and older to think that everything is replaceable and nothing is valuable. They don't learn to appreciate their possessions nor feel a responsibility to care for them.
Research shows that kids today own an average of 238 toys, but play with less than five per cent of them. When the number of toys is greatly reduced and geared towards open-ended toys, they hold greater play value as the child is free to use their imagination for endless play possibilities.
Best types of toys
Active toys: encourage large movements of the body. Besides burning off energy and developing gross motor skills, research shows that activity is also really good for learning. Think bikes, scooters, yoga hammock, trampolines, swings, etc.
Blocks: offer opportunities for play and learning at any age: strengthening spatial and motor skills, hand-eye coordination, structural concepts and just the joy of knocking them down. And they integrate with all kinds of other toys and play to become garages for toy cars, forts and hideouts for action figures or as part of a Rube Goldberg machine, just to name a few examples. Think classic LEGO blocks (not kits), Magna-Tiles, wooden blocks, etc.
Balls: are the basis for so many sports and games and every child should have at least one (a few in different sizes, weights and textures if you can). Very young children can grasp small ones, then crawl after them as they roll, eventually learning to bounce, throw and catch them.
Dolls or stuffed animals: Not only can dolls and stuffed animals be companions for children, they are good tools for helping young children express emotions, practice nurturing and empathy and role playing.
Small figures: wood or plastic, small figures of people and animals allow kids to act out social scenes and important themes in their lives leading to many different games and kinds of play. "Little People," Schleich animals and the like can all play together in pretend farm, forest, beach and city landscapes. They can ride in cars, live in dollhouses, hide out in block forts, fight each other, heal each other, become families and friends in the universe of your child's imagination. These small figures can quickly grow out of hand so limit the amount to a certain number or whatever fits in a small bin.
Vehicles: Playing with toy vehicles improves hand dexterity, teaches about cause and effect and opens up so many possibilities for imaginative play. Vehicle toys add great pretend play possibilities when paired with small figures. Toss some trucks into the sandbox or draw your own set of streets on a big piece of cardboard.
Pretend play: allows kids to experiment with the different social and emotional experiences of life. It enables kids to "walk in someone else's shoes," which builds imagination, curiosity, understanding and empathy.
Dress-up clothes: You don't have to buy tiny costumes for your kids (unless that's what they love), scarves, costume jewelry, old hats are all fun for kids to try on and incorporate into open-ended imaginative play. Open ended (i.e. blue dress rather than Cinderella gown) is better than specific characters leading to better imaginative play.
Role-playing toys: Kids love to "play grown up" and role play. Take cues from your child about what they're interested in and consider play food or a play kitchen, a dollhouse, play tools, a play doctor's kit, spy gadgets, etc
Sensory toys: like water, kinetic sand, slime, play dough, rice, pebbles, beans, and pasta stimulate one or more senses - typically sight, sound, and touch. For these kinds of sensory toys, it's helpful to have a bin or rimmed tray. A baking tray borrowed from the kitchen is perfect! A few simple household tools like scoops, measuring cups, a muffin tin, ice cube tray, or wooden play dough tools will add to the fun.
Musical instruments: Kids are naturally drawn to music - music they hear or music they make. Simple instruments like egg shakers and drums will go a long way and get your kids participating in music. Avoid battery powered instruments.
Puzzles and games: Working on puzzles improves fine motor skills and gives the brain a workout as kids develop problem solving skills, increase spatial awareness and experience the satisfaction of solving the puzzle. Games are great for building memory retention, social skills, and strengthening bonds between friends and family members. Keep to a few at an age-appropriate level.
Art supplies: are great open-ended toys for all kids, from toddlers to teens. Even if you don't have room for a dedicated art station for your child, have age-appropriate supplies like crayons, paint, paper, tape, and glue in a place they can access. Set aside cardboard boxes or other safe recycling materials and see what they can create.
Books: stimulate the imagination, inspire pretend play, and can be enjoyed by kids of various ages. Choose books that everyone enjoys reading together and can be revisited again and again.
Based in LaHave, Lunenburg County, Ashley Kippers is a professional organizer and owner of Uncluttered Home Organizing https://un-cluttered.ca/