Less is more. Too many toys could be stifling your toddler
The scientific case for paring back this holiday season
Multicolored twinkle lights, a tree festooned with precious orbs, a benevolent, magical fellow who squeezes his way into homes - despite his rotundness - because he's so friggin' jolly he just wants to give kids "stuff". Kinda wondrous. That the holidays are also marked by tots tearing through gift after gift like wolverines through a carcass is not surprising. Human expectations being what they are, those little faces may also be prone to dart around asking one wild-eyed question: is there more?
Take heart, consumer. There is one gift that will have toddlers stoked to play more and play harder than any of the other objects you (or Santa) can wrap and cram under the tree. It's easy to get, very affordable and great for the environment. It's also great for toddlers. So, do be sure to give them… less.
Data from a recent study strongly suggests that just a handful of toys helps toddlers cultivate more creativity and keener focus during playtime. What's more, fewer toys even had them playing for longer periods. A holiday miracle.
When researchers at the University of Toledo gave children under three years old 4 different toys, they found that playtime took a very different turn than when they gave them 16 unique play things. The increased toy scenario was regularly met with quicker disenchantment and less concentration than the pared down playtime. Conversely, fewer toys seemed to boost both appreciation and interaction with a single object. The researchers noted that when given less toys, "toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy." This in turn allowed them "better focus to explore" and resulted in much more creative play. Certainly, something to take with you as you scramble to finish your holiday shopping.
Also, bring along this relevant celebrity factoid: Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis aren't big on giving their 3-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and their 1-year old son, Dmitri any toys at Christmas. "Last year," Kunis told media, "Wyatt was two and it was too much. We didn't give her anything." Echoing the recent scientific findings, and likely the experience of numerous parents, Kunis added "the kid no longer appreciates the one gift. They don't even know what they're expecting; they're just expecting stuff."
Seasonal spoils notwithstanding, the way to ensure what the study calls "healthy play" that "promotes development" is to embrace a little scarcity. And that holds true all year long. Researchers here make the case for keeping the bulk of fun gizmos in a storage bin (or bins, depending on the current collection of misfit toys in your home). "When there is an abundance of toys, small collections can be rotated into play while the majority is stored away, providing opportunities for novelty without creating the distraction posed by having too many toys available." A more controlled environment, free of excess diversions is healthier for a developing mind, say researchers. In particular, "creativity, imagination, and skill development" all benefit when the number of toy choices are diminished for a toddler. Less toys, it seems, really is more for a little mind.
It may benefit larger minds and a much larger picture too. Should you need more reason to readily embrace some scarcity and rein in the consumerism that can take us this time of year, note that the ecological ramifications are considerable. Dr. David Suzuki believes that simplifying our needs and curbing our tendency to acquire things is one of the ways we'll save the planet from, well, us.
He points to the comparably tech-simple 1950's as a benchmark. "We lived pretty well. Three quarters of the things we take for granted today, cell phones, computers, weren't there. But believe it or not, we were happy." Fewer toys, less distractions.
The less-is-more model for Suzuki makes perfect sense, and he's been talking about it for years. "It's true that we have to change our habits," he says. For him that starts with "not being such consumers." Something he says that is less about "buying the right things as not over-consuming." Suzuki still dutifully and faithfully pushes the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. And he walks the talk. Consumerism for him is largely linked to outside perception and a needless devotion to aesthetic. For example, he only buys clothes to satisfy his basic needs: "to cover the naughty bits, and to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter." Looking sharp he says is "only to push product." We already have enough product. Arguably, so do our toddlers.
If science, Suzuki and the Kutcher-Kunis family don't have you convinced, consider your finances. And the fact that, by St. Nick's fluffy white beard, your kids sure as heck don't need another Hatchimal.