It’s the time of year when children everywhere are busily writing their Christmas wish-lists. Their heads are filled with images of intriguingly shaped gifts in festive wrapping paper, piled high under the tree. How much of what they put on those lists will you buy them? How many toys is enough?
When I was younger, the norm was to get one ‘big’ present for Christmas or a birthday, and maybe a few smaller ones. We followed the same pattern with our own children. I was shocked when, one year, my son recounted the haul one of his schoolfriends had received.
“He got a PlayStation and about ten games for it, and an iPhone. Oh, and a proper pool table and a new bike. And some other things.” Really? Even back then, one new-release game for any popular games console cost in the region of £30. And this kid got ten of them, plus all the other stuff? Wow. Nor was he the only one.
We never believed in showering our kids with countless gifts. Even if we could have afforded it, we always felt it would be a mistake. They needed to learn the value of things, in our view. Experience the delight of receiving something they really wanted. (And, now they’re older, the satisfaction of saving up and buying it themselves.)
So it’s good to know experts also believe it’s wise to limit the number of toys our kids have. Giving them everything they want, when they want it, deprives them of learning some of life’s core values. It can make them entitled. It can also lead to addictive behaviour.
In the early 1990s, an addiction group in Germany ran a project called ‘The Toy-Free Kindergarten’. It saw the removal of all toys over a three-month period, with the support of the children’s families and wider networks. Regular feedback sessions were held with parents and educators and, over time, all reported overwhelmingly positive results.
Toys aren’t just playthings, it seems – too many of them can lead to some important life-lessons being missed. Here’s how fewer toys will help your kids benefit in the longer term.
They will learn to be more creative
The German experiment showed that the children soon adapted to their new, toy-free environment. The kids would ask their parents to keep empty cartons, string – anything that might be used for play. Their imaginations grew as they used their surroundings – and each other – for entertainment.
“Pretty soon there won’t be any toys left. What are you going to do then?” asked one parent. “Play with the other children,” answered their child.
They will become more resourceful
Without ready-made toys, kids learn to use what they have to fit the circumstances. I can remember one winter, when I was about eight years old. We had exceptionally heavy snow that covered a thrillingly steep hill in our Yorkshire village. None of us had a ‘proper’ sledge, but it didn’t matter. Instead, we gathered together a motley assortment of metal trays, dustbin (trash can) lids and large plastic sacks. I don’t believe we’d have had any more fun if we’d each owned a bit of specially shaped, brightly coloured moulded plastic.
Their social skills improve
Take toys out of the equation, and kids interact more. They learn to talk, and also to listen. They develop the art of proper, in-person conversation – no bad thing when they ‘talk’ so much via electronic devices when they’re older. It’s a skill that will stand them in good stead.
They’ll take better care of things
It stands to reason that, with fewer possessions, kids will take more care of them. If damaged items are quickly replaced or there’s always something new on the horizon, children don’t learn to value what they have.
They’ll fight less
It might sound counter-intuitive, but fewer playthings generally means less fighting. Kids have to learn to share and collaborate if there’s less to go around. Conversely, if we’re always offering new toys, there’s something else for them to argue over.
Their attention span will increase
Children who have more toys than they know what to do with rarely settle. They move from one to the next, nothing really claiming their focus. They’re always restless, wanting to move on to the next source of entertainment. With fewer toys, they learn to happy with what they’ve got; they’ll be more absorbed for longer. If they find something difficult or can’t figure out how a toy works, they’re also more likely to persevere rather than discard it for something else.
They’ll appreciate the world
Kids with fewer toys are more likely to develop a love of reading, writing and art. They won’t expect everything they want to instantly fall into their laps. They’ll learn the value of friends, family and experiences, rather than thinking money can buy everything they want. In short, they’ll become less materialistic, happier and more rounded people – and that’s a gift we should all give our kids.