Growing up, I’m sure you have memories of playing with Barbies, Hot Wheels, and may be reliving these moments again with your kids (mine are with Legos and board games). But unfortunately, toys take up so much space! The latest and greatest toys soon became an after-thought to the next big thing, and more and more toys end up at the bottom of the toy bin.
Looking back, the toys that have a special place in your childhood were often simple, like a stuffed animal, blocks, or toy trains. These items aren’t too fancy or elaborate, because the truth is your child doesn’t need the entire toy aisle to be entertained.
Our kids need to play, but they don’t necessarily require the items from the toy section to do it. You may have noticed times when you are putting away dishes and your little one has made a drum set with pots and pans. You might have gotten them kiddie phones or computers, but find them more interested in what we’re typing up or scrolling through instead. Children are curious and will gravitate to what intrigues them at the moment, regardless if it’s a toy or a common household object.
Simple is Best
We’re not saying that your kid shouldn’t have toys (we’re not Scrooge), but the ones with all the bells and whistles aren’t really essential. In fact, the simpler the toy, the better because they allow more opportunities for imagination and play. Consider the 2008 Toy of the Year: the stick. Yeah, a stick made it to the Toy Hall of Fame. This nature-made object can be anything your child desires, whether that’s a cane, a wand, a sword, or even a fishing pole.
The more complex and defined a toy is, however, the less of a chance it can be used outside of its intended purpose. These close-ended objects direct your child’s play rather than expand their creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills. Boredom sets in as the novelty fades and before you know it, that toy is now a dust collector.
Simple or open-ended toys put kids in charge of how to play with them, helping to build their motor, cognitive, and social development as they grow. By interacting with these basic objects, they improve their haptic perception and fine motor skills as well as gain resilience and confidence through trial-and-error as they experiment and play. Unlike their counterparts, these toys can also stick around for as long as your kid can reinvent its purpose, as their play becomes more intricate and complex. So, those blocks your kid was stacking up and knocking down as a toddler may serve as a cityscape for an epic Godzilla vs. King Kong battle when they’re 5 or 6.
Back to Basics
Ask yourself these three questions when looking for toys:
- Does is require imagination?
- Does it promote social interaction with others?
- Does it encourage movement?
If the answer is yes to any one of these, awesome. More than one, even better! Here’s some examples:
- Building blocks or sets – wooden blocks, Legos, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs
- Art supplies/materials – paper and pens, markers, crayons, paint, etc.
- Tactile and moldable substances – clay, Play-Doh, slime
- Play sets and figurines – Barbie’s Dream House or Little People sets
- Any mode of transportation – cars, trains, planes, boats, etc. If you consider track sets, make sure that they can be rearranged
- Play kitchens, tool benches, playhouses
- Dress up clothes and accessories
- Board games
- Card games
- Jump ropes
- Anything with wheels that they can self-propel – push cars, bikes, trikes, scooters (don’t forget the helmet)
If it Means that Much to Them
The relationship children have with their toys changes as they grow. Around 5 years of age, children have a good idea of what their interested in, like sports or cooking. With that said, your kid may point to objects that they’re really into while passing the toy section. For our son, he LOVES monster trucks, cars, and anything that goes VROOM with dreams of becoming the next Lewis Hamilton. He’ll point to the automotive toys that he’d wish to have and we’re happy to oblige sporadically AS LONG AS IT PROVIDES ROOM FOR IMAGINATION. So, yes, he’ll get an occasional Hot Wheels or Monster Jam truck because his racetrack is either outside or over the couches with the pillows becoming some gnarly off-roading obstacles.
Less is More
With simple toys comes less clutter. You laugh, but hear me out. If toys are just hanging on shelves or untouched in the toy bin, what is the point of keeping them? If your child has some basic toys around, they’ll reach for them to play a new game or carry out an idea for years and years. As we’ve talked about in our Kid Spaces post, toys can still take up ample room. Consider storage options, rotating toys weekly, and decluttering with your kiddo every now and then. Worried about the number of toys your child has access to? Don’t be. A 2018 study found that when toddlers had fewer toys in their environment, they were able to play with each toy for longer periods, allowing them to become less distracted and to play more creatively.
A toy can be anything your child engages with safely and independently. As long as it provides opportunities to think freely, creatively, and allow for exploration and continued curiosity, then that’s the best kind of toy there is.