4 reasons why the parenting trend to simplify what our kids play with is a good one.
I’ve seen my kids play with rocks for hours. Sticks are amazing, too. If they find a stick they’re delighted. You can do almost anything with a stick and a rock, so consider it your lucky day if you find both. Meanwhile, my older daughter has outgrown sticks and rocks, so she handcrafts her own dolls out of fabric scraps and yarn. The baby isn’t picky, she just wants to touch every cardboard box in sight. Meanwhile, all the expensive fancy toys we’ve bought them have either been broken and tossed in the trash or languished and given away.
When we became parents for the first time, I wouldn’t say we went overboard with infant and toddler toys, but we sure did have a lot more at that point than we have now for our sixth baby. We used to have an electric mobile, a toy bin of electronic, light-up devices for baby to push, toys that play music, and fancy, battery-powered toy cars and stuffed animals that giggled when you pushed their tummy.
All that’s gone now, and none of the younger kids seem to notice or care. The older kids don’t have a ton of fancy toys anymore, either. They have their books, crafting items, sports gear, and a small assortment of board games. By far our most popular toy is the Lego collection I saved from my own childhood. They have very few items that make noise, light up, or need to be plugged in to function.
There’s been a movement in parenting to simplify the toys we allow our children to possess and it seems like a good development. There are a number of reasons why…
It may be a surprise to learn that toy companies are dedicated, first and foremost, to making money. This is why they create all sorts of unnecessary, seemingly sophisticated toys that catch the eyes of kids at the store. It’s why they develop new add-ons and new editions of classic toys. They’re attempting to sell us on the idea that a toy is a must-have and our kids will be deprived and unhappy without it. Yes, for all of us — not just kids — shiny new toys are tempting but they’re often wasted expense and we’re just as happy without them.
2Better for mental development
Studies show a strange paradox — the more toys children possess, the harder it is for them to play. Having too many toys and the wrong kind of toys makes it impossible for children to concentrate and actually enjoy them. Simple toys that don’t overwhelm are actually more fun and they help with the development of the imagination.
We’re in the process of moving houses, and as we were unpacking boxes recently the kids noticed a Wii game console. Indignation ensued. I’d never told them we had such a magical device and it had been packed away for years. The reason why is that their grandparents also have a Wii and when the kids visit it’s a real treat to play it. The games never get old because they play them only once or twice per month.
The principle of moderation and gratitude holds with all of our toy purchases. If the kids want to buy something, we have them wait a month and if, at the end of that time, they still want it then they can get the toy. This way, we have fewer toys and they’re grateful and engaged with the ones they have. My nine-year-old son recently went through this waiting process and successfully purchased a new toy — a wagon to give his younger siblings rides in the yard. He’s already forgotten about the Wii in the box.
4Fosters family time
The most important benefit of simple toys is that they encourage family time. A distracted child staring at a light-up doll won’t have nearly as much fun as a toddler who gets to play blocks with mom or dad. A handheld video game isn’t nearly as precious a childhood memory as gathering round for a bedtime story from your favorite book. A simple, outdoor game produces hours of family bonding time. Many families laugh and talk over even the simplest, oldest board games. Whatever other reasons we might have for considering simplifying our toy collection, the opportunity to have more family time makes it by far the best gift we can give to our children.
In the end, life is pretty simple. It’s about the people we love, not how fancy our toys are. If our toys are carefully chosen to lead us back to the people we love, therein lies true happiness.