If you’ve ever wondered whether your kid has way too many toys, you are not alone. “Toys, toys, everywhere!” seems to be something many parents are familiar with. But what if you were told that toys could actually be stifling your child’s creativity? Several studies seem to suggest so. These studies draw on initial analyses that successfully traced addiction behavior in adults back to childhood habits.
To show the extent to which toys affect kids’ creativity, a group of researchers in Germany undertook a study in a day care center. Following previous studies, the researchers were convinced that kids primarily use toys to escape other situations. They thus argued that taking away these toys would force the kids to deal with these situations and to thus learn important social and life skills such as problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity.
The research was also driven by the need to pull back from the consumer-oriented society which constantly drives kids to want more and more, and to consistently seek the latest thrill.
To carry out the study, the researchers created a toy-free center in Penzberg in 1992. For comparison purposes, the kids were divided into groups. In a few groups, all toys were removed from the day care center for a period of three months. Even items such as crayons and paper were taken away and the children were left only with basic necessities such as blankets and the furniture in their room.
Before beginning the project, the kids’ parents were informed of what would be happening in the classroom. The meeting with parents was an opportunity for the researchers to explain the concept of addiction prevention and to prepare the parents for any changes observed in their children’s behavior.
The researchers also met with the day care staff who were asked not to intervene when the kids’ spoke of boredom.
This is what the researchers found: The kids were initially lost without their toys, but they soon began to carry out activities that led to role plays, construction projects and excursions to the woods to collect branches. They made handicrafts and learned to play together and work on common ideas together. The minders’ roles were reduced to the organization of materials and to the handling of specific tools.
Left without toys, the children were found to be more creative, balanced and more confident in their abilities. They were also more likely to speak their minds and to use their skills and those of others to achieve their objectives compared to the groups which were allowed to play with toys.
Similar conclusions have been found by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
Now you know that scarcity rather than abundance sparks creativity. So, can you and should you take away all your kid’s toys to spark their creativity? While there is no need for drastic measures, reducing his or her number of toys could be beneficial.
6 practical tips to taming the toys
1. Adopt a toy rule
The toy rule I’ve heard about most often is the 20-toy rule which is pretty much straightforward: your kid picks 20 toys and this makes him appreciate and value the chosen toys more (hopefully), and also reduces clutter and sparks her creativity (hopefully, once again).
You don’t have to adopt the 20-toy rule. Figure out what would be a good number for your kid to begin with and adapt your strategy with time. Remember that a toy rule is not about making you both miserable. Start slow. For example, you could ask your child to pick out all the broken toys or all the toys she has not played with in the past 2 weeks.
2. Take one step at a time
Just because your child doesn’t play with a particular toy does not mean he will not cling to it when he learns that he has to part ways with it. It will suddenly become his “favorite” toy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Other options you can try are rotating the toys or keeping some toys at a different location (for example at the grandparents’ house).
3. Explain your actions
There is proof that kids are more likely to go along with what you want if they feel that they have participated in the decision-making process. Let your child choose the toys he wants to give away.
Talk about why it is important to have less toys. Explaining to your kids that you will donate the toys to kids who have less than him might make it easier for him to let go of some of his toys.
4. Make minimalism a way of life
Minimalism is not fanatism. It is a way of life. It is about being aware of all that we amass and making a conscious effort to spend our resources on the things that matter most. Promoting minimalism when your own life is cluttered with things you neither use nor need will not work. Declutter your own life first. Kids learn more from what they see than from what they hear.
5. Take advantage of your support network
Your friends and family can help you declutter if they know what you are trying to do and if you let them know how they can help.
Proposing alternative options such as tickets to the movies or to museums as birthday gifts, or proposing to buy joint gifts, can be a good way to reduce the clutter. Remember, though, that your family and friends are under no obligation to agree with you on this.
6. Propose other alternatives
It can be difficult for your kid to find himself with fewer toys all of a sudden. Actually, it can be difficult for both of you. Provide opportunities that help your child undertake activities by himself. Fostering less-structured environments that favor creative boredom is a good way to encourage your child to have fun even when he has few toys.
Now you know that decluttering can help spark creativity. A word of caution – “just when you think it’s over, it starts all over again“!
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An earlier version of this post was published on parent.co