I sprinted down the stairs to get to the car to take my father out on an errand. As I was scurrying past, I saw a kid delighted in his pretend-play with a broken- BROKEN cycle seat! Something about this kid made me stop. Part pity, part admiration, part judgement! I looked at my dad and said, “ Look at that kid!”. My dad’s response hit home really hard! He said, “Yeah, children can make toys out of anything!” His response carried no pity, no judgement- just stated a fact with full conviction!
And it was true- this little guy seemed just AS happy and absorbed with his broken bicycle seat as my daughter with a new Barbie doll!
This came at a time when I was negotiating hard to get my daughter off her Barbie fetish. That her friends showed off one new toy after another hardly helped!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against toys. Toys go beyond being mere play things! Every child has a toy that takes a life of its own and becomes a companion- sometimes far beyond childhood. Every Calvin and Hobbes fan can vouch for that.
However, I think there is credit in intentionally limiting toys for children. Amidst the constant bombardment of more advanced, more colorful, more stimulating, more educational, more this and more that, I humbly present my case for why less is more:
1.Kids re-wire to be more creative– In a recent power struggle with my daughter, I refused to buy her a doll-house; but I made a deal with her. That I will buy anything she needs to make her own. And help her make it as well! And guess what? She made her own. Sure, she made wobbly tables and floppy staircases- but she made it! Out of her own tiny hands! And boy, was she proud of it!
The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore spent his childhood making most of his own toys. If you want more proof- this experiment in which two German public health professionals turned around a room full of bored kindergartners into play-inventors proves that children will use their own innate ability to gel with their surroundings to amuse themselves- in a very meaningful way!
2. Better bonding: Having fewer things propels children towards actively seeking togetherness. They seek out Nature. According to this article, the indoor time for children is alarming! When this is restricted, the natural curiosity of children is piqued and they are more likely to seek out Nature. They climb up and down, hug trees, run barefoot, do cartwheels, discover the texture and feel of things like wood and fabric.
3. Kids can hold longer attention spans: There is an old Sanskrit saying “Ati Sarvatra varjayet”. There is so much evidence of it even in children’s behavior that it should tell us a thing or two about our culture of materialism and consumerism. When there are too many toys, children fail to appreciate what they have and view toys as just another distraction(We are not even started with the gadgets yet!!!) – which is not only a colossal waste of parent’s money; but actually does the opposite of what they hoped it would do!
4. Kids cherish and value their things better: When kids have lesser, they appreciate more. Cherish more. Associate more.
When we stopped replacing things that our daughters broke, we gradually saw that they actually broke lesser after a while.
Steiner Waldorf educationalists emphasize on the positive effects of taking away excess toys from children and replacing them with simpler, more natural playthings to stimulate creative play.
5. Kids EAT better!: No, really! Let’s be honest! How many times have you seen a kid pester their parents for that McDonald’s meal for that favourite character, that cholocate that comes with the colourful car, that box of cookies that that for another “surprise toy”? There are tons of studies on the effect of targeting children for advertising! (Click here for more ideas on inculcating conscious consumerism in children!”
6. Kids seek other pleasures – like reading, writing and creating! Noisy and colourful toys provide too much of sensory stimulation. They quickly get bored from working on projects that provide less external stimulation- making it harder to read and write; or work quietly. In short, do anything that requires.
7. Kids live in cleaner spaces: Admit it. Is it really easy to clear out and stack up the toys everyday? Having fewer toys simply means cleaner spaces !
8. Kids learn the joy of giving!: For all the talk of happiness( or the lack of it in today’s world), is there’s one thing that stands out, it is that the experience of giving to other is the most joyful . When children are made to give away to those less fortunate, they not only learn the art of giving, but quickly realise that there is a world outside of their own!
So, what’s the plan?
1. Limit the toy space: Limiting the toy space to a toy tub or toy-cupboard allows us to monitor the supply of toys. Once, there’s no more space, its time to give away! Involving slightly older children in the process of choosing and giving away their toys can also teach them a thing or two about the other world- and the joys of giving!
2. Limit Television: The bombardment of all those ads at our kids increases their pestering. Even the most self-willed parent cannot say ‘NO’ fifty times to the same thing. Turning down requests 3-5 times is more doable- and that, in turn is possible with limited screen time.
3. Set targets: When children earn something after a long wait-time or certain accomplishments, their reward centres in the brain get activated. You could set simple targets like “noticing good things about your sister” 10 times. Hey, this even fosters great sibling camaraderie! They are working on the same target, remember?
4. Keep it Simple: When it comes to buying toys- ask not what the toy can do for your child, ask what your child can do with the toy. Good old blocks and natural textures still score over all the “education” toys.
5. Stand out and stand firm-Its easy to buckle in to all the peer pressure; but once you set your ground rules, stick to them. Eventually, your kids will really know if they are entitled to an all-new toy!
So, don’t be afraid to clear out that screaming pile. For all you know, the kids might not even notice while it’s gone!