I love being “Grammy Pammy” to not only my own grandchildren, but several children I get to invest in through various moms ministries. It is so fun to witness the different stages of growth, how the kiddos interact, and what piques their creativity.
Have you ever noticed that children come alive when they are in the regular habit of going outside? The playground and outdoors become their castles, their new friends become superheroes, and their voices squeal as they scream, “Higher! Push me higher, Grandma!”
The playground has shown me that play allows children to create and explore in a decluttered, open environment where their imaginations can soar. Both of my daughter-in-laws have chosen to embrace this focused-play model with their children and I have seen the benefits of it firsthand. When there are less toys available to play with, the kids play with the toys longer, are more creative with the toys, and interact better together.
I certainly am not against toys, but I’ve seen children get overstimulated and overwhelmed when the room is filled with too many choices. (And, both children and moms become frustrated with the amount of toys to pick up!) Research has actually proven that “less is more” when it comes to toys. Children develop better concentration, communication, and integration with other children.
A young woman that I mentor recently returned from spending two months living in a hotel with her two young children. Surprisingly, when the children adjusted, the few toys they brought along and the craft table were all they needed for a day full of play! Returning home, she looked at all of the toy clutter and decided to dramatically decrease the volume of toys, clothes, and books with no regrets.
If you are frustrated with toy chaos or are considering downsizing toys and have wondered where to begin, here are a few suggestions for you:
- Donate the toys your children no longer play with to local churches, play centers, or other locations.
- Toss the toys, puzzles, or games that are broken or have missing parts.
- Box up and rotate in toys that you aren’t sure you want to get rid of.
- Create an uncluttered toy area for children so that they can easily find their toys.
- Highlight creative toys such as building blocks, LEGOs, musical toys, Brio train sets, puzzles, and coloring books.
- Limit their screen time so children have time to discover their toys again.
In a blog post by Raised Good, researcher and author Kim John Payne’s findings on Mental Health in Children were summarized as follows:
Early in his career, Payne volunteered in refugee camps in Jakarta, where children were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He describes them as, “jumpy, nervous, and hyper-vigilant, wary of anything novel or new.”
Years later Payne ran a private practice in England, where he recognized many affluent English children were displaying the same behavioural tendencies as the children living in war zones half a world away. Why would these children living perfectly safe lives show similar symptoms?
Payne explains that although they were physically safe, mentally they were also living in a war zone of sorts, “Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy trying to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviours that weren’t ultimately helpful.”
Suffering with a “cumulative stress reaction” as a result of the snowballing effect of too much, children develop their own coping strategies to feel safe. Parents and society are conscious of the need to protect our children physically. But, sadly, we are messing up. Modern day children are exposed to a constant flood of information which they can’t process or rationalise. They’re growing up faster as we put them into adult roles and increase our expectations of them. So, they look for other aspects of their life they can control.
Danaye Baronhona Ph.D, with Simple Families says, “If children learn through play, then play is the work of childhood. This means that their play space is a de facto work and learning environment.”
Perhaps you’ve never imagined your children’s play space as their workplace. Help them succeed at “work”–clear the toy clutter away and give your children the space to really play!
For inspiration on toys at Christmas, read the BTG article “The Joy of Intentional Giving.”