New Study Underscores Why Fewer Toys Is the Better Option

By Susan Newman Ph.D. for

Toys seem like an inevitable by-product of parenting. If your home teems with too many must-have fad items, toys, or gizmos that ever caught your child’s fancy, you’re not alone.

Now there is good news for parents who fear their children’s play areas resemble a toy store: A new study from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests “an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.” Having fewer toys can lead a young child to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play, according to the study, “The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play” published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development. Fewer toys, it turns out, result in healthier play, and, ultimately, deeper cognitive development.

Researchers observed 36 toddler subjects between the ages of 18 and 30 months in free-play sessions. The toddlers were given either four toys or 16. “There was a significant difference in the quality of toddlers’ play between the two toy conditions,” the study reports. “As measured by sustained play and variety of manners of play, toddlers had a greater quality of play in the Four Toy condition compared to the Sixteen Toy condition.” Essentially, when given a few toys, the toddlers played with them in more varied ways and for longer periods of time.

The study echoes several experts who in recent years have advocated for streamlined, or even toy-free, play areas for young children. In his book Clutterfree with Kids, Joshua Becker describes too many toys as a distraction from development. “Imagine the impact that hundreds of toys in our homes may be having on our kids,” he wrote in response to the new findings.

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