Why less is more when it comes to toys

As a very well resourced clinic, families often ask where we bought a particular toy or game from. While we encourage motivating games that support language development, we also strongly promote the idea of families themselves as the best resource a child can have. This means shifting the mentality of needing a new or different toy to be able to play new things. We suggest how simple change ups to the same toys can create whole new play experiences. Here are some examples:


1. Same toy…different way

Lots of kids enjoy playing with mini construction vehicles or miniature figurines. They can be a great way to encourage language and creativity. Activities that activate the senses can really help kids to stay longer in their play because of their calming effects. So how might this look? You might think about moving your bulldozers set from the car mat to the kinetic sand. Or, the mini sea creatures come alive from the box into real water with blue food colouring, for example.


 2. Same toy…different location

There have been multiple times over my years as a parent where I have completed a big toy overhaul. The intention was to give away or pass on toys that my children were no longer using. (In honesty this is often prompted by growing tired of tripping over them in the hallway!) In doing so, I will move toys to a different box or different place. And guaranteed, every time, the toys I attempt to pack away are the very toys that my children suddenly want to play with again. This fostered the idea that just moving a toy or activity to a new spot helps to spark new ideas in play. I’ve seen this work with both small items and bigger toys like a play kitchen or craft zone.


 3. Same toy…with a twist/‘add-ons’

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that kids will most value the biggest or most expensive gifts. But a lot of mileage can be gained from toys that cost little to nothing. Just by adding an extra item with the same toys, the game changes completely. One day when we got out the insects set, a pair of binoculars happened to be lying around. Suddenly a new game evolved where we were in the jungle hunting for insects with our binoculars. The kids loved this so much they initiated it another day. So, we added a different twist with a torch and hunting in the dark…taking the excitement to a whole new level! Early literacy was another easy ‘add-on’ when I showed them how to make a checklist with drawings, numbers and names of the items hidden.


4. Real life items as toys

My kids read a great book early on that got them curious about the idea of camping. This prompted lots of questions and talking about it. Pre-kids their dad was right into camping, me… well, less so. The compromise was to set up the tent in the backyard. We replicated the fun elements of camping with the comfort of one’s own bed at the end of the day! (Yes, we made backyard camping cool long before the ‘iso’ trend). So suddenly, real life items became the toy. My six month old had a blast just bouncing up and down on the air mattress – a perfect ‘people game’ opportunity (more on people games to come). The boys loved hunting for sticks to build a ‘campfire’ and roast marshmallows – a camp stove fire, but the marshmallows were real. And all the while we were doing lots of talking about the skills required for camping by using the camping gear as toys.


5. Real life activities as games

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that tasks which are an everyday chore for us can still be a game for our kids. That is, it’s not the game, it’s the way you play it. The challenge is to think of fun ways to involve kids in your everyday activities so that they are playing and learning life skills at the same time. One of my kids loved a sock jumble game when they were young. We would toss the cleanly washed socks into the air then race to find the pairs and put them together. Both a fun and functional activity, and a great way of reinforcing concepts like ‘match’. Another loved to get covered in bubbles while doing the dishes and pop them: not the quickest way to do dishes, but certainly fun!


6. Play that replicates real life

Time and again I have found that the best play ideas are the spontaneous ones. Or the ones that evolve from giving kids your time and allowing them to let their creative little minds run wild with yours! The first time my kids got the chance to go to a live theatre production, it was a new experience for them to see confetti raining from the ceiling. This captured their imaginations no end. Later that week I was sorting their craft drawer and found odd shaped bits of coloured paper to tear into our own confetti. Using their miniature puppet theatre, they had a ball replicating the dramatic end of their theatre production with coloured paper flying everywhere.

So in summary, the best resource when it comes to toys and games can be YOU. And one of the best gifts you can give your child is time to play with you!