Less toys, better quality of play

Blocks, vehicles, dolls, puzzles… Children often have many toys available to them at home. Toys may help to promote children’s development in several domains, including children’s cognition, social skills and motor skills. However, if there are too many toys available, children may be distracted. This post explores how the availability of toys is related to the quality of play among toddlers. In addition, research-based tips on how to best support your child’s play will be given.

 Most successful play

Toys that often elicit the most successful play have the following features:

  • Lightweight
  • Contrasting colors and textures
  • Offer multiple responses

 Quality of play

This study explored if having fewer toys available during play would improve the quality of play among toddlers. The quality of play was measured by the duration of play with the toy and the variety in the manners of toy play (for example dumping, pretending and drumming). Toddlers aged 18-30 months were invited to play for at least 15 minutes. They participated in two different conditions of toy play: 4 toys available and 16 toys available. The toys represented 4 categories:

  • Educational: toys that teach something, for example a shape or a color
  • Pretend: toys that suggest “as if” play
  • Action: toys that encourage exploration like building, opening or twisting
  • Vehicles: toys with wheels

 Less toys, better quality of play

The results showed there were differences in the quality of play between the 2 conditions (4 toys and 16 toys available). With less toys available:

  • Toddlers played longer with a single toy.
  • Toddlers played with the toys in more different ways. So, they were more creative in their play.

Thus, toddlers had a higher quality of play when there were fewer toys available.


Scientific Parenting Tips Tips

  • To support children’s development and promote play, try to have fewer toys available to your child during play sessions. When toddlers are provided with fewer toys, they play longer with a single toy and are able to play more creatively.
  • If you have many toys available at home, create small collections of toys which you can rotate into play sessions while the majority of the toys is stored away. Doing this will allow your child to experience novel toys without being too distracted by having too many toys available at the same time.

More Information Scientific Parenting Tips More information

Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. E. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development, 50, 78-87.

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