If you are ready to bring order to the chaos in your toddler’s playroom by thinning out his toy collection, your plan has the support of scientific research. A research study recently published by the University of Toledo in Infant Behavior and Development found evidence that the quality of a toddler’s play improves when there are less toys to choose from in the play area. The researchers discovered that the toddlers with fewer toys in their play space engaged in more in-depth play with each toy, taking more time to explore the different ways to interact with a toy before moving on to another one.
There are many studies that reinforce the importance of quality unstructured play time for young children. Play time is a chance for toddlers to explore the world around them, engage their creativity and develop social skills. Here are some tips for reducing the toy inventory and optimizing your child’s play area in a way that encourages quality unstructured play.
Optimize the quality of the toys in your toddler’s collection
After your toddler is in bed for the night, collect all his toys together in one place and weed out the ones that have been outgrown, are redundant or are broken. Consider removing toys that do not require much interaction from your toddler and are more of an entertainment than a toy.
The next step is to ensure the remaining inventory contains a variety of toys that promote quality play. Toys are often placed into these categories:
- Educational toys that introduce reading and math skills, such as a toy that helps toddlers explore phonics or counting
- Active toys that get your toddler moving, such as balls and play tunnels to crawl through
- Toys that promote imaginary and creative play such as dress-up clothes, a play kitchen, art materials and toys that mimic real world objects such as a cell phone
- Toys that develop problem-solving skills and fine motor skills such as puzzles, blocks and nesting cups
If you find one of the categories is under represented in the inventory, consider adding a toy to that category’s inventory. It doesn’t have to be something that you buy. For example, a big box makes an excellent pretend house.
Optimize the toys and put them on display for easy access
Set up a toy rotation to keep the number of toys down to a level where you can have toys out on display, instead of stored in a toy box. Create several groups of toys, with each group having its own theme, such as dinosaurs or fire station. Ensure each group contains different categories of toys (active, educational, etc.), and place each group in its own labeled bin. Hide the groups that are out of rotation in a place your toddler cannot access. Rotate the group that is on display every few weeks or whatever schedule works best for your toddler. If there is one toy your toddler can’t do without, it’s OK to leave it in the play area permanently.
When taking the current group of toys out of the bin, put them on display in ‘stations’ in your child’s play area. For example, set up a cozy reading station with books from the present toy rotation, a station with toddler-friendly puzzles and crafts and a station for pretend play that contains that rotation’s dress-up outfits. Your goal is to have the toys where your toddler can see them and easily access them.
Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., and Metz, A. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.11.005