Toys Part 1 - Psychology of Play

6 Aug 2019

Toys. Toys toys toys toys toys. That kind of sums it up, really - how life feels like with kids!

This week we start our three-parter with a chat about the psychology of play and that part that toys play in it, as well as the part toys don't play in it! We talk about the importance of play and what it does for our children's development.

We also talk about the acquiring of toys and how you can make it intentional and helpful so that you and your children aren't overwhelmed with too many toys taking up your precious space and time.

Next week we'll talk about decluttering toys, and then organising what's left.

Show Notes:

Psychology of play

TIME’s special edition, The Science of Childhood

“Nothing is as natural as a child at play. After a month of little more than eating and sleeping, infants begin to engage in play with their parents and the world around them. Left alone, young children will launch into imaginary play, inventing characters and stories. Put together with peers, children will almost instinctively organize games and activities. Play is so basic to childhood that it is seen even among children in the most dire conditions, in prisons and concentration camps. It is so important to the well-being of children that the United Nations recognizes it as a fundamental human right, on par with the rights to shelter and education.” Siobhan O'Connor


Play is critically important for kids.

It keeps them physically active and exercises their minds and their creativity.

It is an opportunity to learn how the world around them works.

It teaches children how to work together and, at the same time, how to be alone.

In shared play with others kids learn how to resolve conflicts, share, negotiate, adapt and organise.

In solo play kids have the freedom to be creative, build confidence in their abilities, problem solve and use their imagination

Parenting expert Maggie Dent: "Boredom is something that is really uncomfortable for children, so if we don't put something in their hands or immediately create something for them they are absolutely motivated to fix the boredom by creating something for themselves."​

Having too many toys can lead to overwhelm, distraction and reduced quality play time.

Research at the University of Toledo in Ohio, US found that kids were far more creative when they had fewer toys to play with and played with each item for longer - showing depth of play and attention span

In the 1990s German researchers, Elke Schubert and Rainer Strick conducted experiment where toys were taken away from Munich nursery for three months and after just a few weeks, the children re-adjusted and their play became far more creative and social


Acquisition of toys:

Set limits (Amount of space/ baskets/ tubs/ rooms)

Time of year acquired

Number of items

Let people around you know what your child wants/ needs rather than items being purchased without intention or interest

Consider alternatives to physical things when they already have a lot (experience gifts)


Close ended toys:

Have one function , have a pre-set storyline, have an outcome

Children might play with them again but often will complete them and then move onto the next activity

Close ended toys aren’t bad. They can be good for attention building and develop a child's ability to complete a problem- you just don't want all close ended toys. Need to find a balance.

Open Ended toys:

Can do many things or have many functions and are not limited by what they are

Encourage problem solving and do not have a pre-defined ending point

Open ended toys have many iterations and encourage imagination, problem solving and longevity of play

Reference links