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Too many toys or not enough time?

Yesterday, whilst I was once again packing away toys and trying to reveal the floor beneath, I noticed that lots of the things that were laying around were old toys that had long been stored at the back of cupboards and rarely played with anymore.

Ordinarily, they might have made their way to a charity shop, perceived as unnecessary clutter, but, in this strange time, I was glad to see the old familiar toys strewn across the living room floor.

There has long been a school of thought, that children have too many toys and that they only play with 5% of them. Too many toys out at once are alleged to cause children to become confused and unfocussed.

Researchers at the University of Toledo, Ohio, invited toddlers to play in a room for half an hour with either four toys, or sixteen toys. Their study concluded that the children who had less toys were more creative in their play and more focussed.

However, this study watched children for only half an hour. We have been in lockdown at our house for almost eighty days. Eighty long days, where the world has been turned on its head, fear and anger dominate all media and the normality that we knew is no longer normal.

Despite being a qualified teacher, my priority during this time has not been structured academic work every day for my children. My priority has been allowing all of us the space and time to play and create; to escape the outside world, to ease the pressure on us all and to just be.

The first couple of weeks were tricky, as we tried to find a new way of being, but gradually we have all fallen into a playful rhythm. Old toys and new toys have been thrown into the mix to create new games that can last for hours and sometimes even days.

A particular favourite at the moment, is an old box of Build a Bear clothes that my youngest children (aged 5 and 6 years) have loved exploring once more. They have spent hours dressing up their soft toys, and each outfit has led to a new theme and a new game. From garden parties and hide and seek, to bedtime routines and nurturing play. These clothes have been combined with all sorts of other props to create hours of glorious fun.

Other toys that have been popular have been our magnetic tiles combined with small world toys, Lego, Playmobil, puzzles, board games, musical instruments, Sylvanian Families and the doll’s house, wooden blocks and an old pop up tent that gets dragged around the garden.

My eldest son (12) has also been enjoying a much more creative way of life during lockdown. He has been building gliders with balsa wood and learning about the principles of flight. He has also been involved in more play with his younger siblings and his anxiety has decreased immensely.

I am not suggesting that we will live in this perpetual state of chaos forever, I love a cube storage box system as much as the next parent, and there are some days, when every box has been emptied onto the bedroom floors, that I do start to twitch. But I know that somewhere, in that pile of toys, are three happy children, doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.

So yes, lockdown has been difficult for us all in many ways and the fear and anxiety of the world weigh heavy on my mind. But one silver lining is that I have watched my children grow and develop through free play in a way that I have never been able to before, and I genuinely believe that it has helped us all.

The blog was originally posted on The Play Well Trust website on 6th June 2020

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