Parents should think quality over quantity when it comes to toys

Toddlers play better, longer when fewer toys available, study shows

Play is a critical part of a young child’s development. Toys can be terrific learning tools, and, of course, they are a lot of fun for kids, their friends and their parents.

In fact, surveys show that Americans have upwards of 100 toys for their children to choose from at home. But a new study suggests when it comes to toys -- think quality over quantity.

Like most preschoolers, Lincoln and his sister, Adeline, hit a playroom hard, checking out everything the floor and storage shelves have to offer.

“They definitely like imaginative play or things they can build or knock down,” said their mom. 

Play builds spatial skills, motor skills and social skills. But when talking about toys, can there be too much of a good thing?

Social scientists at the University of Toledo studied groups of toddlers during free play sessions. In some sessions, the kids had four toys to play with. In others, they had 16.

“When there were 16 toys in the room, those incidences were much shorter, more along the lines of a minute apiece where they’d pick up the toy, give it a once over, but already be looking at where they wanted to go,” explained Dr. Alexia Metz, an occupational therapist at the University of Toledo.

When the kids had just four toys, the interactions were almost twice as long, suggesting that the kids had time for quality play, meaning they used the toy in different ways beneficial for development.

“As they grow older, they build that into a longer attention span, better problem-solving ability and persistence with tasks that might be challenging or frustrating,” Metz said.

Metz said a smaller number of toys could limit distractions. She said parents might consider putting some toys away and rotating a few out at a time. 

“I think this study is encouraging that not having a gazillion toys at home is not necessarily a bad thing," Metz said.

Metz said she and her colleagues would also like to study different age groups to assess the impact of the number of toys on play at different ages.