Kids simply don’t need (many?) toys

Carlotta Cerri

I always wanted a toy kitchen for my kids. They love toy kitchens everywhere we go. So one day last December, despite we were selling everything we own, I gave in the temptation and got them a toy kitchen.

They used it—not as much as they do in family cafes or kids places, but they did use it. They put Duplos in the cupboards, used the oven as a house for the baby, the stove as a tray for making puzzles on; sometimes they also cooked, although most often they used the food as part of their Duplos constructions.

As I observed them play, I thought that they didn’t need a toy kitchen to do what they were doing. I started second questioning my decision.

When we moved into this AirBnb, I had decided to take the their kitchen with us, as we were going to have very few toys, but we left it at the office for a couple of days while getting organized in the apartment.

One day, shortly after we moved in, I saw Emily taking a tray made out of Duplos, putting it on the low shelf of the sofa table, and saying, “Here you go, Oli, I cook pizza for you”.

The toy kitchen stayed at the office and I regretted buying it in the first place. Live and learn, right?

This is just a quick (self) reminder to say:

Kids don’t need many toys. They don’t need many clothes. They don’t need much stuff. It took me about four years to realize it, but it’s now very clear to me: especially when they have siblings, all they need is each other, books (always books!) and few, selected toys and tools for activities and free play.

Their imagination will always do the rest (and will actually have more chances to develop).

We adults think children will be more entertained if they have more toys to play with, but even though we try to provide them with wooden toys that don’t have lights and sounds to encourage imagination and creative playing, the simple truth is: children don’t need many toys. They’re happy to use pieces of a puzzle as olives on a Duplo pizza; to ride a teddy bear pretending it’s a motorcycle; to build a tent our of sofa pillows; to use books as plates and Duplos as food.

I love toys—especially wooden ones from sustainable brands—I love playing with them with my kids, and I love when brands send me toys to review. But after the toy kitchen episode, I decided to change my habits and avoide (buying or accepting) toys.

I now resist the urge to fulfill a new interest by buying something new: often, stuff that you find around the house will be just as good. Cheaper and more eco-friendly!

I focuse more on activities like coloring, arts & crafts or constructions—which can be made with literally anything, a cork found on the ground, a toilet paper cardboard, my house robe belt… and everything that nature has to offer, of course!

I simply let my children get bored so they can truly unleash their imagination.

Not only Oliver and Emily are happy bees with the few toys they have now, they even play much better with each other and in a much more cooperative way. It’s no coincidence. It could be due to their being slightly older now, understanding more about respect and boundaries, being more willing to share and actually play together with toys, valueing each other’s company more, but I do believe that having fewer toys has helped a lot with the process.

The lesson I learnt? Less is more (it seems to be a constant in my life lately). Less toys = more creativity, more imagination, more reading, more outdoor time, more playing with each other, more partnering up to fight boredom.

Ps. Oliver and Emily in this new apartment have:

  • Duplos and Legos (we’re switching to Legos for our travel. And yes, it’s plastic, but it’s long-term, fun-filled, creativity-triggering plastic, so I’m happy to make an exception)
  • Puzzles (4 or 5)
  • Books (many! Not sure how we’ll do when traveling! I guess we’ll use libraries more and more)
  • Magnetic World Map from Janod (we love it and have used it a lot, but even with this amazing toy we haven’t played as much as I’d like to)
  • Grimm’s Wooden Square (which we’ve had for three years and they still use sooo much, I think we’ll take it around the world with us!)

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