In this age of consumerism, many of us are drowning in stuff. Have you noticed that cluttered surroundings drain your energy? If we experience this, then surely our children do too.
With the best of intentions, we are immersing children in a tidal wave of toys and rather than soaking up the joy of them, they feel overwhelmed and flooded. Not wanting our children to go without, or miss out on 'educational opportunities', we make sure they have the latest and greatest from the toy catalogues but are dismayed when their excitement wears thin not long after they receive it.
These well stocked children seem to find it hard to engage in independent play for any decent length of time. Why? Because too much of everything is overwhelming.
Have you experienced the supermarket effect where there are umpteen brands of herbal teas (for example) and you can't make up your mind? You choose and put back a few varieties before just walking away without any as it is just too hard to decide. If we had less to choose from we could be more decisive.
Our toy shelves and toy boxes can flummox children in the same way unless we take steps to reduce the clutter in order to increase the creativity.
Less is more
'Less is more' truly does apply when it comes to promoting imaginative, joyful play. Paring down the choices on offer, displaying them attractively, and having a sense of order with like objects grouped together opens up possibilities for your child. Ideas are sparked more freely when there is even just a hint more simplicity in your set up.
The concept of less doesn't just apply to the quantity of toys, but also to the function. Toys with buttons, switches and automated movements take the lead for the child. They tell them that if the child does this, the toy will do that. The more technologically advanced toys may offer a few surprise variations but the child's (limited) role is the same. Is this how we foster true play? Does this inspire creativity and a sense of autonomy? We actually want it the other way around, with the child being the one to direct the object.
Passive toys, active child
The best toys do nothing unless the child makes them. They are not a 'one function wonder' but an unlimited source of activity, pottering, tinkering and discovery. Open ended toys such as blocks, animals, Lego and art materials are what young explorers need.
Then there are the non-toys, the beautiful objects found in nature, kitchen cupboards and op shops. Fabrics, containers, baskets, utensils, napkin rings, corks, brushes, shells, wood - these ordinary 'do nothing' objects become extraordinary sources of play, enjoyment and learning under the child's command.