100 Toys and you: Yanyan's story
I grew up in China in the early 1980s and as a little girl I had very few toys. My pre-school days were spent drawing, reading, crafting and visiting gardens. Every Sunday I watched a 30-minute cartoon on TV and that was the only screen time I had. My husband, who is English but grew up in Nigeria, recalls a childhood spent running around barefoot in the jungle, catching butterflies and being given plenty of freedom. So when we settled in England and visited our friends who had children, we both felt shocked by the amount of toys we saw. Even though I had sometimes wished for more toys as a child, I had to ask myself: is this necessary?
You could say I was well on the way to embracing the One Hundred Toys way before I came across the website. We lived in a small house when our son was born so we simply couldn’t let it be swamped by toys, we had to be strategic in terms of what we bought. That meant trying to buy things that would be multi-functional and adaptable to different ways of playing - what I now know as open-ended play. And I already rotated the toys, mainly because our house was small and it was impossible to have them all out at once.
But finding One Hundred Toys was like a light going on. I downloaded the Seven days to fewer, better toys guide and immediately re-organised our son’s toys. I also looked again at the toys in the loft which I thought he had ‘outgrown.’ Toy manufacturers are very good at putting age groups on toys and like other parents I was anxious that my son was playing with toys ‘appropriate’ for his age. I brought some of the 12m+ toys back down from the loft and was delighted when he found new uses for them, for example: the lighthouse which I thought was just a stacking toy, he began to use in his small world play.
Downloading the 30 days to learn through play, gave us more confidence to stand back and let our son make his own mistakes and discoveries in his play. And it has all begun to pay off!
Recently, on a rainy day my husband was tidying the loft and I was dashing around doing general household chores I couldn't do during weekdays, so we didn’t have much time for our son. I suggested he build something with his blocks (I had previously considered taking them away as he started using Lego but after reading about open-ended play, I decided to keep them out.) He played for over an hour until he got up and said he wanted to build train track. So I asked him to tidy up the blocks before bringing out the tracks. While he was tidying up he started playing with blocks again. That lasted for another 45 minutes until my husband came down from the loft, otherwise he would have carried on for longer.
Now in the morning, my son gets up, turns on the lights and finds something to do in his bedroom. Often it’s jigsaw puzzles, board games or books. He will quietly play with them on his own until we go to get him up.
Independent play is not just about leaving your child alone. It's about teaching them to discover the joys of solving problems on their own. Instead of teaching them the correct way of doing things (put the green piece here and the red piece there), you teach them to think for themselves and give them the skills for self-learning and self-discovery. Initially, it was more about the process of play than the end product but as it has progressed, we’ve noticed more difference in the end result; we’ll be busy doing jobs and when we turn around he has produced some decent looking Lego builds on his own.
All of which has given us more time to ourselves. We moved two years ago and the DIY list is never ending. We both work full time so during the weekend if we are at home we are always doing something. We do try to spend as much quality time with our son as possible, but it is good to know that he can be left alone. I am really pleased that he can explore and find enjoyment himself, and is gradually building up the skill for self-learning in the future.
We also buy considerably fewer toys now. This is partly because what we bought before is lasting a longer time, and partly because I do not feel the need to have everything other children have (knowing now the benefit of fewer toys). What we do buy is mostly second hand. It's better for the environment and the wallet. The money saved goes towards the One Hundred Toys #betterthananytoy activities we see on Instagram. It has become a positive cycle.