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74. Learn to think more creatively

Alexis Ralphs May 01 • 7 min read
Guide to creativity in the early years

It’s an age-old parent trap: giving children lots of versions of the same toy. Whether it’s hundreds of cars or piles of dolls (who always seem to lose their clothes), most parents are familiar with the sight of a toy box brimming with variations on the same theme.

Who can blame any parent for being seduced by the idea of a dead cert? In the 90s, the ingenious Pokemon strapline ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All!’ may have been aimed at the children, but it also tapped into the pleasure we gain as adults, in giving them something we know they like. There’s an idea that we’re somehow helping them ‘collect’ something - even if it is merchandise from a video game.

Children don't need many toys

A One Hundred Toys we believe that children don’t generally need more than one of anything. Recently, I realised that my eldest son, 3, had six fire engines. No child needs six fire engines! (Arguably, they don’t even need one, since with a few blocks or a cardboard box they could probably make their own - but I’m aware I’m an extremist.) But it just goes to show that even seasoned professionals like me can’t always stop the proliferation of a ‘favoured’ toy.

Learn which toys nourish your child's play so you can get rid of the rest.

My aim with One Hundred Toys is to give parents the confidence to resist the safe bet. It’s my experience as a teacher and parent, that given time and space to use their imaginations, children will generally find a way to create that second fire engine if they really want it, and the third and the fourth. Old juice cartons, shoes, a banana - once they are given the freedom to use their own minds they will come up with all sorts of ideas.

I’m not suggesting children don’t need any toys - good ones can be wonderfully stimulating and engaging. But it’s my belief that your money is better spent on providing a range of experiences and developing the full spectrum of skills - not only those required in the comfort zone of the failsafe car or doll. That’s why I created the 100 - a carefully-curated selection of toys, games and fun things-to-do that I believe every pre-school child should experience. You won’t find many fire engines here; instead you’ll find flexible, durable toys that can morph and switch into the things your child wants, when they want them. So next time you are tempted to buy that new truck, take a look at the 100 and see what else you could give them instead.

Quick guide to decluttering:

Is the toy a duplicate?

Has it been played with in the past three months?

Is it damaged or missing an important piece?

If the answer was 'yes' to any of the above, consider removing the toy. Depending on your child's age and where you sit on the respectful parenting scale, you may want to discuss this with them first. If you can't decide, try decluttering in two stages: first into a box in the loft, then, if the offending item hasn't been missed in three months, it can go to the charity shop.

For further reading, take a look at this piece in The Telegraph, which describes how researchers demonstrated that children focus better and are more creative if they have fewer toys.

Clear the distractions; enjoy better play.


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