Ultimate Guide to Kids Toys

Ultimate Guide to Toys

What is in this guide:

  • What science says about how many toys are necessary.
  • Why Parents buy so many toys.
  • Dangers of too many toys.
  • What parents can do.
  • How to declutter.
  • Toys from family and friends.
  • Best toys for kids.

Ever look around your house and wonder when it was you gave up trying to manage all the toys lying around? The US Toy Industry made $28 Billion last year.  Families are buying an enormous amount of toys. Unboxing videos on YouTube are a favorite pastime for young kids. Toys are everywhere! But are more toys the answer to raising happy kids? 

What does the research say about the number of toys?

Researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio concluded in their study of 36 toddlers that children who have too many toys are more easily distracted and do not enjoy quality playtime. When toddlers are presented with 4 toys versus 16 toys toddlers engaged in longer periods of play with a single toy, which allowed for better focus to explore and play creatively. 

The researchers suggested that young children have not developed the ability to control their attention and therefore are easily distracted. An abundance of toys is such a distraction. 

On average a typical child owns 238 toys in total, but when parents were asked they said they think they play with only 12 daily.  This is only 5% of their toys.

An earlier study published in The Toy Free Nursery, German researchers found that after all toys were taken away from a nursery for a period of three months out of the year, the children became more creative and social. This was only after a few weeks of adjusting. 

These studies and others have suggested that playing with too many toys could affect a child’s concentration and even damage a child’s creativity, life skills, socialization, imagination, and mental health. 

Why do we as parents feel like the more toys the better for our kids?

For me, it is hard to turn down a child who is asking for a toy. There is a small pain that starts in my stomach watching my child beg me for a toy she wants. Usually, it is a cheap plastic toy that will entertain her for about 5 minutes. After this time it will be tossed inside a bag or box or cupboard, where it will be forever forgotten. Until I find it and throw it away as it is not good enough to be donated. 

As parents we want our children to be happy and giving toys makes our children happy...if only for a few minutes. 

I have also found myself being pulled to these toys that promise my child will be better prepared for life if only I purchased this toy. Parents have enough pressure on them to raise a healthy child, now we have to raise a superior child capable of ruling the world. All she needs are a multitude of educational and developmental toys and she will most definitely lead a country into the future. What we also hear is the hidden message. If you do not buy this toy your child is destined to live a life of underachievement and sadness because her parents did not buy her the best educational toys money could buy. 

Funny enough, all the research points to fewer toys and the importance of letting your child experience boredom if you want a successful child. Why then is it so hard to say no to our kids when it is the right thing to do?


Supernanny Clip on number of toys

Check out this clip from Supernanny to see how one family was able to deal with the mountain of toys.

Maybe we need to hear about the dangers of too many toys.  

Here are just a few dangers of too many toys:

  • If a child receives something whenever he asks for it, he will not value what he does receive. This teaches a child to not value things.
  • If toys are given to fight off boredom then toys will become an addition to combat boredom and stress. This can lead to anxiety disorders as the child will constantly seek something more stimulating to distract from boredom.
  • Too many toys can lead to less time outdoors and physical activity. This can lead to obesity.
  • The amount of toys is reversely correlated with socialization in children. As the amount of toys increases the amount a child socializes with other children and family decreases. Too many toys can harm a child’s innate drive to communicate. 
  • Many plastic toys are made out of phthalates, a chemical used to soften toys, which has been linked to birth defects, cancer, and diabetes as reported by the New York Times in 2014. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 95 percent of urine samples contained some amount of this chemical. Children are uniquely prone to this as many put toys in their mouths and due to their size excrete waste more slowly.

These are just some of the dangers to your children, there is also a danger to the planet. Plastic toys, usually inexpensive and vibrantly colored, account for 90 percent of the toy market. These plastic toys are similar to any other plastic items, they have short lifespans and are close to impossible to recycle. They pose a unique challenge as they are typically composed of other materials such as metals and the recyclable components are not able to be separated.

Plastic bottles are actually easier to manage than plastic toys as toys cannot be repurposed or recycled. They are destined for the trash. 

What can parents do to limit the number of toys?

  1. Instead of buying that new toy think of substituting it with an experience, like a trip to the zoo or a show. This way you are spending time and making memories with your child and decreasing the number of natural resources you are using. 
  2. Limit the amount of space you have to store toys. Once your space overflows with too many toys teach your child to give away some of the ones that are not as cherished. This is also a great way to teach children about the importance of donating and sharing. 
  3. Children love unboxing videos, but what are they really? Just commercials disguised as entertainment. Not only will reducing your child’s exposure to these videos limit the number of toys she will ask for it will also decrease the amount of screentime and get her out playing with the toys she does have.
  4. Get creative with what you have already lying around. It is amazing what children can do with a toilet paper roll and some paint and scraps of fabric. 
  5. Include your children in your chores and everyday projects. Laundry can be extremely entertaining for children and it teaches things like sorting, colors, and fine motor skills. Encourage independence by expecting your child to set their own place setting for dinner or picking out their clothes for the next day.
  6. Select the toys that fall within your set limits. We will discuss how you come up with these limits below.

Just to be clear, fewer toys is very different than no toys. I believe toys can be educational and are a very important part of a child’s development. 

What is the best way to declutter and get rid of the toys you do have? 

How to declutter toys

First, observe how your children play and what toys they consistently seem to gravitate towards. It usually takes about a week to get an idea according to Denaye Barahona, who holds a Ph.D. in Child Development. Dr. Barahona suggests examining each toy and asking:

  • Does this toy offer opportunities for creativity?
  • Will this toy help my kid to burn off energy?
  • Is this an open toy or a closed toy? Open toys can be used in many different ways, by kids of different ages and genders. Closed toys are toys that can be completed or mastered. As children outgrow closed toys more quickly it is recommended to keep a ratio of 75% of open toys to 25% closed toys.
  • Does my kid Love this toy?

After a week of observation, you will get a good idea of what toys are the favorites and the ones you will want to keep. From here it is best to go through the rest of the toys according to categories. This way you will know what you have. 

Next, start pulling out duplicates and broken toys. These are the easiest ones to get rid of. Place the ones that are still in good condition in a donation pile. 

Now, assess what toys your child has outgrown, these are your typical closed toys. Some children have an emotional attachment to these toys and will not let them go easily. This may be something you do without your child present, or you can tell them you will place them in a special place and she can request to play with a specific toy whenever she wants it. Most of the time once the toys are out of sight the child will forget about them. After a little time has passed and your child has not asked for anything, go ahead and donate the toys.

From here, work with your child on choosing the toys they love and that fit the criteria above. Some children will have a harder time with purging than others. Some parents believe in having their children select 10 to 20 toys to keep and donating the rest. Others see this as too much for young children to handle. A twist on this method is to tell children to pick out a specific number of toys and the rest will go somewhere safe and will be brought out when needed. Another twist is to only bring out one of the hidden toys when the child wishes to exchange one of their selected toys for the hidden toy. This keeps the number of toys consistent. 

Whether this method works for your family the important thing is to reduce the number of toys, even if it is only by a small amount. Start small and judge how your child handles the idea of giving away her toys before going too extreme. 

How to handle friends and family giving too many toys?

This can be difficult as having a no-gift policy can come off insensitive and any strict toy giving rules will usually be ignored. You can try to work with friends and family and explain your views on toys. Some will listen and others will not. A dear friend of mine solves this problem by placing all the toys friends and family get her children in a bin and only brings out the toys when that family member or friend visits. 

Try telling your family alternative ways of giving to your child. Here are some suggestions for what to give instead of toys:

  1. Have them pay for a series of classes or some of the activities your child participates in. They will love seeing photos of your child making music or kicking a soccer ball or whatever activity they choose to sponsor. 
  2. Subscription boxes are a fun gift for children and after they are done with the activity you can get rid of it. Remember to take a picture of your child playing with the activity box and send it to the friend who purchased the subscription.
  3. Memberships to a local museum preferably a children’s museum.
  4. Tickets to an event. There are so many to choose from. Whatever your child’s interest is there is sure to be something fun to go to.
  5. Passes to a theme park. Pictures of your child’s happy face are all that is necessary to say thank you.

Toys every kid should have.

Now that we have decluttered and eliminated some of the toys what toys should you buy or keep? Please understand that young children will play with anything, including things that are not toys: kitchen utensils, pots & pans, rocks, sticks, and pillows, etc. There is no toy that is absolutely necessary.

When picking out toys a good question to ask is not “What can my child do with the toy?” instead ask “What can the toy do for my child?”

Before you purchase a toy take it through the requirements you have set. Using the suggestions above let’s use Papap Pony as an example.

Papap Pony

Does this toy offer an opportunity for creativity?

Yes, stuffed animals are consistently on every child development specialist list of what toys every young child should have. This is for good reason as they provide the comfort young children need as well as teaching children about the natural world around them. Papap Pony is a stuffed animal friend children can take with them wherever they go. Stuffed animals encourage children to dig deep into their creativity to develop their own imaginary world. Papap Pony, through her book, introduces children to her world where they can let their imagination take over.

Will this toy help my kid to burn off energy?

Physical activity is essential for a child’s development. For young children, this is as simple as the opportunity to move and play with other children. Papap Pony is a toy your child can wear and pretend to ride. By design, Papap Pony encourages movement and play. A walk around the neighborhood becomes an exciting trail ride adventure or a fallen branch becomes an Olympic jump course. The ideas are limitless for where your child can ride Papap Pony. 

Is this an open toy or a closed toy?

Open-ended toys are toys that foster imagination and can be used in a variety of different ways. They are the toys your child will play with for hours and come back to again and again. Papap Pony is an open-ended toy as she can be played with in many different ways. From galloping around during the day to reading together during storytime, Papap Pony can only be described as an open-ended toy. Check out the additional activities on the website and in the Parent Activity Guides for more ways to play with Papap Pony.

Does my kid Love this toy?

I hope every child loves Papap Pony as much as my children do. 

Will this toy survive years of play and grow with my child?

Why add to the mountains of trash by purchasing toys that will not survive years of play. Think quality over quantity of toys. Your child will be much happier with a few beautiful toys than a mountain of cheap plastic toys that break after a few hard pushes. 

Papap Pony is made out of the highest quality materials that can be cleaned easily. The adjustable waistband assures that as your child grows, so does Papap Pony. 

Other toys that are open-ended.

As mentioned above stuffed animals as well as wooden building blocks, dress-up accessories, wooden train sets, and animal figurines are great open-ended toys that will get kids playing creatively. 

If you add art and craft supplies such as playdoh, cardboard boxes, and paint these toys can really take off. For example, build a farm or a zoo out of boxes and blocks. Set up a drive-in movie using cardboard boxes as cars and dress up as characters in the movie.

The ideas are limitless. 

Searching for some ideas? Check out our activities section for some fun ways to play with Papap Pony.