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How many toys do kids really need?

The answer might surprise you.

How many toys do kids really need?

How many toys do your kids really need? None at all, if the Germans are to be believed.

Germany's daycare centers are taking away toys in order to reduce addictive behaviors in the future. It all began in the 1980s when a study group found that adult addiction could be traced back to the habits formed in childhood.

The group came to the conclusion that toys primarily serve as a means of escape and, therefore, removing them may help children learn important social competencies and life skills such as empathy, creativity, critical thinking, and the ability to resolve one's problems. The group's members argued that “our consumer and growth-oriented society, with its permanent addiction for more consumption of the most terrific, spectacular, and latest thrill, might lead into a dead end, by not only destroying our environment, but mankind itself".

Following these studies, the first toy-free center was tried out in Penzberg in 1992. Any and all toys (even crayons, paper, etc.) were removed from a few children's groups for three months, leaving only the necessities (furniture, blankets, etc). Parents were informed of the project to help them understand the concept of addiction prevention and to explain their kids' reactions at home. Teachers were instructed not to intervene and to let the kids manage their boredom by themselves.

At first, the children were lost without their toys but they soon began “unsystematic" activities that led to role plays, construction projects and excursions to the woods to collect branches. They made handicrafts and learned to play together and work on common ideas together. The teachers only helped in organizing materials and handling the tools when the kids had new ideas.

The study found that the children whose toys had been taken away were more creative, well-balanced and had more faith in their abilities. They learned to say “yes" and “no," and also how to use their skills and those of others to achieve their objectives.

Outside Germany, other studies have come to similar conclusions. A study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School found that scarcity rather than abundance sparks creativity.

The question that arises, then, is: Can we, and should we, take away all our children's toys to spur their creativity? Not necessarily, but giving them fewer toys could be beneficial.

Have you noticed that it's the kids who have the most toys who always seem to want more? It is a mind-boggling fact that the more toys kids have, the more they rely on external things to escape their feelings of boredom and anxiety.


So how do you tame toys?

1. Try the 20-toy rule

You've probably heard about the 20-toy rule. It's pretty straightforward – you ask your kid to pick 20 toys, which makes him appreciate and value his toys more, reduces clutter, and hopefully, increases his creativity.

The 20-toy rule is not about making you both miserable. Let your child choose the toys he wants to keep (or wants to give away). You'll be surprised how many broken and forgotten toys he has: let him start with those first.

2. Take it slow

It's not easy for kids to give away their toys, so take it slow. If the 20-toy rule doesn't work for you, make your own rules that are more adapted to your family context and to your child. Let your child participate in the purging. Start with one thing first (for example first toys, then books, then clothes), unless if your child asks to give away those things as well. If he's having trouble getting rid of his toys, propose to leave some toys at the grandparents.

3. Explain

It always helps to explain your decisions to your kids. Why does having less matter? If you're donating the toys, explain this to your child. Talk about why it's important to buy fewer but better toys.

4. Make minimalism a habit

If you're attempting to declutter your child's life, start with decluttering your own life first. Talk to her about why it's important to declutter. Let her see you donate the stuff you no longer need. Buy less stuff.

5. Enlist the help of family and friends

Your family members can help you reduce your kids' toys. Explain what you're doing. Why it's important and let them know how they can help. For example, you can propose non-toy gift ideas (tickets to expositions, museums, movies) or propose to pool resources for gifts. Prepare for setbacks – even though you might think that "minimalism" is awesome, there is no guarantee that all of your family will be on the same wavelength.

6. Propose alternatives

What will your child do now that he has less toys? Activities abound. Provide opportunities to explore nature. Get books that foster creativity. Check out Youtube videos for ideas. Encourage him to come up with ideas to replace stuff. Provide less-structured environments.

The thing with decluttering is that "just when you think it's over, it starts all over again"!

Would your kids "survive" with fewer toys? Let us know in the comments section.

Sunday Citizen

I live in the Northeast and when I woke up this morning, my house was freezing. It had been in the mid 40's overnight and we haven't turned the heat on yet. Suddenly, my normal duvet felt too thin. The socks on my bare feet too non-existent. Winter is coming, and I'd been drinking rosés still pretending it was summer.

I couldn't put it off any longer. It was time to do my annual tradition of winterizing my home—and I don't mean making sure my pipes and walls have enough insulation (though obviously that's important too). I mean the act of evaluating every room and wondering if it has enough hygge to it.

If you've never heard of hygge, it's a Danish word that means a quality of coziness or contentment. And what better time to make sure you have moments of hygge all throughout your house than right now? As far as I'm concerned it's the only way to get through these dark winter months (even more so during a pandemic.)

So I went room by room (yes, even my 4-year-old's room) and swapped in, layered or added in these 13 products to get us ready for winter:

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

From Adelia to Ziggy.

Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


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