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Could the key to better play be providing fewer toys?

Babies begin to play from early on in their infancy. They are curious and attracted to brightly colored toys and sometimes random things like small bits on the carpet and empty packaging. Through play, babies learn to interpret their world and increase their mental, social, emotional, and physical skills.

The enormous benefits of play for development has been long known. This has led to much investigation as to what kinds of toys are best for children's development. Parents and toy companies alike often want to enhance their child's engagement with play through toys.

A recent study looked at what helped improve the quality of children's play—less or more toys?

Development estimated that fewer toys in a child's environment would lead to better play. The study participants were 36 toddlers aged around 24 months. Seventeen of the children were only children. Children were screened for the exposure to play prior to entering the study to ensure that they had a good repertoire and experience of play.

The study

A variety of 32 sit-and-play, gender neutral toys were used in this study. Toys represented three categories:

  • Educational (toys that may teach a concept such as shapes, colors, or counting)
  • Pretend (toys that suggest themed play scenarios for "as if" play)
  • Action (toys that can be activated through manipulation or toys that encourage exploration)

Toys were consistent with a checklist written on behalf of the American Occupational Therapy Association (2011) to aid parents in toy selection.

The toddlers played in two different conditions. One play session was a Four Toy play session and the other was a 16 Toy Play Condition. In the Four Toy condition, one toy from each category was randomly selected. No more than one toy was designated as battery operated. In the 16 Toy condition, four toys from each category were randomly selected. No more than four toys were designated as battery operated. No toys were repeated for both conditions. Toys that were indicated as a child's favorite were replaced with a randomly selected toy.

Toddlers attended three individual sessions with their caregiver. The first session was for the purposes of screening the toddlers for suitability. The caregiver was asked to remain on site during data collection and was able to view the session.

Prior to the play sessions, each toddler was asked for verbal agreement to play with the statement "Would you like to play today?" The caregiver was asked to assist in helping the toddler feel comfortable before separation for the play session occurred. Caregivers were asked to join the toddler in the room during the session and to abide by research protocol if separation distress occurred.

The play session began with a two minute adjustment period in which the researcher interacted with the toddler in a friendly manner. Once comfortable, the toddler was informed that he/she could play with toys in the room however he/she would like to.

If the toddler approached the researcher to engage in play, the researcher participated in the reciprocal interaction, following the toddler's lead. The researcher did not ask or attempt to engage the toddler in any play behavior. Caregivers were also followed this protocol for interacting with their children if they were in the room during the data collection period.

Each session was videotaped. Play behavior was coded following the two-minute adjustment period. The researchers were interested in three things:

1. The number of toys the toddlers played with.

2. How long the toddler played with each toy.

3. The number of actions the toddlers used when playing with the toy.

For example actions such as drumming, dumping, exploring, pretending, matching, gathering, or inserting were all recorded as different types of actions.

What parents can learn

The study found the quality of the toy play was better in the play condition with fewer toys. In the 16 toy condition the children played with more toys but their engagement with the toys was of less substance. The depth and duration of the play was best with four toys.

The researchers suggest that having fewer toys is beneficial to play due to children's limited attention span at this age. When given a larger number of toys to play with their find it hard to focus and engage in deep play. Parents involved in this study reported toddlers had 90 toys on average in their play environment.

Western homes tend to be overloaded with toys. Parents regularly complain to me about the stress of managing toys and I've had my fair share of difficulties with this issue. I've never been successful at stemming the tide of toys that flow through my home.

It seems for children, access to more toys does not result in better play. The results of this study suggest that if you have a large number of toys in your home, reducing the number of available toys is beneficial to increase the quality of children's play. Consider rotating toys on a weekly basis to allow your child to experience different toys. It keeps toys novel and may alleviate any concerns about toys being wasted.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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As mamas we want our babies to be safe, and that's what makes what happened to Glee actress Naya Rivera and her 4-year-old son Josey so heartbreaking.

On July 13, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department announced the 33-year-old mother's body was found at Lake Piru, five days after her son was found floating alone on a rented boat. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Rivera's last action was to save her son.

"We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point in her journey. It was at that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water," Ayub explained, adding that Rivera's son was wearing his life vest, but the adult life vest was left on the unanchored boat.

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Ayub says exactly what caused the drowning is still speculation but investigators believe the boat started drifting and that Rivera "mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat but not enough to save herself."

Our hearts are breaking for Josey and his dad right now. So much is unknown about what happened on Lake Piru but one thing is crystal clear: Naya Rivera has always loved her son with all her heart.

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