Karen van der Berg
Toys, puzzles, books, art projects, electronic devices and music instruments ─ you name it, and our children have it. Whether it’s about increasing pressure on or feelings of guilt with parents, one thing is certain: our children have too many toys. Can too many toys be bad, how can we cut on them and what do our children really need?
Dr Dorothy Russell, an occupational therapist at the University of the Free State, says babies and children definitely do not need the loads and loadfs of toys.
Dorothy began to do research 30 years ago on how to make children, especially handicapped children, play with as few as three items while at the same time stimulating them and encouraging development.
A mug, a face cloth and teaspoons
In the course of her research Dorothy visited hundreds of households. Her purpose was to determine what household items were available in most households so that people who could not afford toys could also stimulate their children. She found that 90% of households had mugs, face cloths and teaspoons. With these three items she developed an extensive programme for children up to the age of four years. She designed dozens of different games for the different ages by using only these three items.
Why so many toys?
Dorothy says parents are under a lot of pressure.
“We live in extremely competitive times. Everything is getting better, is being marketed better and we are visually bombarded with so many things daily.”
This causes parents to put pressure on themselves to do even more for their children and to buy even more things.
The fact that people have to work long hours to balance their budgets, also causes a lot of unnecessary feelings of guilt among parents.
“These are difficult times for parents and I have a lot of sympathy for that.”
Toys make children happy. Parents want to keep their children happy.
“The truth, however, is that it is attention that makes them happy. Giving your undivided attention to your child for a while every day is much more important than any toy. Your time must be your children’s reward, not something tangible. Play with simple stuff at your disposal. What is the use of a neat house without dust or dishes but nobody really ever plays in the house?”
Dorothy says it is more enjoyable for children to play in an environment where they don’t feel swamped by toys. “Fewer toys do not make you a bad parent. Rather give of your time and attention.”
Dorothy says this does not mean that all toys are unnecessary and bad for your child’s development.
“There are wonderful products on the market. They definitely have a place and a purpose in our children’s lives. However, it is not necessary to buy everything.”
Playing must be enjoyable
“One should keep in mind that children explore and get to know their world through playing, but playing must always be enjoyable. It is all about our presentation and attention when we play, and not necessarily about what we play with. A child’s job is to play and it is a parent’s job to be involved.”