A friend of mine and I were talking the other day about the amount of toys that young children have at home. The discussion started because she had recently attended a birthday party for a little boy who was turning 1 year old and she was blown away to see that this toddler was given approximately 20 presents from his party attendees. I shared this story with my own mother who found it very amusing. She said “in our day 1 year olds got homemade birthday cake and one present which was meant to be treasured for years to come”.
Since these conversations I have started thinking about how much things have changed between now and then. As a speech-language pathologist in private practice I have entered the homes of many different families and each one always had an abundance of toys available for their young children to play with. My own children also receive a large amount of gifts on their birthdays, which appears to be the norm based on my experience of attending children’s birthday parties over the years. Most of the toys I have seen in different households are generally those that are deemed “educational” and “beneficial” for a child’s growing skills. However, in the conversations I’ve had with parents it seems most people don’t want to add more toys to their children’s home collection. Now we can all speculate as to why homes today are filled with more toys than when we were younger, but I think the more important question is….. are all these toys REALLY necessary to support a child’s development?
In regards to language development, a recent study attempted to answer that very question. The researchers observed young toddlers in two play conditions: one where there were only 4 toys available and one where there were 16 toys available. They found that the toddlers who had only 4 toys to play with played longer and more creatively than those with 16 toys. The authors of the study also reported that most parents shared that they had on average 90 toys in the home available for their toddlers to play with; significantly more than the two experimental conditions. The authors conclude that if toys are there to support play and overall development, then more is not necessarily better.
In our household I have tried to keep the amount of toys to a minimum, especially when the children were babies and toddlers. I am not sure how many toys we had exactly, because this was a few years ago, but we definitely had more than 4 and absolutely less than 90! I kept the toy quantity low on purpose. First, because I simply did not feel it was necessary to spend so much money on toys for children so young. Second, because I know that early in life play is mainly about exploration and this can be accomplished through so many things found in activities of daily living and the outdoors. Finally, I also know that a child’s early language development is strongly related to the quality of interactions they are having with a responsive adult in their lives, NOT the specific toy they are using.
Now, just to be clear, there are a few basic toys out there that I feel are beneficial to language development in the early years and you can see these suggestions here. However, I wanted this post to highlight all the “toys” that can be found in any household that are perfect to support a young toddler’s growing language skills.
I am going to post a new picture on my Instagram feed every day for the next 30 days with a household “toy” or activity that can be done at home specifically for 1 year olds. I will also add a few tips on how to build language skills with that specific item. Toy suggestions will be things that can be found in every household and should not require you to purchase anything! You can follow along as I post each day or you can search for #toddlertoytakedown. I will also do a follow up blog after the 30 days with the completed list, plus any great suggestions or recommendations I get along the way.
To end, I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from long-time language researcher Dr. Kenn Apel, which I think sums up my goal for this post perfectly.
“Rich language skills, both spoken and written, will come out of the ordinary things you and your child do. You don’t need lesson plans and she doesn’t require elaborate activities and toys. Let her safely explore her environment and the familiar items around her. Encourage imaginative games and symbolic play, and follow up on her natural curiosity. In simple and attentive ways, you can raise an enthusiastic communicator with an interest in the world and lots of interesting things to share with others verbally and in writing.”
Going forward, let’s see if together we can take down the amount of unneeded toys in the average home and increase communication each day!
As always, wishing you and your loved ones a healthy language learning journey together 🙂
Apel, K. & Masterson, J. Beyond Baby Talk: From Speaking to Spelling: A Guide to Language and Literacy Development for Parents and Caregivers. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2012.
Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. E. (2018). The influence of the number of toys in the environment on toddlers’ play. Infant Behaviour and Development, 50, 78-87.