- Children are losing the ability to play properly because
they are being given too many toys and games, according to new research.
- The studies show that children - especially those under
five - are often overwhelmed and actually play less than those with fewer
toys. It may even harm their development.
- Some of the work was done by Claire Lerner, a childhood
development researcher with Zero to Three, which is funded by the US government
to run pre-school educational programmes across America.
- "Our studies show that giving children too many
toys or toys of the wrong types can actually be doing them harm. They get
overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn
from it," said Lerner.
- Her conclusions have been backed up by British research
looking at children with relatively few toys whose parents spend more time
reading, singing or playing with them. It showed such children surpass
youngsters from more affluent backgrounds - even those who had access to
- Kathy Sylva, professor of educational psychology at Oxford
University, reached her conclusions from a study of 3,000 children from
the ages of three to five. She said: "There is a complex relationship
between children's progress, the type of toys they are given and the time
parents spend on them.
- "When they have a large number of toys there seems
to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted they do not
learn or play well."
- Sylva's research, funded by the Economic and Social Research
Council, was prompted by concerns that childhood is being irrevocably altered
by parents substituting toys, computers and television for spending time
with their children.
- Some parents notice the impact early. Orhan Ismail, a
researcher from Colchester, Essex, saw a change for the worse in Cameron,
his 10-month-old son, after he was given a "deluge" of toys last
- Ismail said: "If there are too many toys in front
of him he will just keep flitting around them, and then end up going off
and finding something like a slipper to play with. Now we just get out
one or two toys and hide the rest in a box."
- About £1.67 billion is spent each year in Britain
on toys - equivalent to £139 per child. An NOP poll last year calculated
that there was £5 billion of unused toys in the country's homes.
Myfanwy Alexander, 39, and her husband, from near Welshpool, Powys, decided
to limit the toys their six daughters play with. From the youngest, Gwenllian,
aged four months, to the eldest, Myfanwy Jr, 14, the girls are encouraged
to play outside. When indoors, they use boxes and board games rather than
- Alexander believes many toys restrict children's imaginations.
She said: "A dental hygienist Barbie can only work as a dental hygienist.
But a cardboard box can become anything. The only limitations are in
the child's mind."
- Such views can prompt strong reactions among other children.
"Once a four-year-old guest asked to watch a video. When I said we
don't have a video machine, she threw up everywhere. She suddenly felt
terribly vulnerable because we didn't conform to her idea of typical adults."
- The Alexanders' approach is, however, being increasingly
recognised as the right one. Research by Michael Malone, professor of early
childhood education at the University of Cincinnati, shows that parents
should carefully manage their children's access to toys.
- Malone said: "More is not necessarily better. This
is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture.
Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary
play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense
- Experts hesitate to put a figure on the number of toys
children should have, but many believe two dozen is enough for children
of pre-school age.
- Most exclude books from this rule because of research
linking reading with improved academic performance and self-esteem. "The
more books, the better," said one.
- By contrast, computers and electronic games are causing
increasing concern over their impact. Sylva said: "There is some disquiet
that playing on computers and electronic games can restrict children's
development because they take away the need for creativity and imagination
- and these are the essence of childhood."
- Additional reporting: Deborah Collcutt