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Parenting: Toys Are A Game Changer

By Michelle Collins, The Sunday Mail - 25 Feb 2018

Buying too many playthings for your child can actually stifle their creativity. Australian parents are some of the world's biggest spenders on toys for their children, but experts are warning that too many toys could be harmful.

Johanna Kollmann, who last year founded the app Purposit, which allows friends and families to contribute to one present rather than buying their own, agrees kids these days have too many playthings. A 2015 study found Australians spent more on toys than any other country, just ahead of the UK and the US. And a survey last year by Purposit found some parents were spending up to $1000 a month on toys and gifts for their kids. "When I grew up, we had toys, but nothing compared to the toys that kids have these days," Ms Kollmann said. "There are parents who genuinely want to get things (using the app) that they couldn't afford for their children," she said. "And then there are parents who are sick of their children receiving things they don't need or want that are just left in the corner. "A lot of the things our children are given, or we have bought for them because they really wanted them, they only use a few times." The founder of the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, Matt Sanders, said he had seen toy rooms full of toys that were either damaged or had never been used. "It is a kind of assumption that more is better," Prof Sanders said. "But if your child has fewer toys, they learn to look after them, they learn to value them. "If they don't value them, they don't look after them, they don't put them away and it is someone else's responsibility, and you end up with one huge mess." A study by researchers at Toledo University, published in this month's issue of Infant Behavior and Development, found that having too many toys affected the quality of toddler's play. When the toddlers were given fewer toys, they played twice as long with the toys they had and in more sophisticated ways.

The study involved watching 36 toddlers from 18 to 30 months over two visits to a playroom. On one visit, they were given four toys, and on the other, 16 toys. The team recorded how many times a child picked up a toy, how long they played with it, and how many different ways they played with it. When they had 16 toys to choose from, most of the kids flitted between about 10 toys in the 15-minute time limit. When they had only four toys in the room, they played with the toys for longer and found different, more creative, ways to play with them. Hyahno Moser, Program Manager with Nature Play Queensland - a not-for-profit organisation that encourages kids to get outdoors - said the cost of buying toys added to the growing pressure on parents. But he said there was a free alternative.

"Nature is not only free, it is exciting, awe inspiring, often magical, and the most enduring childhood toy in history," he said. "And it is everywhere. "Despite the advent of the plethora of modern screen-based toys, the sea of stuff available at any toy store, and the billions of marketing dollars spent every year to convince or pressure parents into buying the latest and greatest toys, sticks, rocks, water, sand and dirt continue to inspire hours and hours of active, creative, stimulating, imaginative, healthy and free play," Mr Moser said. And he pointed to the induction of the humble stick into the Toy Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Play in New York in 2008.

"Ralphie, my little two-year-old son, uses sticks daily to act out his amazing interest in power tools," he said. "In his mind, the stick is a chainsaw, a whipper snipper, a blower, hedger and drill. "It is incredible to watch him make sense of his world through interacting with nature. "He has a room full of toys, like most kids, but none of his other toys get the amount of attention than the sticks around our home."

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