For three months out of the year, Friedrich-Engels-Bogen, a nursery in Munich, Germany, takes away all of their kids’ toys and leaves them with only tables, chairs, and a few blankets to play with.1 At first, this may seem cruel, but on second glance, it’s proven to be an effective way to encourage children to make their own fun.
And it works.
The No-Toys Nursery
Though this nursery only takes away all the toys for a quarter of the year, it’s been an eye-opening look into the minds and creativity of children.
Gisela Marti, a teacher at the nursery, said:
“In these three months we offer the children space and time to get to know themselves and because they are not being directed by teachers or toys, the children have to find new ways to master their day in their own individual way.”
The first day of this experiment proved to be a little boring for the children. They didn’t know what to do so they just sat around and stared at each other for much of the day.
Another teacher at the nursery, Gudrun Huber, said:
“The children didn’t know what to do, but we left them alone, even if they were bored, because sometimes things in life are boring and you have to learn to cope.”
The nursery workers stayed back to allow the children to do whatever they wanted. And by the second day, that’s exactly what the children did.
Gudrun went on to say, “once the children realised they could do what they liked and they were in control, they really went a bit mad – they got very boisterous and excited, climbing all over the furniture.” The children began laughing and playing with everything they did have… making forts out of blankets and creating their own games.
The Friedrich-Engels-Bogen nursery isn’t the only nursery doing this across Germany, and the idea is starting to catch on around the world.
We Appreciate More With Less
Does the story above mean you should donate all of the toys in your home? Probably not, but I’m sure it would be fine if you did.
We all appreciate the things we have more when we have less things. When we can reach a state of contentment with, and an appreciation for, the things we have, not only will we be happier in general, but we won’t want as many things.
It’s not just about happiness. Your children will learn to be more creative and more sociable when there are fewer toys to distract them. Moreover, their attention span will increase dramatically when they have less toys to play with, according to a study done at the University of Toledo.2
The bottom line is that kids become better at playing, and especially at playing with other children, when there is less to play with.
In America, it’s common for our kids to be unappreciative. And it really isn’t their fault that they were born in an affluent country and culture that over-consumes.
How common is it for our kids to walk into their bedroom or play room, look at the thousands of toys, and exclaim, “there’s nothing to play with!” Likewise, how often have we walked into our kitchen, when the pantry is bulging out, and thought, “there’s nothing to eat.”
It’s part of our culture to be discontent with what we have, and to always want more. That’s what advertising feeds on. I’m not going to get into the weeds here, because I could write another article on this, but the point is, we can teach our kids to be content. And a great first step is fewer toys.
How Many Toys is Enough?
I think it’s safe to say that most American families could easily reduce the amount of toys in their home by 50% and nobody would notice… yes, including your kids.
In the rare event that we’ve donated a toy that one of our kids wanted to keep, they completely forgot about it within the same day we donated it. Our kids are typically fine with getting rid of lots of toys, because it creates lots of room for them to actually play.
There’s no magic number on how many toys you need in your home, but I think we can all admit that we probably have too many. We can free up our children’s space and time by eliminating some, if not most, of their toys.
Sit them down and explain how contentment and appreciation works before you start downsizing their toys. If they come home from school to a completely toy-free home, they’re going to have some questions. And it’s not going to be easy to talk to them when they’re upset about it.
Your kids may fight back on the idea of reducing their toys, so it’s a good idea to do it gradually, but I promise they won’t even remember they ever owned the toy once it’s gone.
The Best Toys to Keep
So how do you know which toys to keep, and which to get rid of?
I suggest keeping the following types of toys, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. This is what we kept:
- Legos – They spark creativity as kids build whatever they want, and they promote social play.
- Board Games – They teach many cognitive skills, and promote social play. Though, some are more useful than others.
- Crafts – Anything that promote creativity and art is worth keeping, especially when they can do the crafts with their siblings.
- Educational Toys – Things like a toy cash register to teach finance and math, or anything else that teaches a lesson.
As I always say, it comes down to intentional ownership. You can keep as many toys in your home as you want, as long as you’re intentional about why you keep what you keep. Every toy doesn’t have to be an educational tool—sometimes kids just need to play without thinking—but you are the one who gets to decide which toys you keep, and that’s a big responsibility.
Keep the toys that will help, not hinder, your kids.
Kids can make their own fun inside and outside without any toys at all. It’s amazing the games kids can come up with, especially when their resources are limited.
How to Get Rid of Your Toys
There are plenty of thrift stores and other places to donate your toys. Your church may be part of a mission that brings toys to kids in the world who literally don’t have any.
You could take your child’s toy collection (or even just half of it), and spread it out across hundreds of kids who would be receiving their first toy. Those kids would appreciate it, and your child would be happier.
Let your kids see this in action. If your child has any doubts about getting rid of the toys, it will help to let him see how many other children he is helping by giving them the toys he really didn’t need in the first place.
Don’t get so caught up on donating to the right cause that you keep the toys cluttering your house. Part of the reason you’re doing this is likely to gain more space in your home, and own less things. Be responsible with how you give, but don’t let that responsibility hold you back from giving.
If you can’t find a great opportunity, just take it to any thrift store or church that’s accepting donations. Or with some of the toys today, they may just need to go in the dumpster.
Related Book Reading
Last Updated: July 10, 2020
- Jewell, S. (1999). The Nursery That Took All the Children’s Toys Away. Independent.
- Dauch, Imwalle, Ocasio, Metz, (2017). The Influence of the Number of Toys in the Environment on Toddlers’ Play. ScienceDirect.