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How many toys does my child need?

February 04, 2020 5 min read 2 Comments

Messy Pile of Brightly Coloured Plastic Toys

Guest post by Amanda! Amanda is a mother of two, a special eduction teacher in NYC, and a certified holistic health coach.  She writes and shares about motherhood, conscious parenting, and early learning / education in an effort to connect, inspire, and enlighten women and their families all over the world. She'd love for you to join her in her journey by following her on Instagram and Facebook, or you can visit her website here.

Ahh… the ever-so-google-searched question and perpetual debate between parents.  It is a tricky one to answer as arguably many factors can be involved (money, gifts from others, interests, etc.), but, as an educator, I believe it is more important to consider the quality of the toys that live in your play spaces quite a bit more than the quantity. Once you start shifting your perspective and learn more about open-ended toys, the stress over the number of toys you have and where to put them all will start to fade away. 

Just over a year ago around Christmas time I was doing google searches for the best toys for a 3-year-old.  Everything that popped up was animated, lit up, made of plastic and shouting noise.  I could’ve gotten nearly all of the options on Amazon or Target and have them shipped to my house in less than two days with no problem.  But instead, and with some luck, I somehow stumbled upon suggestions for open-ended toys and suddenly my understanding and appreciation for childhood play was changed forever.  I started to consider the possibilities that these options held and I just knew I had to jump in! 

What do I mean by quantity? I mean that the toys in your place spaces should lend themselves to imaginative play, curiosity, creativity, and learning.  Toys that allow children to use them in a variety of ways are the ones you really want to get inside your home.  Children use play as a time to learn about themselves, others, and the world they are a part of. They process their thoughts deeply when engrossed in their small worlds and they can learn important socio-emotional AND academic lessons when they’re playing. Toys that offer opportunities for role-playing, problem-solving, experimenting, and, of course, joy are the best ones to invest in; once you have 3 or 4 of these, you’ll start to realize the number of toys you have in total is actually not very important at all anymore.  

Here are a few helpful things to consider before adding a toy to your collection:

First, ask yourself whether or not the toy will allow your child to think creatively and/or use their imagination on a daily basis.  In other words, does the toy do the “work” for the child?  Does that hard, plastic singing object hold any OTHER possibilities of what it could be in your child’s mind or will it always be that same hard, plastic singing object?  

Second, will the toy sustain the test of time (both physically and developmentally)? Some toys are truly “one and done” options; they offer entertainment right away and often get no use after that initial smile.  Also, consider where the toy will go when your children are no longer enthused by it or when they outgrow it. You’ll likely toss it into the garbage where it can hurt the environment rather than passing it along to siblings, cousins, and others who are ready to play for years to come. Fortunately, many, if not all, of the toys selected by Modern Rascals are made with the future in mind and pass both of these tests with flying colors! 

Here are some other important thingsto remember when making toy choices:

Notice how your children gravitate towards household items and things that exist naturally outside.  For example, young toddlers are often more interested in the paper wrapping a gift than the gift itself….and preschoolers are more inclined to jump in puddles outside (check out weather-appropriate gear HERE) than watch a plastic toy dance around for a few seconds at a time.  Remind yourself that because of this, less is often more and, more often than not, what you NEED, you already have.

Photo by @nester.wanders

The number of toys you have does not determine your worth as a parent.  Period. 

Ask yourself what is most important to you.  Is it the number of toys on your shelves or in your bins or the quality of your child’s play experiences? Then, trust yourself enough to start making your toy decisions from this perspective.  

Regardless of the number of toys you have, you might want to consider only having about 6-8 toys OUT and available at a time, rather than putting them all on display or hiding them all in bins. 

Think of it this way, do you ever get overwhelmed at the drug store looking at ALL the different options of toothpaste?  Your child likely feels the same when faced with such big choices.  Make it easier by taking a few out at a time and placing them at your child’s eye level so they can easily see and get the toy alone.  If you have lots of toys, rotating them is a good idea and if you’re low on space baskets and bins are your friends! 

Deciding what to buy can be a hard choice when there are so many great options.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race—you can add on and grow over the years.  These options are not confined to the age groups they are first recommended for; they last nearly a lifetime and can be played with for years to come as your little ones grow! 

That said, here are my top suggestions for a few age groups to get you started. 

AGE 0-1

AGE 1-2

  • Toy Vehicles (durable, safe, simple)
  • Block Set (starter set that can be used with larger sets in the future)
  • Wobbel Board (rock and roll, make a reading nook, use it as a stage, possibilities are truly endless)

AGE 2-3

  • Veggie Set (great for kitchen play, healthy eating exposure, non-toxic) 
  • Wooden Animal Figures  (start a collection for small world play and learning)
  • Way To Play Road set (give those cars some realistic roads to ride on…bonus, they are waterproof so you can take them in the bath or to the beach!)

 AGE 3-4

As mentioned, these are suggestions to get you started, but there are so many other wonderful options.  If you head over HERE, you can find a super helpful gift guide broken down by age right on the Modern Rascals website. 

And remember, even though the toys are recommended for certain ages, that just means that is when it is typically a good idea to INTRODUCE the toys—they will continue to be played with well beyond that age-frame! Some children may take longer to warm up to and begin to incorporate new toys, the same way that not all popcorn kernels pop at the same time.

So, all this to say, fret less about the quantity of toys and focus more on the quality—your children will truly benefit from this!

Happy playing! 

2 Responses


May 12, 2020

I would love the Grimms Rainbow! Or the loose parts. I’m a kindergarten teacher in Ontario and I have a three year old son and it’s all about inquiry play based learning!


February 06, 2020

This is great! I always feel like my playroom is overrun by toys and this is such a helpful guide on the quality toys to focus on for my kids!!

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