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Estimated read time : 4 minutes

The more toys children own, the less they actually play with them.

Three-year-old Nishant cannot stop talking about the fruits his uncle brought him when he came over to his house in Delhi the other day. It’s been 48 hours since the visit, and 46 since the fruits were consumed.

But he just cannot stop gushing to anyone who will listen – the security man, the clerk at the supermarket, his teacher and even his mother, who was present at the time – about the fruits and how they were all for him.

A few states down south in Bengaluru, three-and-a-half-year-old Shanaya is running around the house putting stickers on every surface she can find. Her parents cannot believe how long she’s been sitting facing the cupboard, decorating the fish, mice, stars, and piggies, inventing a story around how the fish and the stars are flying together.

“We just paid Rs 2500 for a set of wooden blocks,” murmurs her mother shaking her head incredulously. “But a set of Rs 20 stickers is what’s keeping her busy for hours on end.”

A little to the west in Mumbai, Ivaan’s parents Abha and Keshav are watching their son spin steel pots on the kitchen floor. They say nothing as they take in how the containers, same shape but different sizes, spin at the same speed but make different sounds and take varying lengths of time to stop. Their son invites them to try and gets cross when they fail to spin in the same capacity as him. He proceeds to demonstrate the technique – a gentle grip of the fingers, a subtle flick of the wrist – but they just cannot do it the way he does.

Parents love to give their children the best of toys because that’s just something you do, isn’t it? It also frustrates them no end when their children, instead of building blocks just pick them one by one and fling them off the balcony. But there’s a genuine reason for why children don’t appreciate one set of toys for too long.

It is a well-established fact worldwide that the more toys children own, the less they play with them. This is especially true for children below the age of 5 years.

“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,” according to Kathy Sylvia, professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University.

Take a look at your child the next time she has a deluge of toys strewn around her. It’s most likely that she will spend a few moments with each toy before moving on to the next and then the next before getting bored entirely of them all and asking for your attention.

It is thus imperative that parents restrict their kids’ access to commercial toys and encourage their interest in elements found in nature. Like water and sand, for instance. If a child shows an interest in watering the plants or building hills and castles in the mud, it is important to let them run with it.

Unfortunately, many parents tend to restrict outdoor access thinking that playing with water will cause a cold and that playing in the mud will lead to germs. But this is not necessarily true.

Colds and flu are known to help children build immunity, and there’s a likelihood of children catching them even without getting too close to the garden hose. And playing in the mud is safer than allowing your child to swim in that pool of balls in play areas because you don’t know the last time they were properly sanitized.

So the next time you walk past the shiny new Lego in a toy store or help your child unwrap a noisy, battery operated bus. Just ask yourself: are these objects actually making your child happy in the long term? Or is it you getting the satisfaction of buying that toy?

The answer lies in the last time you saw your child spend what felt like hours just immersed in an activity that left you stunned at their ability to stay busy for that long.