Toys Optional

Are toys necessary? Do young children need toys when they play? Can children learn and grow in a toy-free environment?

When my Mom was growing up on a farm in Naples, Italy in the 1950s she had no toys. Zero! Nothing! Nada! Not even a doll, ball, puzzle, jump rope, or bicycle! With 8 siblings and more cousins next door, her early childhood years were filled with interactions that required creative and toy-less play.

In many countries and cultures, play does not necessarily center on toys that are made by a company and purchased from a store. Familiar objects, materials, and imagination are the cornerstone of play.

The use of toys during play and assessment came up recently when I was in California giving a two-day seminar. Home visitors working with families of infants and toddlers discussed ways to facilitate early childhood development. They shared how they use various approaches with and without toys during play-based assessment. It was exciting to see the innovative ways they incorporate what is already in the child's home during their visits.

When I left California to take a flight home, I thought more about our discussion and the role of toys during play. It fit nicely with a book I read on the plane for my book club this month titled, "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park. The true story is about a young boy, Salva Dut, growing up in Sudan. His daily struggle to survive each day and his quest for clean drinking water made the pursuit of play a low priority in his life.

When I stepped off the plane I came to the conclusion that toys are fun but unnecessary for play. Toys optional? I think so.