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Play is the work of a child. It is vital to the development of all mammals because play equals learning. Play is how baby mammals learn to be grown-up mammals. Obviously human mammals have a lot to learn, so our babies and children must do a lot of playing.

There are several kinds of play. “Rough and tumble” play is what puppies as well as small children do. This consists of action patterns performed at a high pitch of activity usually in a group. In our species it consist of running, jumping, falling over, chasing, wrestling, laughing, shrieking, etc. There is also pretend play and games with rules. Play can be solitary or with others.

Play with objects, like toys, is an important kind of play which fills an important developmental need. Play with objects helps children find out what things are and how they are used. Children imitate how adults use objects and also use objects to express themselves and to have social interaction with other children.

So play is vital and toys are good. The problem is that most kids have too many toys. (See ParenTip: TOYS where I write about toy overload.)

What’s wrong with having lots of toys, Dr. Heins? Why are you talking like a Grinch?

  • Kids can develop TOY CONFUSION. They have so many things in such a heap they cannot decide out what to play with. So you get the, “Mommy, I’m bored.” whine.
  • Children develop an ENTITLEMENT ATTITUDE. “I HAVE to have it!” morphs into “I’m entitled to it.” After all, every kid at school has it. It’s on TV a zillion times a week.
  • Children often become frustrated with “junk toys” (plastic, easily breakable, un-fixable) which makes play no fun. So we hear the, “Mommy, I have nothing to do.” song.
  • Children may be confronted with toys that are developmentally inappropriate adding to their frustration or boredom depending on whether the toy is for a younger or an older child.

What’s a parent to do?

  • Concentrate on “nutritious” toys that foster imagination and creativity. Blocks, Lego, art supplies appropriate to the age of the child, toys that are miniature objects of adult possessions like dishes and cars, toys that teach like puzzles and books. See for up-to-date ideas of what to buy.
  • Don’t forget to look around the house and “recycle” objects that can become imagination-enriching toys. Plastic food containers, sturdy cartons, old clothes and shoes for dress-up.
  • Save printer paper that is used on only one side. I draw over the words on one side with a marker and tell the child to copy my art or draw their own on the blank side.
  • Books enhance imagination. Need I say more?
  • Decrease TV time so your kids are exposed to less on-screen marketing.