Presents with imagination will help your child’s development ...

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It’s December and Christmas adverts are everywhere, reminding us of things we must have to make the perfect Christmas. For the children this usually means the latest must-have toy or game. Did you know that in Britain we spend an average of £3billion annually on toys? But do the children really need them?

According to psychologist Oliver James (author of ‘Love Bombing’) no they don’t. He feels that in general children are given too many toys and that a constant stream of gifts only serves to generate materialistic qualities later in life. 

But parents report that it can feel good to spoil your child with toys, so how do you manage your instincts and your child’s demands and expectations? And what impact will it have on their development if they have fewer toys?

At Eureka! we believe that Play is one of the most important needs children have. Play enables children to learn about themselves and develop skills to help them understand the world around them. This obviously includes play with toys, it is through toys that children acquire personal and social skills, attitudes and values. But we know that more toys does not mean more skills. As both a professional and a parent of four I am a believer that when it comes to toys, less is more. Having too many toys can limit opportunities for developing a child’s imagination, creativity and social interaction. Having an active imagination will help your child in many ways, and children who play imaginary games tend to have noticeably better communication skills and are more able to cope with challenges and problems later in life as it enables them to think creatively. Fewer toys also encourages deeper play and engagement as well as increasing a child’s attention span.

Whilst consumer research states that parents are buying their children far more toys today than 30 years ago we weren’t without as children. Ask most adults about their childhood experiences of play, and more often than not these will be recollections of being outside – with no commercial toys. This tells me that free play is more memorable than the toys.

Going back to the pester power, the first thing you need to remember is that although it may not always feel like it, you are the most valuable resource for your child and any time you spend together is worth more than anything you buy. Secondly, if few toys are given sparingly it brings with it a sense of value and being grateful for what they have. And finally, if we want to stop our children from becoming targets of consumerism at an early age, then we need to choose toys according to their play merit – natural, imaginative, open- ended, etc. – instead of their brand names. Remember these points and it could help you say no!

Of course, we all want our children to have things under the tree, so to help you choose we advise you choose toys that encourage social play. Left to their own devices children prefer what Dr King, reader in psychology at Huddersfield University, describes as “social fantasy” toys - dressing-up clothes or anything which involves make-believe. These are the kind of toys parents should encourage - they teach children to interact, to empathise, respond to others’ needs and work in groups.

Whatever you decide to get your children this Christmas, a visit to a grotto is usually a good way to understand your child’s real wishes, and they may well surprise you with the simplicity of their requests. A friend’s four-year-old daughter was recently heard asking Santa for some pants and socks for Christmas, much to her Mum’s relief!

Father Christmas has arrived at Eureka! and to give your children a real magical experience of meeting him, pop down to the museum any weekend in December, and find out whether you should be adding pants and socks to the list.Merry Christmas from everyone at Eureka!