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Toy Overload: The After-Holiday Toy Experience

By Carma Haley

Preschoolers Today

January, 2001

Christmas is over and all that remains is torn wrapping, ribbon and boxes from the toys your children received. You would think that children would be busy for weeks playing with their newfound treasures, but this is not always the case. It is more common to find Christmas toys in toy boxes then in the hands of the children who received them. The reason: "toy overload." When children get too many toys, they often find themselves with nothing to do.

Toys, Toys, Toys!

"In our case, our kids will open packages at my dad's house, our house, my husband's dad's house, his mom's house, my aunt's house -- whew, it's exhausting just thinking about it all," says Marla Hardee Milling, the director of public information at Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, N.C. "I think we're so ingrained into thinking that we have to give our kids more, more, more. But at the same time, we need to realize they're probably overwhelmed. With all the toys in our house, you know what my 10-month-old daughter chooses to play with? Her socks."

The toys children want, request and receive is influenced by various factors. According to Stevanne Auerback, a.k.a. "Dr. Toy," author of Toys for a Lifetime, this influence does not always result in the proper toy for your child. "Like most parents, you want your children to play with products that provide the best value for your investment," says Dr. Toy. "However, as their influence may be what their friends are playing with and what they see on television, children can think they want this or that toy only to find out after they have it, that it isn't what they really wanted after all. This can often result in a toy-box full of toys that are not being played with."

According to Dr. Toy, one of the most common times of year for a child to receive too many toys is at Christmas. As parents, grandparents, friends and other family members try to make the holiday enjoyable, children may find themselves being overwhelmed by toys, toys and more toys, often leaving parents to transport and organize items that may never even be played with.

"At Christmas, the kids are up by 5 a.m. and they wake the whole house," says Koni Coward, a freelance craft designer from Knoxville, Tenn. "Their grandmother usually gives more than Santa and mom combined. I usually allow them to open gifts as they receive them unless directed otherwise. We always have way too many toys and they do get bored with some of them after a day or two."

This overabundance of toys can often result in children losing interest in most, if not all, of the toys they receive. "Children can only focus on one item at a time," says Dr. Toy. "A child is overwhelmed by the amount of toys they receive will often move on to other things as a result and may not play with any of them. To get the full use of each toy, it is best to allow them time to explore each toy fully before moving onto the next."

Age Appropriate?

Another reason children lose interest in certain toys is frustration. Dr. Toy states that children often get frustrated with toys that are too old for their age group or skill level resulting in little or no play time for the item. "Does your child match the age grading on the package? If the age range or skill level doesn't match your child's, then it is not a good item for them to play with at this time. He/she will likely become frustrated when playing with it and may lose interest completely," she says.

Out With the Old, In With the New

With all the "new" toys received at the holiday, what should be done with the "old" ones? Dr. Toy states that there are several options available to help both parents and the toys. "Local toy drives -- like the marines toy drive -- are excellent ways to get more use of older toys," she says. "Shelters, daycares and preschools always welcome donations. It is very important to donate to local toy lending libraries as well." Another option is to sell older or outgrown toys and allow the child to purchase something new, take the family out to dinner, go to see a movie or donate it to a charity.

"We do a donation trip about two weeks before Christmas," says Coward. "I have them go through their old toys and pile what they no longer want on the bed. What I don't want to pass down to the younger kids, I bag up and take to Am Vets. We figure it's much better to give than receive anyway so extra toys are given to friends or families whose children are more needy than we."

Know Your Child

There are several solutions to "toy overload," according to Dr. Toy, and they begin before the toys are even purchased. "When choosing a toy for a child, it is best to observe the child to see what their interests are now and to see what they like or need next to balance this interest or extend on it before purchasing anything," she says. "In addition, toys that extend play or add enrichment are always good choices. These include blocks or other constructions sets for example. Another option is to recycle products the child is not using by storing them away and bring them out again a few months later when interest change, skills develop or as an alternative for routine. For both the child and the toy, this can be play that seems new again. These toys can even be saved for a younger neighbor, friend or sibling."

"After our Christmas routine, the kids are actually tired of opening presents and I wonder if I'll ever find a place to put them all," says Pamela Kock from Cincinnati, Ohio. "Some toys are an instant hit -- others are cast aside. I put some in their bedrooms, some in the playroom and switch them around occasionally to renew interest."

An overabundance of toys can be fun -- for a while. But after the excitement is over most children often find themselves overwhelmed by what they have and may end up not playing with any of it. It is not the popularity of a toy, the cost of a toy or even the size of toy that makes it a favorite; it is how fun the toy is to play with. "The most important thing to ask is, 'will the child enjoy using the product?'" says Dr. Toy. "Play is after all a time to have fun. Learning is a lot easier and is more enduring if it's fun!"

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