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The Toy-Free Experience

beeSomething interesting happened to Bee and me a few weekends ago. We were visiting the home of my aunt and uncle – a couple in their late 50’s – and I’d forgotten to stash a few toys in Bee’s diaper bag. So, we improvised and my fifteen month old played with mixing bowls, magazines (and later magazine remnants) and cardboard boxes. And it was magical.

She entertained herself on the floor, babbling with delight at her makeshift toys. And I wasn’t entirely surprised. Kids always gravitate toward non-toys: the everyday items we overlook as more functional than fun. Still, I couldn’t tell if Bee’s behavior was centered around the fact that we were in a new, exciting environment or the idea that she didn’t have her toys to distract herself from creativity.

Naturally, and feeling ever-so-experimental, I created a toy-free zone in our sunroom that same weekend. Our sunroom is pretty sparse – just a couch and bench seating, an arm chair, floor lamp and a bistro table. A basket of blankets. Lots of space, not a lot of entertainment.

Or so I thought.

Bee entered the room, slowly and quietly, surveying her surroundings. And then she spotted it: the basket that housed our winter blankets. Immediately, she shouted “Hat!”, tipping over the basket as the blankets spilled out, prancing around the room – parade style – with the basket on her head. She then moved to other areas of the room, taking stock of the patterns and textures and shapes of the furniture. “Dance?” she asked, so we turned on music and threw an impromptu dance party on the sofa. An hour later, she still hadn’t grown bored and had taken to tucking our dogs in with the blankets, saying “Night night” as they curled into tiny balls for an attempted nap.

I was amazed. Bee’s an active child, constantly growing tired of the toys that surround her. But once the toys were removed, her creativity seemed sparked and she began to learn how to entertain herself. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? Removing the entertainment allowed room for entertainment.

Since then, our sunroom has been a toy-free zone for many days and I’m seeing an increased attention span from Bee. Tell me, do you have toy-free zones in your own home, and have you been amazed at the results in your child? I’d love to hear!

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