We tested the hypothesis that an environment with fewer toys will lead to higher quality of play for toddlers. Each participant (n =36) engaged in supervised, individual free play sessions under two conditions: Four Toy and Sixteen Toy. With fewer toys, participants had fewer incidences of toy play, longer durations of toy play, and played with toys in a greater variety of ways (Z =−4.448, p < 0.001, r =−0.524; Z =2.828, p=0.005, r =0.333; and Z =4.676, p < 0.001, r = 0.55, respectively). This suggests that when provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively. This can be offered as a recommendation in many natural environments to support children’s development and promote healthy play.
Engagement in play begins in infancy and has beneficial effects on development. During play, children interact with the physical and social elements of the environment, allowing them to discover challenges and try new skills. This enhances child development, health, and well-being (Knox & Mailloux, 1997). Through play, children learn to interpret the world around them which in return enhances their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills (Brasic-Royeen, 1997; Kuhaneck, Spitzer, & Miller, 2010; Shannon,1974; Smith & Pellegrini, 2013; Russ, 2004). Play-based learning promotes academic readiness and outcomes (Golinkoff & Hirsch-Pasek, 2008). Thus, it is important to optimize the environment in which children play (Schaaf & Burke, 1997).