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Fewer toys at once may help toddlers to focus better and play more creatively (sciencedirect.com)
468 points by antman 46 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 200 comments



Yes, so true!

My wife is a Play Therapist with 2 masters degrees in the subject. The organization of a play space with limited and well chosen toys is key.

Additionally if you give a child an electronic toy that lights up and makes a lot of noise and does a specific thing, the kid will usually play with it less, because they find their options are limited. Whereas, if you give a kid a wooden spoon and a pot to play with they can find a 1001 uses for it!

She has a rule for herself to not have more toys than it would take to clean up in 10 minutes.

Here is a talk she recently gave to parents at our pre-school. She talks about this issue at the 33 min mark.

https://playla.co/talk/1


Does your wife have a solution for convincing relatives to stop buying tons of electronic toys that light up and buzz for Christmas and birthdays?


I've started a habit of sitting down with my son and taking them apart, screw by screw, piece by piece. He loves tools so he's into it 100%. The louder, brighter, and more annoying the y are, the more likely that they don't make it back together.


I used to take apart electronics in my house all the time, watching my dad and learning how to repair TV,toasters, VCRs etc. I was too young to remember how much damage or good I caused. These days I cannot concentrate on a lot of things, but repairing things is not one of them.


i used to buy second hand VCRs in the thrift store(or something like that) nearby to clean the heads. It took a while to understand than by cleaning them the way I did I would damage them irreparably.


VCR heads are incredibly delicate. They are essentially coils of extremely thin wire held together with a little bit of resin around a tiny mu-metal core. Touch them from the wrong angle and they're already gone.


Why did you do that? And how did you not realize that it broken after the first one?


My dad used to bring home broken desktop computers from work that were being thrown out. I would spend hours taking them apart, it was so much fun for me.


This is the best idea I've heard all day. My kids have some toys that desperately need to be taken apart screw by screw.


That's absolutely brilliant and I'm going to steal that idea when I'll have kids.

BTW., I just shared it with my cow-orkers, and the first reaction was: <<And so one day, you buy yourself a $1200 drone, then come home after work and see your kid smiling and saying "daddy, daddy! look, I took it apart all by myself!"...>> ;).


Sounds like the seeds of a young hacker are being sewn. Has he given off any signals about combining the pieces into cool new things yet?


That was the most awesome part when I was a kid, I remember the first time I played with the electronic components of an old toy, I remember being amazed about how a small switch worked the same way with a small led and with an electric motor, I was amazed about how every part could work independent from the whole toy, it was a really big discovery for me.


This is an awesome idea. We have so many useless battery-powered chunks of plastic. My 7-year-old would LOVE deconstruction lessons.


This is genius! I know exactly what I'm getting my daughter for Christmas now! Thank you so much. You have just changed my entire life for the better :)


That's awesome. Next step: circuit bending.


This sounds like a much better approach than our current "No V-Tech". Thanks for posting.


That's fantastic! I'll have to do that with my kid.


Make sure he makes it back together...


-edit- I just re-read your comment and the (great-)grandparent, and embarrassingly, just got the joke which I think you were making from some of the ambiguity of the original phrasing. That said, I'm leaving the rest of my original comment, as I think it's a point worth making. -edit-

No, don't.

If he desconstructs his favorite electronic toy and isn't able to get it working again, that's an opportunity for a lesson on how to take things apart without causing (more) damage, how cheaply and non-repairably many things are built (and the value of good design), how anything is repairable if you're cussed and resourceful enough (and when not to be), or any number of other lessons, limited only by your imagination.


for what it's worth, we do it for fun too, not just for getting rid of the annoy-a-trons :)


Thanks for acknowledging my admittedly weak humor ;-) I agree with your points.


Honestly, I just tell those relatives, “Thanks for the thought and lovely gift. In case you weren’t aware, we don’t allow battery operated toys in the house, so we’ll gladly let you keep [CHILD_NAME]’s toy at your house and when we come visit, they’ll be happy to play with it there.”

It might not be exactly this, but we have spent over a decade training our relatives, and after 6 children, we only get clothes (win!), wooden toys (win!), and board-games/puzzles (win!).

Otherwise, start asking for gift receipts or find out where they shopped so you can, “find something similar”...


What research shows that battery operated toys are bad and wooden toys are good?


I do not have any research. My personal observation and belief is:

A young child (0 to ~3 years) does not understand electronics. The input output response from a battery device cannot be easily guessed from only physical examination, thus it is not a good toy to develop a mental model.

I would much rather my child (at a very early age), form the basic mental models of the physical world so that she can predict how the world will react around her. Throwing a ball, banging a percussive instrument, stacking blocks. These all help form physical models of the world.

What solidified this belief for me was watching my ~11 month old frantically pushing the button on a battery operated rocking horse she had received as a present from her aunt. My child could not understand why the horse had made noise before, but (once I took the batteries out) did not make noise. After seeing that, I realized that we needed to make things simpler before we made them more complex.


> A young child (0 to ~3 years) does not understand electronics.

On the other hand, my 2 year old niece can easily take an iPad, unlock it, swipe through the pages and folders, find YouTube, and watch videos. And in an ever-increasing electronics-driven world, I don't think it's bad to learn some of those skills at that age. (Though her screentime is limited and she also plays with wooden toys etc.)

Ofcourse explaining a battery or 'the internet' would be too complex at that age, but apparently the 'input output response from a battery device can be easily guessed'.


I agree that certain toys can be age-appropriate while others are not. But a blanket ban on all electronic toys seems unjustified by this reasoning. (Parent said they have 6 children, it's likely that at least one or two of them would be able to appreciate battery operated toys.


I see comments like this all the time and it bothers me. When someone disagrees with something online, all of a sudden their bar for acceptance of the idea is peer-reviewed scientific research.

Tell me, where do you draw the line in your personal life for needing scientific evidence before making a choice? Surely you did not have scientific evidence for every single decision you've made.


I disagree. The comment looked like an honest question. Nothing should be taken at face value, especially these days when we are also being bombarded with platitudes about breast feeding and organic produce. As a new dad, I’m inclined to believe it, but I would still want to know if it was just the fad feeling of the day or if there was any actual science behind it (if there wasn’t any science behind it, that wouldn’t discredit the idea as these things are difficult to test, though it is definitely master or PhD degree worthy).


Then it's kind of a non-sequitur of a question. If it weren't, it would be either assuming that the parent commenter uses scientific research behind all of their parenting decisions, or would be implying that the parent is making ignorant choices on parenting.


It would be a non sequitor if they were trying to invalidate some kind of conclusion, there is actually none of that there. Quite frankly, people have read way too far into a simple question, inferring that it has nefarious intent, when none of that actually exists in the words written.


I think "contrarian" is a more suitable word than "nefarious".


There are millions of n=1 studies across the globe. Most of the ones I’m familiar with reached a similar conclusion, but YMMV.

That’s the thing about parenting: you will have to make thousands and thousand of decisions without the benefit of rigorous peer-reviewed studies. You can’t wait for the science, because your kids are growing up now.


There are also millions of n=1 studies across the globe, in which parents did the opposite and kids turned out fine anyway.

It's true you can't wait for science. But it's important to realize when something is mostly an arbitrary choice. The anti-tech sentiment that's popular in parenting these days is exactly that - an arbitrary choice without solid foundations.


That sounds unreasonably dismissive, in my view.

Perhaps there is a sort of knee-jerk retro-hippie back-to-the-basics trend happening nowadays. But the choice to limit children's exposure to electronic gadgets really isn't arbitrary anywhere I've seen it.

It's more typically reasoned, even painstakingly thought-out choice. One made based on insufficient information, yes, but also with limited time to make the decision.

For example, it is obvious to me from direct observation of my own kids that a box of polished wooden blocks leads to higher-quality play than any of the electronic mainstream crap that they've gotten as gifts: the creative process of building, non-predetermined outcomes, some thinking required, trial-and-error is rewarded, obvious self-satisfaction (and alternatively, frustration), etc.

Likewise, I could provide a litany of reasons why I think spending 30 minutes with a paper coloring or drawing book is an unambiguously better activity for my kids than an unrestricted iPad (which == YouTube, nearly 100% of the time).

An iPad locked to one of the drawing programs — that's pretty different. Once they've mastered crayons and pens on paper, I'll let them do that pretty much as long as they want to.

These decisions might not all have "solid foundations" — perhaps I'm wrong in some of my assumptions. But they also aren't "arbitrary". There is reasoning behind them, even if the reasoning may not be totally correct, and the data is necessarily incomplete.

I suspect the same is true for most parents.


Ever spent a significant amount of time with a child playing with a loud battery operated toy?


The price tag on a pack of new batteries?


There may not be any evidence that this policy is beneficial for the kids, but the accompanying sense of smug self-satisfaction is probably very enjoyable for the parents.


Is that something like the sense of smug satisfaction that people who don’t have any children get from making condescending comments on Internet forums about parenting decisions made by people who do?


Outsmugging the smug surely does not count as substantive discussion so can we please just not go there?

If it helps we can argue that it breaks the "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize" guideline.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I do this. I also like to throw in that my child only eats organic products, that have not been fried, that are also free of added salt and sugar. We also use cloth diapers, which I like to mention.

My wife and I agree on these things and think it best for our child. Our relatives and cousins look at us like we are from another planet LOL!


That's the kid you catch 15 years later sneaking out at night to eat a gas station burrito.


We don't have a problem with this.

When our first kid was born, we just told everyone, "Toys that take batteries will have the batteries taken out. If taking the batteries out defeats the purpose of the toy, we will instead take it straight to Goodwill."

We had two instances of people giving him an electronic toy anyway. Both happened before he had really developed object permanence, so he didn't even notice when that Christmas gift was gone on December 26. The giver (both were from the same person) remembered, though, and it hasn't been a problem since.

She probably still thinks we're jerks, but most people with non-adult kids reacted positively and even said they wished they had thought to do the same thing.

Obvs the whole "before they develop object permanence" thing means this probably doesn't work if you don't start before or soon after your first child's birth.


I have opposite approach. I am happy to buy electronic toys and anything else moving. Mostly because I liked them when I was a child and remember strongly wishing a remote control car or ship or transformer (cause you could change their shape, i did not care one bit about the movie). Dunno why I wanted them so much, but no one would buy that to me cause I was a girl and it would be inappropriate.

My kids had remote controlled car before they were able to push buttons. For that reason.


I think remote controlled cars are a bit different to most electronic toys which don't move, and distract you with brights lights and sounds.


I don't mind them, really. Kids like them, my kids like noisy things in general. So if they are not expensive I don't treat them differently then anything else they might like. On some level, I find them cool too, obviously not as much as children.

I honestly dont understand hate some people have against those things. Blinking and sounding toys have same future as old school toys - few chosen become favorite and stuck in bed, the rest forgotten in drawer or box relatively soon. No reason to fear them.


I feel for you. My wife and I have twins, a boy and a girl, and we try very hard not to gender their toys (or games).

But it’s hard when it comes to birthdays or Xmas gifts from others. My sister in law offered for their last birthday a playmobil police car to my son and a Frozen pearls craft set to my daughter.

At the end, both my kids played with the car and made bracelets with pearl. But, seriously...


When my son was born I had 3 girls. For the first 6 months I didn't care to buy boys toys since he wouldn't know the difference I thought.

Wrong. At six months he picked out the single car in between the dolls, toy food etc, turned it around, started moving the wheels and making noises.


My daughter did the same when she was near car. And no one even role modeled that in front of her as they tend to do with boys. (People tended not to want to play with car with her even if she took that to them. It seemed like people feel bad/confused about playing with gender inappropriate toy. ).

Older then six months, six months old are not bringing toys to people due to lack of ability to crawl effectively.

I also remember what 6 months old are like. If their actions are proof of universal anything to you, then it is your own bias. They don't play pretend knowingly yet, they only mimic a bit. Nor are cosistent.

But interesting is that whenever child or me does or wish something gender noncomforming, like almost always, someone feels the need to explain that someone else is gender conforming.


I still love remote control cars to this day. I was so excited when I pulled apart my first motor. I had no idea how magnetism or any of it worked. I just knew, you connect the wires and it spins. So much fun from a simple motor.


On the other side of this, I'm glad my parents didn't listen to advice not to let me have a computer growing up, or I might be in a different career. The people who build the technology of tomorrow will be better than us at it, because they've been exposed to the technology of today, and internalized it, from an earlier age.


I second that strongly. My career choice is a direct consequence of having lots of unsupervised time with computers since ~9 y.o. I quickly saturated myself with available games and started to tinker with them, first to extract sounds and modify saves - then I started dreaming up my own perfect games and grew the desire to make them, which lead me to learn programming...

That said, I am afraid the Internet is a game changer here. I didn't have Internet access since... ~13, AFAIR, and even that was over dial-up. Given how today there's infinite amounts of brain crack streaming down the ever wider tubes, I fear a kid left in front of an Internet-connected computer will never get bored enough to start tinkering.

So I'm all for lots of unsupervised computer time, but for my future kids, I plan to not introduce Internet access too soon. Mind you - I'm not worried about the content (porn and other usual scares), just about it being like more addictive TV.


I don't think that's true. We didn't suddenly become better at building internal combustion engines because people grew up with cars. Just because you're good at using something doesn't mean you could build it. Race car drivers don't inherently make good engineers and professional esports players don't inherently make good game developers.


> We didn't suddenly become better at building internal combustion engines because people grew up with cars.

Are you sure? What about people growing up with cars, curious about what goes on under the hood from childhood, with references available on how they work, that they can connect to what they've seen themselves? Maybe this gives an edge over those whose learning started later?

Human technology is a long ladder of improvements one generation makes over the one prior. It's not obvious that stone age toys are the best preparation for contributing to the next step of the ladder.


Start off by teaching your kids how easy it is to fix things. Involve them with easy things to start with and then gradually more complex things. By the time their 17th birthday rolls around (or whatever age it is in your country), buy them a broken car for their birthday. They're very likely to quickly learn how to fix it.


Lost you on that one. Keeping a car running is how you learn to fix cars, period.


The difference today is that gaming has turned into a sales funnel for gambling like activity. It’s difficult to find good games.


Ah, the grandma effect... no, we have not found a solution to that issue yet ;)

Well, I guess we let the kids play with those presents for the holidays they were given in. Then, after the grandparents have departed, the toys slowly start "disappearing"...

We put them in a special closet that the kids still have access to.

Every once in a while the kids will dive into that closet and rediscover some of the louder flashier toys.

But, mainly, it's just the simple stuff left out on the shelves for every day access.


I love how the toys beg for attention now. We have so many things that after a couple minutes of inactivity will shout out one last desperate "Play with me!"


This infuriates me. My son would move his focus to something else, and would subsequently be distracted by noises and flashing lights.

It reminds me of 'attract mode' used in slot machines and arcades games, though I at least see that there's direct commercial benefit to this.

Stealing my child's attention for no significant gain to them is plain wrong. Perhaps the commercial rationale is that the toy appears to be more popular than it really is, leading to further sales.

Or perhaps the developers just had a few hundred bytes and a timer interrupt to spare.


We nicknamed one of the toys are kids were given, "needy ball" because it did this. Fortunately, our kids generally prefer toys they could play with instead of toys that wanted to play with them.


Those are first on my list for disassembly per the sibling comment.


I have a very good solution: a garbage bin. It sounds harsh but after the second round of this well meaning relatives will either bring better toys or will stop giving stuff, everybody wins. Taking 'wrong' toys to the goodwill just keeps them in play and will essentially make them somebody else's problem.

And good toys (which tend to live a lot longer than crap ones) too can be taken to the goodwill later on and then will make someone else happy.


We do a book exchange. We tell all would be givers that we will not accept gifts but only used/new books. You come to our house and give one of your books to our child and we will give you one back in return. Works for birthday parties too.


Donate them to charity. Explain to the kids it is relative's fault for not also gifting you enough money to afford a mansion for housing ten jillion toys, but there just isn't space for everything.

I also like the suggestion here to take them apart and use it as a learning experience, knowing that they probably won't get put back together in working order.


Yea, we do the whole toy donation thing at least twice a year, and have always done it so it's not weird to our daughter. Bonus is she understands that other kids will get to play with the toys, so she has fun picking out the ones she thinks these unnamed kids will have the most fun with. She now thinks that everything is supposed to be donated when you're done with it, which is kind of a cute and semi-healthy outlook (she told me that after we're done living in our house we should donate it to some other family).


It helps that they genuinely outgrow many of their toys during the early years. I was a military wife. I used routine military moves as a good excuse to cut back on the toys and other aspects of North American Affluenza. "We have a weight limit. We can only move so much. The new place will be smaller. etc"


Isn’t it a bit weird to donate to some other kid a toy that you consider not so good for your own child?


If you give it to Goodwill, they will sell it. You aren't forcing it on another child. Different people have different values.

If that idea offends you, I will say again: I also really like the idea of taking them apart, knowing they are unlikely to get put back together in working order. So if the idea of donating them doesn't work for you, go with that.

Or come up with some other solution. My comment in a forum in no way impels you to do as I said.


I have a few nephews who got showered with gifts every bday/Christmas/etc, to the point where they no longer knew which toys they owned and no longer cared about the new ones they got for more than 5 minutes.

So we (wife and I) had an idea. Instead of gifting them toys, take that money and put it in their savings account (one account per kid). We slowly managed to convince the rest of the immediate family (grandmas resisted a bit) to follow the example and now the kids have a growing savings account (which hopefully they'll appreciate later in life).

With that said, we didn't stop giving them toys altogether, they just get a lot less toys which makes the ones they get that much more special.


We’ve told friends and family that we only want gifts that are: - hand made, - consumable (this includes clothes), - or experiential

This has greatly improved the value (in our mind) of the gifts. We especially like gifts that are enjoyed with the gift giver.


We create wishlists for each of our children (now with their participation). The overhwelming focus is on things that facilitate outdoor fun (sports equipment, hiking/camping gear, etc) or inside creative outlet (arts/crafts supplies, maker stuff, etc). For birthdays, we don't requests gifts, and instead share a donation link to our favorite local charity instead. This link, with a "no gifts" note, is included in party invitations, too.

Just be open with people and they'll usually respond positively (in our experience).


We just hide 90% of them in the basement, and cycle toys out as our kids get bored of the current selection. This will probably stop being a viable strategy once they are old enough :(


Well the godfather of my son offered him and his sister musical instruments for their second birthday.

Believe me, drums and whistles can be noisy too :-D !


My wife gave a drum to her nephew because she was angry at her brother. Petty but effective revenge :)


Send them here[1], lots of great options / they also explain why open ended play is effective for different types of development. I've been using the site for all my new nephew / niece gifts and everyone loves it. [1] https://www.roseandrex.com


We asked grandparents for annual memberships to experiences in our city. For example a membership to the the Children's Museum, Science Museum, and Zoo are awesome and give us something to do throughout the year.


Don't put batteries in them?


I just put them in the closet.


>>> ... the kid will usually play with it less, because they find their options are limited.

If we judged toys purely on how long kids played with them, Christmas would be just a pile of ipads. I don't have kids, but do watch in amazement as young parents buy toys less for the child and more to reinforce their theories of scientific parenting. The kid's brain will develop with or without the "correct" toys. Maybe confinement to such "play areas" is the issue. I don't confine my puppy to pay in a particular zone of approval. Why a child? My play area as a kid was 'the house' or wherever else I found myself.


I gave a two-year-old a wooden bike which came in a box. Through some non-specific English usage he understand the box WAS his gift. It was hell getting the box away from him long enough to unbox the present. Kids are remarkably adaptable and will play with just about anything.


It isn't just that they play with anything. A box is special. When I first gave my puppy a carboard box (6 years ago) she didn't know what to do with it. Then I tore it a little and something clicked. The box, unlike everything else in the human world, was expendable. There is nothing that she could do to the box that would upset anyone. Rip it. Sleep in it. Carry it around. Or forget about it and do something else. Another one will appear eventually. That's freedom. Every other thing either belongs to mom/dad or came from them and so must be used properly. Kids enjoy boxes for exactly the same reasons and in much the same ways as puppies.


When a large Amazon box arrives at our house it's like a mini-Christmas for the kids as they act out the dolls having a camper van or new pirate boat or whatever.

It's sad but after a few days we have to tell them the box is being retired and stored away or recycled (only to be replaced in a few weeks when another large box arrives).


Why can't they keep the box until it is broken?


Seems like a cliche, but it's just a universal truth. Kids love playing with boxes. We've definitely had boxes that have got a lot more mileage than some toys in our house.


TIL having cats might be better parenting practice than I assumed.


Actually having cats is about the best parenting practice you can get. They come to you when they want love, lay in the middle of your paper, harass you when they want feeding, fuck off when they've had enough of you and if you over stimulate them, they scratch and bite you... which they may also use as a form of affection.

Kids are remarkably similar. Give them the love and attention they need. But otherwise, stand back and let them get on with it. It's the time when you stand back and let them get on with it that their imagination is exercised. Showing them how to imagine things doesn't help them as much as you might think. Stop them from killing or horribly injuring themselves.


>> Actually having cats is about the best parenting practice you can get.

Cannot disagree more. I hate seeing people who buy cats or puppies as some sort of parenting bootcamp, only to abandon them when things go south. Don't do this. If you are unsure if your boyfriend would make a good dad, wait until you are sure. Don't get a puppy as a test of your relationship because it is the puppy that will suffer when you break up.


You're projecting.

Not everyone buys pets to test their boyfriend or relationship. Some people actually commit to their pets until the pet lives into old age and dies of natural causes.

You are right, a pet is not just for Christmas.


Just my 2c to agree with sibling posts. For some reason, moving boxes are big on the local Gumtree Freebies, and after my son found out about this, every couple of weeks I get asked to get some boxes for him to play with (which typically gets retired a weekend or two later).

Sure, they take up more space than Lego or Mecards or Beybaldes, but absolutely can't beat them for entertainment value.


Boxes are, for sure, one of the number one play things in our house. Especially if you cut a door, or a few holes in, then they can become caves, houses, rockets, boats, etc!


That is absolutely hilarious. Going off the OP above, I have a puppy and she loves boxes too, more so than anything that a box can contain ;)


Boxes, random pieces of paper and cardboard frames left after punching out board game chits are all very used toys for my daughter.


Why did you take the box away then?


>Why did you take the box away then?

To be fair his mother eventually had to take him away from the box to keep him on his feeding and nap schedule. He cried all the way up the stairs because he wanted to keep playing with the box. But his dad opened the box when the child couldn't see it and eventually all was well when he discovered the bike inside. It wasn't intentional cruelty as much as the crushing disappointment visited on any child that has to do what his parents want.


So true. Imagination requires some disbelief. A talking robot can't be much else but a wooden disk can be anything you want it to be. It is a shame we so completely over stimulate kids and wonder later why they have attention problems.... Oh, look a new crypto currency article!!!!


Is there a copy of the toy category list your wife mentions in the video online anywhere? I would love to read it. Thanks for posting, very helpful!


Yes, here it is:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/8umprxhsidysno5/Play%20Strong%20Ha...

If you are interested in watching future talks that she gives you can signup to her mailing list here:

https://playla.co/parents


You can start by googling "Waldorf toys". The Waldorf educational method is similar to Montessori in that it focus on collaborative exploration (the pot + spoon example above is spot-on).


we have a ton of toys, but they are always organized into containers and cupboards. toddler selects one to play with but can't move on to the next one until they clean up, usually this makes them just play longer with the selection. do you reall have to limit the amount of toys, or just the way you play?


> Additionally if you give a child an electronic toy that lights up and makes a lot of noise and does a specific thing, the kid will usually play with it less, because they find their options are limited. Whereas, if you give a kid a wooden spoon and a pot to play with they can find a 1001 uses for it!

I want to add that I prefer an electronic game like Simon than a general purpose device like a mobile phone. If you play with the real Simon you can be more focused than playing Simon in a mobile device where they can quickly jump to any other app.


The video is unavailable. Is there somewhere else we can see it, or better yet a transcript?


As long as you watch the video at this address it should work... https://playla.co/talk/1 ...it's tied to the referer of playla.co domain.


The video doesn't work for me either. I go to that exact address and it says "because of its privacy settings, this video cannot be played here". I thought I may need to create an account first, but I can't find a place to do that. There is only a login button.


Are there any books or resources that your recommends on the topic?


If you google RIE, there's a lot of good stuff in that community. I think that's where my wife picked up this bit of advice about rotating toys and keeping the available number of toys low.


[dead]


We've asked you many times to stop breaking the guidelines and post civilly and substantively, so we've banned the account.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


This study is a little questionable.

A comment from /r/science:

    > Toddlers were taken to a room they had never been to 
    > before and were given at most 30 minutes to play with
    >  the toys. They switched toys more often when there 
    > were 16 vs. 4 toys and played with more toys overall.
    >  Duration of play will naturally be an inverse of that 
    > - and if the kids wanted to check out all the toys 
    > first before deciding to which one to use, which you 
    > would expect them to do in a new environment, that's 
    > naturally going to skew the statistics. The conclusion 
    > that they were more distracted by other toys in the 16 
    > toy condition is unsurprising since all the toys were 
    > novel. But it would seem rare that toddlers would be 
    > given 16 new toys all at once and it's certainly 
    > possible that if all the toys were familiar, they might 
    > engage for longer and more in-depth types of play with 
    > certain toys regardless of how many were present.
And also apparently the sample size was around 11 participants. Wouldn't jump to the conclusion the headline of this article seems to draw just yet, without further evidence.


Yeah my anecdata backs this up. My kid has a ton of toys, but she only plays with one or two a day, for quite a long time.

But when we go to her cousin's houses, she has to play with every toy for five minutes. Same with when they come to our house.


I’m on mobile so can’t link right now, but there’s actually a plethora of research on this topic in he Montessori world of teaching that all comes to the same conclusion.


Studies with less than 200 participants should just be banned by default by major journals.

Or at the very least people should have to supply their predicted outcomes at the outset to stop the constant p hacking that's been going on.


Isn't this just the pigeonhole problem in reverse? The four toy group kids played with individual toys longer perhaps because there were fewer toys to play with. So... why would we be surprised with this result? Also, how does it lead to the conclusion that this allows "better focus to explore and play more creatively"? I'm not willing to pay the $40 to find out, did anyone do so and can provide the magical answer for why the authors believe their result shows anything about creativity or attention?


Not quite. With 4 toys, kids could still switch toys just as frequently as with 16 toys. They would just be expected to return to a toy after setting it down in ~1/5 as much time under one possible null hypothesis.

No, it's not a big bang result. That is a good thing. For a long time, psychology has had a real problem with studies whose reach exceed their grasp. This study appears to me to be an example of exactly the kind of sober, incrementalist work that we need to see more of in psychology. It takes a big hypothesis ("giving kids a lot of toys is harmful to their attention span in the long run"), picks a smaller sub-hypothesis off of it ("if kids have fewer toys, their individual sessions with each toy will be longer") and then tests just that bit. Like they suggest at the end of the abstract, this result indicates that it would be sensible to proceed to the next iteration.

Call it "lean science" if a buzzword is necessary.


It's still hyperbolic to assume that two data points (4 and 16 toys) extrapolate to a linear correlation though. The results could just as well support a hypothesis that the correlation with toy engagement is a bell curve peaking somewhere between 4 and 16.


There's an infinite number of functions that can go through two points in cartesian space. What's the simplest? Generally, the simpler the function, the more plausible it is.


I didn't expect that to get downvoted, since it's a mathematical fact. The more degrees of freedom you have in your hypothesis space, the greater the average distance of any particular hypothesis from the correct one. Curse of dimensionality, Occam's razor, etc.


I wasn't the one downvoting, but my guess is that it was related to your claim about plausibility. Just because something is simpler or more plausible it doesn't mean it's more likely to be correct. If it were, there would be no reason to be conducting studies like this


In this case, I did indeed mean more plausible in the sense of higher probability of being correct. If I remembered more of my Machine Learning classes I'd be able to quote you the mathematical proof, but it matches the intuition of Occam's Razor -- models with fewer parameters are, in general, better. You're less likely to overfit, etc.

> If it were, there would be no reason to be conducting studies like this

I don't understand why. The simplest model is to believe there's no relationship (zero parameters). The study gives evidence of a relationship (one parameter). The other commenter was suggesting a parabolic relationship (two parameters), an unnecessary complexity.

The best policy is to believe the simplest model that is consistent with the evidence. If a new study observes the behavior at 6 toys and 8 toys that doesn't line up with the previous study, then I might believe a more complex relationship. Or might go back to believing no relationship.


They used a Wilcoxon test, so there really wasn't any assumption of linearity.


From the paper:

> The hypothesis that fewer toys in children’s environments would improve the quality of play, measured by three variables, was supported.

But given they only conducted a paired difference test for 4 toys and 16 toys, they can only conclude that there's a statistically significant difference between 4 and 16 toys. This is very different than saying fewer toys correlate to any result, because when one says "fewer toys correlate to X", it implies that the correlation stands for any two numbers of toys, and that's not what the study looked at.


Sure. But if we're going to go that far down the path of pedantry, why not get to the even deeper problem with that statement, which is that, strictly speaking, your alternative hypothesis is never supported; you can only fail to reject the null hypothesis.


I don't think it's that pedantic a point. IMHO, I agree this study is incremental and thus too preliminary to draw generalizing conclusions on. Even the paper itself acknowledges a number of major aspects that further research should focus on.

But consider that threads here are already drawing parallels to Montessori education, personal anecdotes, etc. People are used to big bang results and will happily draw conclusions that aligns with their world view even if the wording in a paper isn't exactly what a scientific study actually means to say.


> "if kids have fewer toys, their individual sessions with each toy will be longer"

I must be missing something. Isn't this obvious? One hour of play time / 16 toys is less time per toy then one hour of play time / 4 toys.


They're not counting total time spent with each toy. They're counting the length of each instance of playing with a toy.

So if the kid plays with toy A for 1 minute, then toy B for 1 minute, then toy A for 1 minute again, then toy B for 1 minute again, the number of interest for each toy is 1, not 2.


No, that's not obvious.

I would expect if the number of toys didn't have an impact on creativity or attention span, the following:

"Kids switch toys just as often, not matter how many toys they have" And I would expect that because children have limited attention spans - they want to switch after x time.

Yes, the cumulative play time per toy is obvious, but the individual sessions getting longer isn't very obvious.

The result implies, at the very least, that the kids plan out how much to play with each toy based on how many toys there are


Maybe not. They could have switched toys just as frequently with 4 as with 16 toys.

Accumulated time would be the longer, but not each session.

But I’m not going to pay to find out what they actually did.


What requires that they play with all the toys in an hour? A kid with 16 toys can play with each of them for 30 minutes at a time; a kid with 4 toys can play with each of them for 15 minutes at a time. "Length of session" != "total play time divided by number of toys"


Btw all the toys were new to them. So probably they just spend a few minutes with each to try it out. You're quicker if you only have to try 4 and pick one.



My son attends an excellent preschool. Almost every day this year, the room has been set out with activity tables that vary without repeat. Drawing, painting, fossils, construction toys, etc. I cannot imagine the repository they pull from to continuously provide such unique options.

At home, my children have more than enough toys, to the point that when presented with the full set, they loll about listlessly and overwhelmed by choice.

I've tried to follow the preschool's lead and select a few that are out at any one time. I think it helps, and also makes for a quicker clean up.

We have a lot of incidental toys that are essentially rubbish; they get pulled out and scattered around each play time without actually being played with.


I wonder if/when they're going to make the connection between this and ADHD. My suspicion is nothing scientific, just based on anecdotal observation, but I've noticed that infants and toddlers who are surrounded by highly stimulating colours, sounds, and movements seem to be accustomed to having their attention TAKEN by whatever happens to be competing the most for it. As opposed to infants and toddlers playing with plain wooden blocks, who apparently become more accustomed to GIVING attention more intentionally.

I can't help but believe that this has long-term developmental effects.


I think you could equivalently argue that the long-term effect is that the toddler learns to tune out all the noise and focus on one thing.


Absent observation, then sure, one could make that argument. But -- and again, I'm not claiming robust evidence or anything, just anecdotal observation -- I haven't observed this to be the case. I've personally never seen hyperstimulated toddlers get better at self-directing their focus. Entirely the contrary.


Which, surprisingly, is an element of ADHD behavior. Seriously. Apparently a person with ADHD who in conversation is talking about A, if there's a digression will be sure to get back to A to finish their disquisition on the topic.


Actually, having grown up with ADHD and having an ex and 2 daughters with ADHD I can tell you this: We can all hyper-focus on things of interest. But only things that interest us. Attempting to get us to focus on things that are meaningless to us, no matter how meaningful to you or the world at large, no matter how important for our coursework or work, if they don't mean anything to us, we have a much worse time than the average non-ADHD person focusing on it.

I cannot say explicitly that all ADHD people have this trait, but having done a lot of reading and attended a lot of counselling sessions on it to learn to cope with children having it, it appears as though we're not alone in this. It's fairly common for ADHD kids to be able to hyper-focus on topics of interest.

My topic of interest from an extremely young age was figuring out how things work, making them work and making them work better. It's no surprise therefore that I ended up as a programmer.



As kids, we were notorious for wanting all the toys from Argos catalogue then play with the boxes only.

I often fancied the idea of getting dolls. But Lego and papers were my true playmates.

Yeah, kids - shiny outside, scruffy inside.

Though toys from car boot sales were awesome. They were often damaged and you can break and chuck them around without parents getting too mad about it. Shame, these days car boot sales are literally mechanical bits and pieces and chipped crockeries...


I suspect this also applies to language features and API surfaces.


Same things apply to adults.

Less open tabs, less open windows, Less monitors, less projects tend to make one focus better.


I believe this is a behavior trait human beings will carry all along their lives.

I'm not a kid anymore and the more programming languages I try to play with, leads to me the same state of lack of creativity and problem solving.

I could say that about overloading one with books, games and movies as well.


I have this problem with most technologies. I was just getting somewhere with one of my personal projects. Then all of a sudden I decided I needed to try emacs. Now I am in a world of org and ledger and spacemacs. Trying to get everything configured. Of course I will probably get about half way through that and something new and shiny will catch my eye.


Can confirm, I jump from one language to another every couple of months or so without, the ability to concentrate on one. Ah Elm is so cool, but today ReasonML is getting interesting traction and support from Facebook... I should try that. But all of these are for web, doing low level systems programming is interesting, starting to read Rust book next week


This is an obvious exploration/exploitation optimization strategy. The child doesn't have infinite time and has the same distribution for available time in both cases. A larger estimated state space therefore dictates more aggressive exploration, which means faster switching and slower settling. In more intuitive terms, the child is trying to maximize their chance of getting to play with everything, and while they don't know how much time they have, they have no reason to assume it's enough, so they move faster to cover more toys.

Whether you think that this adaptation is a reasonable one, or whether these are useful observations for a child to use to inform their expectations about the world, I'm not sure I can say. But this is the rational strategy under straightforward assumptions about the utility function that our adaptations approximate. Furthermore, I expect that I would observe identical behavior in adults - for example, consider your takings at a buffet as a function of the number of options and your familiarity with them - and in fact that a non-negligible part of HN often exercises this same strategy consciously and rationally.


No! Multi-tasking should start in the crib. How else is your bundle of joy going to get into Harvard?


I can confirm this is 100% true for my children. So much so that when I can control the number of toys available to them (during quiet time in their rooms, for example) I generally go with a small stack of books and one or two toys (typically a Lego or Lincoln log type toy, and a puzzle).

I love when a study affirms something I'm doing...parenting usually feels like educated guessing...


One thing we did with our kids is take the toys that are left laying around and put them in a cardboard box, away from them. After a few weeks, when they run out of toys, we pull one of the cardboard box, and it's like Christmas for them!

Another advantage is that some toys never make it out of the cardboard box, you can donate/recycle them.


My SO's mom did this with her and her brother. They didn't have a lot of money, so it helped in that regard as well. I think we're going to try it with our son too.


On the electronic-vs-non-electronic toy front: I think it'e better to characterize it as "toys that the child plays with" vs "toys that play with the child".

There's a lot more exploration and, frankly, fun in the former.

But let's not forget, the child is not the toy manufacturer's customer: the parent, grandparent, or parent of the birthday-party-invitee is the customer. Toys are designed to appeal to them.


This makes total sense to me, I never had toys growing up. I used to use pens and pencils as action figures (to this day I have a weird habit of having a pen or pencil in my hand when doing mundane tasks at home) and also used to use the plastic ties that would tie store bought bread (red and blue plastic surrounding a thin wire that's pretty malleable) together as toys as well.


AFter decades of success science is backing up what Montessori has been doing. I had 2 kids thru Montessory pre-school and gave them a big step up when entering first year - and no i did not do any other math learning with them outside of class. They both got assessed at being 2yrs ahead of standard on math. if you have kids i cannot recommend Montessori enough.


My 2 year old wanted just one Christmas present. I think that if I had not been a "dumb American" and if I had played with her and the toy instead of urging her to open another present, she would have been happy with one toy for Christmas for years. Deeply satisfied, and blessed full.


I have a friend who does "12 days of Christmas." The idea being, why not have something fun for almost two weeks, instead of just one massive dump of gifts on the 25th.

Each to his own.


I'm a little suspicious they created a situation with a lack of emotional attachment to the toys, because of a short duration. Many kids seem to glob onto one or two toys as their favorite, prompting complaints from parents that they don't play with the new toy they got them.

A lot of kids seem to end up with an extremely dirty and damaged doll that they loved to death.


I wonder if the newness of the situation matters. At Christmas, my daughter will open and play with all her gifts. Two months later, she'll play with some toys more than others. I wonder if kids have a desire to try all the available options when they haven't had a chance to experience them previously.

EDIT: or without regular availability.


This works for engineers too.


but can a child ever have enough legos?


The scientists would probably consider those lego blocks a single toy :)


I noticed this about a year ago watching my youngest play and tried to stop getting out so much at once. Didn't figure it out in time for my oldest though :)


Lego ftw! Anecdotaly, Legos were the only toy that managed to hold my attention because theres sn infinite number of things i could do with them.


Trying to build what I wanted with the limited Lego parts I had always forced me to be more creative.


Boredom is one of the drivers of creative thought. I guess no surprises here.


excellente la accion


me encanta la pagina


I'm pretty sure this applies to websites as well!


Just in time for Christmas! :)


Not only toddlers


As much as the obvious reflex is to think that "oh we should move BACK to a more austere, toy-less environment." It is important to remember, that children that grow up in nature are surrounded by thousands of "toys". I remember camping by creaks as a child, and finding there far more "toys" than in my play box. Rocks, sticks, bushes, leaves, mud, bugs, animals. Somehow, I still managed to focus for hours trying to damn the creak. So I don't really believe that more toys = shorter attention span. It must be something about the nature of these artificially created toys that makes them less engaging.


If your childhood was anything like mine, you were probably trying to dam the creek - no 'n'. Not that I'm judging you or there's anything wrong with a young and free imagination that seeks to condemn the naiads to eternal suffering.


Oops. I was trying to dam it, not damn it.


If you leave a stick alone for 30s it doesn't flash and play a tune to try [desperately?] to get you to play with it.

I'd guess the issue is that the toys are designed to so that they will get picked up in a toy store. They have to get off the shelf and to the checkout, they don't have to entertain one jot beyond that ...


Maybe at least partly because you had to engage your imagination a bit to make that stick into a gun, or whatever? Toy guns are obviously guns; point 'em and say "Pew! Pew!" — if they don't already make the noise for you, too...

Sticks, there's a visualization step or two somewhere in there, too. I'm not specifically aware of any research directly investigating the relationship between the degree or intensity of imaginative play and focus, but I wouldn't be at all surprised — read: fully expect — to find them strongly positively correlated.


Hahaha when I was a kid, we went a few times on holiday to Richmond in Yorkshire. We'd spend hours by the river which was my Mum's favourite place. I'd consequently spend hours trying to dam the entire river with rocks. An. Entire. River. It never occurred to me that I couldn't do this... My Mum would just let me get on with it, she thought that was the best game ever. She'd spend the entire time pointing out rocks she thought would be suitable and me carting rocks back and forth. HOURS!

It's only now that I'm a parent that I realize what a genius parenting strategy this is. I wear myself out trying to complete a fruitless labour in the hope of achieving impossible success. No 8 year old on the face of the planet is ever going to damn a river of that size with a pile of rocks. FOR HOURS I WOULD DO THIS!

What all kids need are an endless pile of rocks and a river. Best. Toy. Ever.


Then any child growing up in a home is also surrounded by 1000s of "toys then. The pillow, blanket, shoes, dog, chair, tv remote, keys, mouse, tissues, tissue box, etc....


Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Things at home are the same every day. They may be fun for first 5 minutes but then, well, they are not. Outside - city streets, playground, park, forest, you name it - there are unlimited amount of "toys". Everyday new, everyday exciting. You may go to the same place but people are different, animals are different, rocks are different, sticks thrown into stream are flowing differently every time. My kid is bored at home, even though we have way more toys than we planned to, and she's craving for full day walks. She's bringing me her shoes in the morning and points at the door. She's explorer and there are plenty of opportunities out there.


At some point I wondered if there was going to be a joke about this being a dog.


The fact that you have to quote “toys” is very telling. Sticks and stones aren’t designed by teams of people whose very goal is to draw a children’s attention.


Isn't this just tautological nonsense? This applies to everything. If you have 1 friend rather than 5, you can focus and be more creative with that 1 friend than 5. If you have 1 sibling rather than 5, the same thing. If you have 1 book rather than 5, you can focus and read that one book.

Maybe we should have less schools and less "research" because so much of it seems like useless busy body work to justify academics' salaries.

And of course, such topics like these are great because it latches onto the simple-minded people's anecdotes as the comments here reflect.


i.e. Montessori was right all along.


Partial Source about Montesorri philosophy on toys: http://www.mariamontessori.com/2010/08/29/toys-for-children-...


Came here to say this! My wife and I started a Montessori school together, and this is fundamental.

ALSO, don't overly guide the child on 'how' to interact with a toy or object. Let them figure it out and they'll come up with uses you didn't think of.


Why are they so damned expensive?


Why are all the other preschool options so cheap? Even Montessori-trained preschool teachers are barely paid enough to scrape by, and it's not like the schools are taking in enough cash to pay them more.


Tuition at the Montessori school by me is $15,000 per child, per year. That's crazy. Most families around here could never dream of affording that.


Note that $15k isn't tremendously more than public school costs:

> Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2013–14 amounted to $634 billion, or $12,509 per public school student enrolled in the fall (in constant 2015–16 dollars).

https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66


That's relatively high, but local conditions vary.

Note that many Montessori schools offer access to financial help. The key benefits are said to be derived between the ages of 3 and 6. My daughters both started at age 2, still going, I wish I had had that kind of education.


Where does all that money go...


Say it's $15k per child per year, and we're talking about a preschool. That means state mandated teacher ratios, depending on the state. Let's say it's 1:10, and that's on the low side. Suppose you have two classrooms of 20 children each. That means you take in 300k in tuition and you have to pay four teachers plus at least one administrator. Knock off 100k for rent, overhead, insurance, certifications, capital expenses. That leaves you with 40k for each teacher's total compensation. How far does that go where you live? Realistically, most preschools charge even less and pay their teachers accordingly.


$15,000 per child per year * 2 classrooms * 2 children per class room = $600,000 per year, not $300k.

Knocking off 100k for <foo> leaves 500k between the 5 staff, which is 100k each.


So, more likely, 40k for the 5 teachers, and the remaining 300k going to manager(s).


Good point -- mental math failure on my part.


$15k * 40 is 600k which with your math means $100k per teacher


You are correct about the multiplication, I forgot to multiply by two classrooms, but let's keep my other assumptions. Start with $600k. Subtract $100k for insurance, rent, and overhead. (And I think $100k is a low estimate here.) Now you have $500k and 5 employees. That's still $100k in total compensation per employee. It's not dire poverty like my $40k estimate before, but keep in mind that that's still a good deal more than their gross pay, which will come in more like $60-80k once benefits are accounted for. In the kind of area that can support a $15k/student/year Montessori school, that kind of pay is basically decent, but it's not like they're laughing all the way to the bank.


Supply and demand? also, cost of materials. Montessori-trained guides devote years to training, want to make a decent living, and the excellent ones are in short supply.


What's the difference between a Montessori school vs. a regular elementary school?


To give a more detailed answer, as someone who attended a Montessori school from preschool through 8th grade that was embedded in a public school and had class sizes of about ~30, the biggest differences from my student perspective compared to the traditional high school I attended afterwards:

1. Individual autonomy of the student in time management. To give an example, in 1st through 5th grade I wrote up a new contract at the beginning of the week with my teacher with a list of goals to accomplish by the end of the week, and then maybe half the day was pre-scheduled lessons from the teacher (some whole-class, some mini group, some individual), and then you could choose when you'd work on each lesson/goal at any given time. If you didn't want to do your math lesson until 3pm you didn't have to. You could do reading first then math later. Or vice versa. So in a sense you're learning time management and planning at a much earlier age and you're given freedom to make mistakes there, learn the perils of procrastination (or fail to learn them and develop bad habits from an early age which I saw to be quite common among my peers), and you feel like you're in less of a prison (after having autonomy up until 9th grade when I left Montessori you have no idea how much highschool felt like prison).

In middle school (6th through 8th) they took that a step further, and you might be given a list of objectives that needed to be done in a number of weeks or even in a quarter, and it was up to you to spend the 8 hours a day effectively to accomplish them by the end. It was therefore quite common for students to slack and just chat with each other for large portions of time only to crunch at the end. You could theoretically have hardly any homework if you just worked all day at school or you could slack for weeks on weeks then work all night very night and weekends for a few weeks at the end.

2. Student autonomy of location and freedom of movement. You were not forced to sit at a desk all day, you could move around the large daycare-like classroom, sit on the floor with students over there, or work at a table over here, or use an abacus over there. In elementary there was an emphasis on hands on learning. Learning the letters by having the teacher guide you to trace them in sand. Learning multiplication and division using physical beads and blocks to give you an understanding of multiplication with a geometric, spatial analogy. So you might hae a lesson scheduled to play 'the banker's game' where the teacher would take you over to some blocks and have you add, subtract, multiply, or do division using beads (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysIvxeErRp0)

There was less of that physical grounding in later elementary and practically none in middle school but you were free to move around and be wherever you wanted to be in the classroom, with whichever students you wanted to be with, or be alone. And to a certain extent you were allowed to waste time or socialize as well.

3. At times, freedom to determine the medium through which you would present or demonstrate your knowledge, and freedom to choose topics or subjects to study to a greater extent and at a much earlier age than is common in normal school. Montessori seems to place more emphasis on student-curiosity as the mechanism for choosing project subjects, medium of presentation (it's quite common for you to be able to choose to "learn" and then present some social studies subject through an essay, or a powerpoint, or a poster board, or a speech, or maybe even through a play.

4. Emphasis on student government and Socractic processes. My middle school program had us collectively run a community meeting for the class for about 20-60 minutes each day, the moderation/facilitation of the meeting rotated each week to a new group of 3-5 students, you had a portion of the meeting for acknowledgements (acknowledging someone else's accomplishment in the class), problem solving (raising issues or problems affecting the class community), which led into proposals (suggesting a proposal of a rule change, an action to be taken, etc. to solve the "problem" - example - purchase lockboxes with student funds to store scissors since people kept stealing/losing them -, then argument and debate, then proposal of any amendments or tabling the discussion, then a voting section to vote for, against, or abstain for those proposals. It was kind of a parliamentary system which was a little more complicated than that but that's the basic idea. And we had a lot of Socratic discussions as well, usually at the end of a meeting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_questioning). Of and we had to write a class constitution via a constitutional convention and then our meetings followed that constitution.

5. Overall experimental learning methods. An example would be that in our 7th-8th combined classroom, all of the freedom meant that one quarter our class was being extremely lazy and not doing work so we were missing deadlines. The teachers decided to take the students who had missed deadlines and named them the 'structured' group and put them in one room where speaking was no longer allowed without raising your hand. And the students who didn't have any missed deadlines were allowed to be in the other room and still chit chat, freely speak with each other, and be mostly autonomous. Once you got caught up again and didn't have any past due projects, you could leave the 'structured' no talking room and rejoin the rest of the class. This motivated a lot of students who'd been slacking to get caught up. Of course, there were some who were stuck in the quiet room for weeks.

The funniest part is that as barbaric and prison-like that 'silent' room seemed at the time to us, it turned out that normal highschool turned out to be almost exactly like that 'torture' room. Go figure.

6. Last, inequality of educational outcome. Many, many of my peers were exemplary students and the freedom allowed them to pursue their passions, become excellent students who were well beyond the normal curriculum in a specific subject that they were passionate about, and were excellent writers, speakers, collaborators, and had great time management skills. But other students took the freedom to chit chat and not work, hippy grading system, and other freedoms and just didn't do anything or wasted time. Many students in particular at my school district got a very poor grounding in math. So your mileage my vary.


This is a fascinating insight, and one I have not come across before. Thank you!

I'm curious - what are your feelings on the strategy of spending so many years in the private school then switching to public for high school? I gather that it was a pretty big jump so far as personal freedoms - do you feel as though you were able to get more out of high school than those around you, or did you feel unnecessarily restrained?


Actually to be pedantic the Montessori school I attended was an opt-in program at a public school. For reference, a suburban middle class midwestern USA school district. At the elementary level, about half the school was Montessori and half was traditional. And at the middle school level, there were less than 100 students in the Montessori program out of a school of somewhere in the range of 1000-2000 (don't remember).

Just wanted to throw that out as aspirational. There's truly nothing about a Montessori classroom that need be more expensive except for the training, the high cost of which is just a function of the lack of economies of scale.

I don't know that I would say that I got more out of high school than those around me. I would say educational culture is the most important factor - in the sense of being in a classroom with students who respect their teachers and with parents at home who pay attention to they child's performance and behavior. And I was lucky enough to attend both Montessori and traditional schools at a middle to upper middle class school so we were able to take those things for granted.

I would say that I had a much broader exposure to thinking outside of the box, of being self-led, and of taking initiative than most of the other students. But I also had more of an independent streak, a desire to be free, and a questioning of authority.

I was a model student in high school for other personality and I-feel-need-to-prove-myself reasons that are separate from Montessori vs. traditional debate. So I can't judge how my prior education influenced my performance in high school.

But I can say without a doubt that I felt like a dog locked in a cage.

The biggest side effect perhaps of moving from a Montessori program to a traditional one was that I became an incredibly active participant in class just to ease the boredom. If you go from a program where you're free to spend half the day on whatever you want, speak to your friends, and be wherever you want to a program where you're locked to a seat the entire day and can't freely have conversations, you have to find other ways to get interaction and to be able to speak. So I just constantly wanted to answer questions or ask questions in class just cause sitting there doing literally nothing was unbearable.

We should be asking ourselves what we're training our students to do when we have them sit and listen to an authority figure speak in a one sided conversation all day everyday. There's no two way conversation being had at schools. We're teaching our kids to sit down, shut up, and listen to what I think is right. Not to engage with the world.


Thanks for the incredible description. I only went to a Montessori school for preschool, however I was lucky enough that I was in a Steiner school up to year 9. While both alternative curriculums they seem very different.


Quite a bit. The top section of wikipedia outlines it pretty well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori_education


How does one start a Montessori school? Would love to read about your experience :)


The fact that I don't remember my mom ever buying us toys (dad was absent) I can say that it does make you creative.

I remember getting a few broken GI Joe from my cousin, with those, I used a screwdriver to pick up the good parts of them, and make good toys with weird arms and legs. These were supposed to be garbage but as usually having less stuff makes you more creative and I ended up with a few toys that nobody else had!




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