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Toys: Quality vs Quantity

In “How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way“, Tim Seldin wrote that it was better to have a few high quality wooden toys rather than lots of cheap plastic toys so that children will learn to appreciate beauty and they will learn to look after their belongings. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but after having a child like Hercules, I am beginning to see where he is coming from.

In the age that we live in, there are cheap plastic toys abound and the message they send to children is not a good one. For instance, a McDonald’s Happy Meal comes with a free toy – one of those cheap plastic toys that you don’t really value. They are great for distracting the kids for a little while and if it gets lost or broken, nobody cares because you can always get another one with another Happy Meal. Imagine the kind of message that gives our children – don’t worry if you break or lose your toys because you can always get another one.

Tim Seldin talked about the increasing popularity of plastic toys because they are harder to break and they are cheaper to replace compared to wooden toys. However, a wooden toy that will get damaged conveys a stronger message to a child learning to value and appreciate his toys – e.g. “You threw your toy and it broke.” Perhaps it can be mended, perhaps not. Regardless, the mark will remain and the child will remember. As parents, we would also react more strongly to the damage when we know that the toy was costly. This difference in behaviour speaks volumes to a child about our expectations.

Of course, children will be children and there will inevitably be broken toys and lost belongings. Even the most careful child will slip up. Individual differences will mean that for some children there will be more loss (children like Hercules) and for others, less (children like Aristotle). However, if we are going to teach our children to value their belongings, we have to let them feel the pain and loss of breaking or losing their toys. They will feel the pain more readily if they don’t have so many toys that the loss becomes meaningless. They will also react more appropriately if Mum and Dad react appropriately when a toy is lost or broken (monkey see, monkey do).

From this respect, it makes sense to avoid the cheap plastic toys and to go for quality rather than quantity. What do you think?

Up until now I’ve been struggling to deal with Hercules’ lack of value for personal belongings – books, toys, Daddy’s remote control, etc. No matter how many times we talk about playing nicely with toys and being gentle with books, it feels as if I might as well be talking to a brick wall. It’s been a frustrating journey and I sometimes wish he could be a little more like Aristotle in this respect.

When I reflect back on how differently I handled both boys, I realise that I have allowed Hercules to have “sacrificial” books that he can destroy. Aristotle would never have been afforded such luxury because all the books I bought for him were “beautiful” books and when he was rough with them, I came down hard. Of course, with a child like Aristotle, it wasn’t really necessary to repeat the lesson over and over because he just “gets it” very quickly.

For instance, Aristotle was very little (still crawling), he slipped on a mat, fell down and hit his chin on the floor. After that one incident, it never happened again. The next time he came across another mat, he would fling it aside and continue crawling. Hercules, on the other hand, will climb onto a stool, fall off, bump his head, cry a little and then climb back onto the same stool and repeat again. Even if he fell off 5 or 6 times, he would still get back onto the stool and repeat it all over again.

But I digress… When it came to toys, I made sure that Hercules only got to play with toys that were either “indestructible” or cheap, free toys that didn’t matter to us. Of course, when he did play with the “nice” toys, I’d be getting hoarse telling him to “play nice” which must be confusing – “Mummy didn’t mind when I throw my toys before, why is she complaining now?”

So now that the damage has been done, how do we go back to undo it?

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

4 thoughts on “Toys: Quality vs Quantity

  1. Hi Shen,

    Great and timely article! Yeah, it is the throw away culture we have, all around the world in developed countries. Things are so cheap now they are not made to last (appliances too!), less likely to be cherished, and are just thrown away after one or two uses.

    Actually I find the cheap plastic toys break a lot easier than wooden toys, as do cheap stuffed toys unravelling than good quality woolen stuffed toys. The kids do receive some of these and we let them play till they break and throw them away, explaining the difference once more and hoping they do appreciate their own toys.

    We have finally purged the house of cheap plastic toys and in the process of getting rid of their cheap stuffed toys. I do find that the kids cherish their toys a lot more now that we’ve thrown or given away any cheap plastic toys given or previously bought or inherited, probably because now there are so few of them and they know each toy well.

    We are down to one box of art materials, one box of wooden toys, one box of Legos, 2 boxes of stuffed animals, and one box of Safari Ltd figurines. They play with them every day and have to keep them back into their respective boxes or they get thrown away or given away. Plus now there is more space in the home! 😀

    So, in my humble opinion, definitely quality toys over cheap plastic toys.



    1. Hi Chris – yes, there are a lot of cheap plastic toys that break apart very easily, but there are some that are quite indestructible, too. Good job culling the toys. I have been culling since we moved into our new place, too. Can’t say I have been as successful as you, though. Hubby says I’m a hoarder. That might be part of the reason why I have so much trouble…


  2. I didn’t start with cheap plastic toys because of paranoia over harmful chemicals, breaking parts, etc. And we never ate Happy Meals! (Though I ate it every week as a child and the collection of toys was my treasure, ha!) Every toy was carefully chosen, usually I preferred wood because it’s really beautiful. And I clean them quite regularly for hygiene reason. And yes, I come down hard when Vee mishandles them. Perhaps that’s why he’s rather respectful of the new Montessori materials now. (Cost me a bomb!)

    For toys, the method that works now for us: if Vee starts being rough to the item, e,g, step on puzzles, I say, “Well, it looks like you don’t like the puzzle anymore. I’d let it rest in the cupboard / storeroom.” After a few times of letting toys “rest”, he got the message.

    For Montessori materials, I follow Karen’s method of saying that the material is VERY precious. And when I handle each item, I do so as if each is a piece of gem. This works! Indeed, monkey see monkey do.


    1. MieVee – Yes, I wish I’d done that. It seems a lot harder to un-do this bad habit in Hercules because I feel like a broken record repeating myself over and over only to find him throwing the toy again moments later. It’s hard to control my temper as well when he seems to blatantly ignore what I say. I put away the offending toys and he’ll do it to the other toys. Eventually, he has nothing to play with and he starts on other things, like Daddy’s books (which he’ll pull off the bookshelf). There’s no end to things he can take and be rough with so confiscating doesn’t seem to work for us. He just finds something else.

      Oh yes, don’t get me started on the Happy Meals… Junk food was something I never wanted to start with the kids, but when you live in the same house as the paternal grandparents…


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