For three months, all the toys in a kindergarten classroom are stored or taken away. Children ages 3 to 6 will be left only with furniture -- including pillows and blankets -- and their imagination to make up games and play on their own. It is called the Toy-free Kindergarten Project, and it’s happening in many preschools in Germany as well as Switzerland and Austria.
The idea of the Toy-free Kindergarten Project is to remove any object, in this case, toys, that kids use to cope and distract themselves from negative emotions. Kids will have to deal with their frustration and boredom on their own.
Fortunately, the kids cope well enough, Elisabeth Seifert, from Aktion Jugendschutz, a non-profit organization that promotes the project, told The Atlantic, who recently published a feature on the subject. “They do a lot of role-playing…They collect stones and sticks and make their own toys. The children are playing. They are just playing differently.”
The parents are told of the program beforehand, and teachers are always present, observing the kids nearby. “The kindergarten teachers commit themselves to observing the children actively and to be present as partners. However, they do not make any offers, do not provide any rash solutions and do not place any substitute materials at the children's disposal,” read a guide to the Toy-free Projec found on the Aktion Jugendschutz website.
It may seem a bit extreme, but there is a purpose: to develop the children’s psychosocial skills, with the ultimate goal of strengthening them against addictive behaviors in the future, according to The Atlantic, who recently published a feature on the subject.
“Without any toys, children have the time to develop their own ideas,” Seifert says. “In toy-free time, they don’t play with finished toys. They develop their own games. They play more together, so they can better develop psychosocial competencies.”
The project, at its core, believes that the key to curbing drug addiction is not through scare tactics. If you want to get the message across about a drug's damaging effects, kids need to be taught the skills to say no in their early childhood.
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So what are the life skills they need to do that? The project hopes to help a child develop empathy for others, creative and critical thinking, problem-solving skills, the ability to overcome mistakes, and an understanding of himself, expounded Seifert.
Whether or not restricting toys from children for a few months does prevent drug addiction, maybe the true treasure lies in the skills the kids get out of going toy-free. Though not many large research have studied the project, one conducted by psycholinguist Anna Winner 1997, published in the journal Prävention, did find positive effects.
Her findings showed that being toy-free for three months enhanced a child's capability to form relationships. It also boosted a child’s self-confidence, communication skills, creativity and critical thinking, tolerance for frustrations and the capacity for play.
Convinced? Several months of no toys may be too much of a leap for many. So how about starting with a screen-free and toy-free day of play outdoors?
“Playing is more and more influenced by finished products,” said the guide. “It might be important to provide enough space for children to make it possible to promote life-skills.”