The research is in, simple toys are simply the best!

I love it when research catches up with RIE.

I’m already seeing evidence of mainstream culture starting to catch up (see: Mr. Chazz, Mona Delahooke, Raising Good Humans, the evolving work of Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, and honestly a surprising number of parenting reels (Insta/TikTok/FB)): basically, the mainstream world seems to be starting to wake up to the interior worlds of children…taking a step back from behaviorism and realizing that child (human!) behavior is merely a symptom of what’s going on inside of children. I really think we are on the cusp of a whole new understanding of child development (well, not new to RIE parents, but new to the rest of the world, one can hope!).

But what got me thinking about this today was a recent article about toys (hat tip to the Childcare Exchange for sharing the article!). I loved this quotation from the piece: “One of the ironies of many so-called educational toys is that they don’t leave much for children to do or figure out on their own. You spin the arrow, pull the cord, and a pig oinks, end of story.” The researcher goes on to say that she thinks the best toys are 90% child/10% toy…and that’s just a different way of saying what Magda always said…passive toys make active babies.

A longitudinal study (mmm, research!) by the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University found that “simple, open-ended, non-realistic toys with multiple parts, like a random assortment of Lego, inspire the highest-quality play. While engaged with such toys, children are ‘more likely to be creative, engage in problem solving, interact with their peers, and use language,’ … Electronic toys, however, tend to limit kids’ play: ‘A simple wooden cash register in [their] study inspired children to engage in lots of conversations related to buying and selling – but a plastic cash register that produced sounds when buttons were pushed mostly inspired children to just push the buttons repeatedly.’”

Yes, exactly: simple toys = active children…busy toys = passive children!

I remember, over 8 years ago, my (then) 3.5-year-old niece was coming to visit me and I was feeling so anxious because I didn’t have any special toys for her. All I had were my regular old RIE toys and objects…surely, she needed something more…she wasn’t a toddler. Nope…she played for hours with my open-ended objects.

Here’s a picture of my stash from back them…oh my how it has grown since (see the cover picture!)…

I mentioned behaviorism at the start of this piece…(behaviorism is the theory that human behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings)…and I actually think that’s part of what drives the idea and appeal of ‘educational’ toys. As we learned, over the last couple of decades, about children’s brains and how much they learn in the first couple of years, of how quickly their brains are growing and how much they are shaped by experiences and interactions…BOOM…the idea quickly became ‘let’s get as much knowledge and information into these spongy brains as possible!!’ Cue the advent of Baby Einstein (which has been debunked thoroughly) and the avalanche of ‘educational’ toys that promise to sneak in the learning for your child during play. But that’s what MARKETERS are telling you, not developmental scientists!!

The drive for exciting (to us) and ‘educational’ toys also comes from the drive to give children as much as possible…but the good news is, their needs are pretty simple: Children learn through all of their senses, through direct exploration and investigation with ample time and space to do that exploration and investigation. And, as explored last week, when we sit back and watch, we get a window into their inner, complex and unique, worlds.

So tell me…what’s your child’s favorite simple toy?

What’s yours?

With care,


PS, Did you know that sticks and cardboard boxes are in the National Toy Hall of Fame?

PPS…Did you know that I have a RIE Toy Starter Kit…a little trove of simple toys!

PPPS…my favorite simple toy is a deck of cards…I can play solitaire, I can play with friends, I can build with them, I can organize them, I can stack them, scatter them, sort them, toss them into a hat. Yeah. I’m going with deck of cards.