The Boy With No Toys

why toys are bad for kids, overstimulated kids,

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Before he was born, his mother decided her son would have no toys. Abandoned by the father, she was already a single parent. She made a living cleaning for other people. Most days she took the bus to affluent streets where children never seemed to play outside. As she vacuumed and scrubbed beautiful homes overfilled with possessions she paid close attention to what children did all day. Often they were gone at lessons, after school programs, or playdates. When they were home they usually sat staring at screens. Toys in their carefully decorated rooms appeared to be tossed around as if the small owners had no idea how to play, only how to root restlessly for entertainment.

She thought about it, talked to the oldest people she knew, and read everything she could. Then she informed anyone who cared to listen that her child would not have toys. Not a single purchased plaything.

Will (name changed) and his mother live in a small mobile home park. By most standards they are poor. Their income is well below the poverty line. They don’t have a TV or computer (although Will uses the computer at the library and watches the occasional TV program at babysitters’ homes). But their lives are rich in what matters. Together Will and his mom grow food on several shares of a community garden, bartering when they have extra produce. They make all their meals from scratch. These routines activate a whole array of learning opportunities for Will, quite naturally.

They are close to most of their neighbors in proximity as well as in friendliness. While his mother is working Will is cared for by several different seniors in their trailer park. He not only likes to help his mother garden, cook, and take care of their small home but he also likes to take part in helping his neighbors with small tasks. He carries groceries for certain ladies, helps an older gentleman with a birdhouse building hobby, and sometimes gets to assist another neighbor in automotive repairs.  He gets a lot out of these meaningful tasks.  Children long to take on real responsibility and make useful contributions. Giving them these opportunities promotes their development in important ways.

Sounds nice. But what about play?

natural play best for kids, free play, no toys,

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When Will was a baby his mother made all sorts of toys. Most took no time at all. Food containers became stacking toys, a small water bottle with beans inside became a rattle, a sock stuffed with drier fuzz and tied in knots became a soft animal.

Will is now six years old. He plays as any child naturally does. He makes up games and turns all sorts of objects into toys. His mother saves money by not owning a car, so Will has commandeered a large portion of the shed that would normally be used as a garage. Mostly he uses it to stockpile his own resources. He has scrap wood, a few tools, and cans of nails. He likes to straighten bent nails for future projects, working carefully now that he recently discovered what smacking his fingers with a hammer feels like. Recently he found a discarded lawn mower tire, so he’s looking for three more tires to make a go-cart. In the evenings he likes to draw elaborate pictures of this upcoming project. He particularly enjoys playing in the soft dirt along the side of the shed where “robot men” he makes out of kitchen utensils use their potato peeler and wisk limbs to churn through the soil, leaving tracks as they clink. When he visits friends he happily plays with their toys, although he doesn’t always “get” that certain TV or movie-themed toys are limited to the plot-related storylines. So far he seems to have no urge to possess the same toys.

What about birthdays and holidays? Will’s mother does give him gifts. But she limits her gifts to useful items—crayons, clothes, tools, a compass. Each weekend her folk band practices at their mobile home. Will quickly mastered the harmonica and begged for time on the fiddle, so her big gift to him this year was a used child-sized fiddle. She urges the other adults in his life to gift him with experiences—a trip to the beach, a day of horseback riding, a visit to a museum. Out-of-town relatives now renew a children’s magazine subscription and send him regular snail mail letters, both of which are helping him learn to read with very little prompting.

natural child development,

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Will’s childhood has a lot in common with the way children have learned and grown throughout history. As historian Howard Chudacoff notes in Children at Play: An American History, play is vital to development. It’s has everything to do with autonomy, exploration, imagination, and fun. It has very little to do with purchased playthings. In fact, structured programs and commercial toys actually tend to co-opt play.

Studies with rodents show those raised in enriched environments (toys and changing items in cage) have enhanced brain development compared to rats raised in a standard environment (plain cage, unchanging). We’ve misinterpreted these results. Rats don’t naturally live in boring, unchanging cages. They live in nature, which is by definition a challenging often constantly changing environment. In nature rats have far more complex lives than they ever might in a cage. Such an interesting life IS an enriched environment. It’s the same for children.

Sure there are devices that will “read” to a child. These are not more enriching than being read to by a responsive adult. And there are all sorts of adult-designed games. They’re not more fun or enticing than games kids make up on their own or with friends.

In fact, the overstimulation of blinking, beeping, passive entertainment isn’t beneficial for children. Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote in Evolution’s End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence that the overload of television, electronics, and too many toys dooms children to limited sensory awareness. Their brains and nervous systems accommodate intense bursts of sound, light, and color during their earliest years. Rather than developing the subtle awareness fostered by time spent in nature, in conversation, and in play they instead are wired to expect overstimulation. Without they’re bored.

And yet, so many people are amused when tiny children are clearly pushed to the limits by a toy too overwhelming for them

The children Will’s mother cleans for, who are kept busy in adult-run programs and spend their spare time with electronic distractions, don’t have Will’s advantages. As he plays and innovates he’s actually promoting the kind of learning that translates to a lifetime of passionate interests. Studies show that children who are free to explore their interests without adult pressure and interference  are more autonomous, eagerly pursuing excellence through healthy engagement rather than heavy-handed adult pressure.

Ask the oldest person you know to share some memories about play from his or her childhood. Chances are you’ll hear about pick-up games, handmade toys, and free time that spun long summer days into marvels of imagination. That’s what Will’s mother wants for her child.

play develops intelligence, benefits of free play, deprive your kids of toys, handmade toys,

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Published in Natural Life Magazine Nov/Dec 2011

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. ( She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" ( She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
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69 Responses to The Boy With No Toys

  1. Jon Lorensen says:

    Good for you. I was raised in the country. Only toy was a few tonka trucks and lots of tools. I learned to watch the animals, build houses, fix cars , hunt for food, live off the land, and had a great time doing it. Toys were old tires, rope,string and alot of bandaids. Hmmm thought I could fly once with just a sheet. resulted in a broken arm and lots of scraches . But 60 years later I can fix everything from the crack of dawn to a broken heart.


  2. I love this! While my daughter has a lot of toys she rarely plays with, I’ve encouraged her to make up her own games and play outside like I did as a child. She will have friends over to play and they all ignore the expensive toys from relatives and go out to play in the dirt. They dig huge holes and get very dirty and come in hungry and happy. She’s far more creative and inspired than a lot of children her age. I also wanted to note: my daughter was always absolutely terrified of those ball machines. We had to hide ours at grandma’s house.


  3. Pingback: The Boy With No Toys | lynette {radio}

  4. ann krier says:

    the best toys that I ever gave my children were rocks and a lake to throw them in. Cost $0.00. Joy -priceless.


  5. Lisa D says:

    I so loved your post. It reminded me of the time I spent with my grandpa making kites and “soldier hats” out of newspaper. Those were the best times of my life! I have two son’s who are all grown up now, and I tried to raise them on blocks,pots and pans, playdoh, crayons, outdoor play and lots of books. Those were the fun times they remember now. The plastic “playskool” toys are but a faint memory. Hoping your post can reach the tons of young moms & dads that I observe who seem to be going overboard with “corporate toys” rather than time spent in simple pleasures. Best to you!


  6. Coincidentally I just wrote a post on my blog today, a quick one about my Childhood memories, and its funny because not one of them included a toy, they were all about make believe. Although the one game we played was dukes of hazards on our bikes, out running Boss Hog and Rosco and crossing the county line so he couldn’t get us. I suppose without TV we would not have known that scenario. We grew up in the country and played outside a lot, I hope I can provide that same imaginative environment for my children without having to expose them to too much material things. I admit however, that they do know how to use our iPhones and iPads and we do download children’s games for them.


    • Laura Weldon says:

      The choice to raise a child without storebought toys is perhaps necessary due to this woman’s financial situation, but also a part of a strongly held philosophy. It intrigues me in many ways. Like simple living, it’s easiest for children when they grow up with other kids whose parents have made similar choices. For me it’s about balance. When our kids were small they didn’t watch commercial tv and never had video games, but certainly had toys. Your choice to let your children play online games is another choice about balance.


  7. jesi says:

    Most toys these days are toxic anyway!


  8. Erin says:

    We live in the country on a large ranch with sheep, goats, chickens, a cow, cats and dogs. My daughter (now 19 months) rarely plays with toys. She bangs on the door to go outside and look at and talk to the animals. She has very good interpersonal skills, play skills and social skills. I contribute most of that to her lovely personality but also to the fact that she has been interacted with constantly by people and rarely a television. And what movies she does watch are educational and fun. No Sponge Bob or fast moving shows, but occasionally Sesame Street and she loves the songs on Barney. She likes Jazz (yes she has a preference for sons without lyrics so that she can sing her own) and to play with drums and watch other people play music. If she had been constantly inundated with TV, flashing games, and moving toys she would not have the level of sensitivity that the expresses now. Our simple life has been very fulfilling when it comes to raising children. We have more time to spend with her and her soon to arrive sibling.


    • A 19 month-old who loves to make up her own lyrics as she listens to jazz. Love it!


    • Determining which movies “are educational and fun” can be quite limiting. I actually find movies and shows typically classified as educational and fun for toddlers to be quite dumbed down, and the dividing line disregards the innate ability of children to learn from a vast variety of experiences (including meda). Differentiating between Sponge Bob/”fast moving shows” and Sesame Street/Barney seems to be quite artificial. I remember hearing “experts” specificalily derise Sesame Street because it is fast moving! And I think Sponge Bob has some very interesting messages and storylines regarding unconditional friendship among other things. I find it interesting that we place such importance on our interpretation of what has value or not for young children.


      • We may value freedom of choice but a young child is rarely the one choosing whether to dig in the mud or sit in a stroller at the mall, let alone choose from vast array of programming out there. Sponge Bob never happened here, in part, because we couldn’t afford cable tv. It’s up to each family to determine what they find of value for the youngest children in their families.

        I’ve never gone as far as Will’s mother in terms of limiting store bought toys but I see that her choices maximize the time she has to spend with him, rather than put her in the position of spending more hours earning low wages to buy him things. I think it’s entirely natural that we put a lot of importance of what has value for young children. Thank goodness we can make those choices for our own kids.


  9. Imran Khan says:

    Really a good way to make children learn and explore the inborn talents. Thanks to the writer for sharing a great inspirational story.


  10. Scriptor Obscura says:

    I love this. Every child should be raised in this way. Kudos to his mom for being brave enough to do this! This is an excellent post.


  11. Laura Weldon says:

    I got an angry unsigned letter via contact form. It stated that this was a judgmental post because Will’s mother, while cleaning homes, observed in children’s rooms that, “Toys in their carefully decorated rooms appeared to be tossed around as if the small owners had no idea how to play, only how to root restlessly for entertainment.” The writer of this post felt that she and any other parent whose children played with toys were somehow impairing them. Not at all. This statement was a personal observation by Will’s mother, one of the reasons she chose to raise her son differently. I don’t know how strictly she plans to adhere to this no-toy philosophy, only how it is currently impacting her son. As with any choice different than the mainstream, it causes us to look more closely at our own choices, even if only to confirm that we’re happy with them. Often parents who make different choices are accused of judging other parenting methods, but really, each one of us does the very best we can. Hopefully we remain ready to adapt our methods, receptive to new information as well as cues from our children, and always recognize that children are dynamic beings—-what “worked” before will continue to need tweaking as they grow and mature. BTW, my house is brimming with Legos, dress-up clothes, board games, books, and other playthings.


    • NanaRenan says:

      Possibly she was observing that what was probably the equivalent of several weeks of pay to her did not bring joy and contentment to the little owners. Thus by making this choice she was absolving herself from guilt over not being able to provide him material things!
      My hat is off to her!!


  12. hannahbanana says:

    Great concept Ms. Weldon and point well made! So many kids these days find their entertainment on the internet or other electronics like iPads, but it’s great that Will is able to learn by interacting more with his environment. :)


  13. Elizabeth Owens says:

    Her choice for her boy…not a choice i would make


  14. DHM says:

    At various times I have reduced and tried to hold the line on toys for my seven children (all but two grown up now). I noticed that the fewer toys they had, the longer they played constructively and happily. too many toys and they got bored too quickly and were more fractious.

    We did succeed in no television and almost no movies. We also came up against the amusing, but rather sad problem of children who can only play out the plots of their favorite shows. Once one of our girls suggested that the neighborhood children play house. They declined, because, they said, they did not know how to play that. They wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead. And there was only way to play that game.




    • Nicole says:

      Good to read this. I try to get my daughter involved in community volunteering as much as possible. She is 4 and 4 months. Our priest recently moved and we were making a card for him. I asked her what message she wanted to put in the card to him and she said “Happy Church Happy Community”. I was so proud of her. I am a single Mother and we live alone. Since she was a baby I have talked her through everything I do in the house and since she was able to join in we have approached everything as a team. We have loads of toys that we have bought from charity shops and car boots because I LOVE kids toys and needed them to set up my childminding practice because parents and kids expect them, but no toy ever gave my daughter as much excitement as the first time we dug up a crop of bright purple “Blue Danube” new potatoes. Honestly it was like finding treasure! I used to volunteer overseas in Africa India China and Afghanistan. My daughter and I fund raise for our slum community project in Kolkata and she has been to live in and go to school in the slum community in India for a month every year since birth. The children my daughter interacts with over in India have no toys. They mostly live in one-room dwellings with many relatives so there would not be space for our kind of toys in any case. Two of the children live under a plastic sheet on the pavement. All the children are excellent at play and seem to smile and engage in eye contact more than many of their peers over here in the West.


  16. Thanks for this very thought-provoking post. My kids didn’t have many commercial toys when they were tiny. They loved to play with spoons, tupperweare and sand more than anything else. Now, at almost age 6, they do have quite a few toys, but no where near the amount that I see in other homes we visit. Almost all their toys are toys that they can play with in many ways : blocks, Legos, dress-up clothes, trains, cars and trucks and figures.

    We do love movies and some TV shows, though. I can honestly say that even though we love to consume some media, my kids can be very creative in mixing and matching how they play. They combine the stories that we read together like White Fang, the Little House books and the Narnia series with characters from Iron Man, Spiderman and other movies. They come up with entirely new senerios and situations. They also still love to pretend play for three four hours at a time, while at the same time they will watch two to three movies in a row, too.

    So, I just constantly surround them with all types of things, activities, places to visit, lots of travel, hundreds of books and stories, and sit back and be amazed at how they weave all those things together in a wonderful, creative new way.

    I think the mother in the story did the best thing she could do for her son. It would be easy in her case to have him spend massive amounts of time in front of the TV and computer since she was a single mom. But she wanted him to be able to entertain himself and learn without leaning on those things while she was not around. Overall, I tend to find our lives are much richer when we have variety in our lives.

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much!


  17. Edelynn Navera-Etorne says:

    This is very interesting article. I have a son whose turning two this March. When he was barely one year old, he’s fond of playing with aluminum pots and pans, together with turners and spoons. And he loves doing that until today. Sometimes, he uses his potty, which is not prepared yet to use for pooping because he still uncomfortable with it, as a pot for cooking and used a plastic spoon to stir imaginary stew. Children can be creative as they can be, you just have to let them do their thing. Encourage them, and you will see that it is part of their learning.


  18. RavenThreads says:

    Thanks for such a thought provoking article. I fine as time goes along that the only enduring toys for my four are their art supplies, Legos, play dough and their Teddy bears. I think that perhaps as I take stock it’s the very open-endedness of those toys that they find appealing.


  19. Hello there my other self. Love this, as you knew I would. Boys outside doing goodness knows what with goodness knows what…Rich in deed. Rich indeed.


  20. Reblogged this on kloppenmum and commented:
    Rich in deed. Rich indeed.


  21. I love the days when I “kick the kids out”. TV is off all day, no video games, and lots of time outside. They whine at first but then when they finally get playing they are gone for hours at a neighborhood park, in the backyard, riding bikes, etc. Then they whine that it got dark and they have to come in and clean up. We even did an “unplug week” and the only person who complained with Dad :)


  22. Very Interesting, I have you book and I love it, thank you!


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  24. I love and believe everything written in this article. Our family too believes in less is more, and we ban screen time altogether for our kids, who are 4 and 7 years old. Screens and plastic toys/games leave too little to the imagination. iParents are killing their kids creativity. Well done, keep this content coming. :)


  25. Yisso says:

    This is propaganda to make poor people happy.


    • I see what you mean Yisso even if I don’t agree. I don’t think it’s “propaganda” for Will’s mother or anyone who is deemed poor based on income to find ways to live that make them happy. Yes, there’s inequality. Yes, the minimum wage is too low to sustain anyone (I read recently that to match up with the minimum wage of the 70’s it would have to be over $10 today). But I’ve been in pretty dire financial straits myself and recognize that, no matter how hard things are, we still choose our own attitudes. Actually, I think Will’s mother is aiming for much more than happiness. Although I wouldn’t make the same “no toys” decision, there’s plenty of evidence for the benefits of low materialism, hands-on experiences, and social engagement


      • lib817 says:

        Propaganda is not what I would call it either but yes, she is choosing to make herself happy but more importantly her child happy… Wouldn’t you choose to teach your child to be happy with what life has given them and show them that their life circumstance is not a disadvantage? Should she instead struggled to buy him toys and him always wanting more and neither desire be filled?


    • KC says:

      I am nowhere near poor and yet, this makes me happy. I have very few toys for my son and they are toys that have been around our family for years. They are wooden and make no noise (other than a clatter when banged together). They are for stacking, rolling and chewing. I don’t show him how to play with them, I wait for him to discover the toy himself. The joy on his face when he’s figured out something new would be taken away with my guidance.
      Everyone always comments on how happy and chill my son is… Is it personality or is it that he is never overwhelmed…? I think that it’s a bit of both but I put more weight on that fact that we don’t overwhelm him and he is developing on his own schedule.
      It makes me very happy to have a house uncluttered with toys and a very happy son.
      You know… his favorite ‘toy’ is a scarf that my husband gave to me 15 years ago as a gift. It’s very versatile. :-)
      If this is propaganda… I’m sold.


  26. jmpaynel says:

    Thank you for the reminder of what child play should really be. We are overstimulating our children, taking away the precious alone time of discovery so important to the formation of the personality.


  27. This article was so appropriate with the timing. I had just come to the conclusion in my own life that all we have surrounded ourselves with is stuff. I have 6 children ranging from 17 to 1 and they are really missing out on what my husband and I had as children, like reading, coloring, riding bikes, fishing, taking walks, building silly things in the garage. So the night before I read this I told my kids that mommy is no longer buying anything electronic, anything that takes batteries or anything plastic with few exceptions. And for Christmas this year we are going to make things for the home and maybe a carpentry project or two in the garage. The rest of what we would have spent is going to help a family less fortunate than us. I am just so over spending $50 on a video game just to see it tossed on the floor in front of the tv. But this is a family movement for me. I want more quality time with all my kids doing family things, taking a walk, reading / going to the library, playing a board game, just talking. So we are going to give up cable when our contact is over but keep internet. All my older kids balked at this but I think it is for the best. I like how the mom in the story kept her son involved with projects and the community.
    Thanks for posting!!!


    • I understand where you’re coming from Amanda. Because some of your kids are older, I think there are ways to make this easier. If you’re trying to de-emphasize “stuff” and cut down on television, it really helps to make it a family project that’s approached with eagerness. Perhaps part of the money saved could be used for something the kids vote on (a portion for a charity of their choice, you never know what touches your kids’ hearts) and a portion for family fun (a trip, an experience, every child’s solo day out with a parent, a purchase that benefits the whole family like a pool or ping pong table). Kids are also more likely to be on board if, when making gifts, they get to do hands-on things they normally assume might be off-limits. Like us power tools (I have one teen who loves to braze with metal), or take part in a project they thought might never be approved, like building a tree house or fort together. Of course these are just suggestions. I know you’ll find what works for your family. It takes awhile to de-compress and enjoy simple pleasures like board games and walks. It’s worth it!


  28. Donna Bryant Goertz says:

    I know many affluent families who are bringing up their children in just the manner you describe. They refuse to allow their resources deprive their children of a developmentally healthy and happy childhood.


  29. Acorn School says:

    Reblogged this on Acorn School Preschools in Accord, NY and commented:
    good food for thought….


  30. I think I’ve enjoyed reading the comments even more than the beautiful and thoughtful article. I find it fascinating that some parents could be bothered by this woman’s choices, as if she were depriving her child of anything of true value. Her child has the opportunity to play, explore, imagine, interact, make mistakes, find solutions… Isn’t that the kind of childhood we ALL want for our children? Nobody brings a child into this world and thinks: “Gee, I really want my child to be bored, uncreative, and stressed out.”

    We just have to ask ourselves: Are our choices helping our children experience this type of childhood? Are we buying the toys and apps because our children NEED them to have a happy childhood, or because we think they’re cool / we feel guilty for not spending enough time with them / we wish we had had that toy when we were little / we think all the other kids have that toy / the “experts” say it’s an educational toy, etc.

    I have a 7-month old and it’s becoming quite clear to me that his favorite toys are never those that were explicitly created as such. Here are his current favorites: a beer cozy, a soup spoon, a napkin ring and a recipe box. Go figure… :)


  31. Carol says:

    I think most parents want the privilege of deciding priorities for their children. (That’s not always possible, since the larger world can be demanding.) I’m happy to have seen this post, because it reminds me to be more conscious of how I act — with any children.


  32. Valerie says:

    I went to a parenting class were the presenter said “one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the gift of boredom”. He went on to explain that if we don’t rush to “solve” our kids boredom with structured activities or toys they will use their own imagination and creativety to entertain themselves. I still have my kids in dance classes and they do have lots of toys (most of which they never play with), but this concept stuck with me. Inspired by boredom my girls have made entire fairy grottos, complete with houses, stores and even spas from leaves, stones, berries, twigs…


    • Totally agree Valerie. I write about the benefits of boredom, and not “rescuing” our kids from boredom, several places in my book.

      Just imagine, those fairy grottos would never have existed without that downtime!


  33. Karen Lee says:

    Whilst I greatly admire the sentiment in the story, and the mother’s courage to create something she really believed in rather than succumbing to societal pressures when she couldn’t afford to, I do baulk at a few things. I get tired of the judgement surrounding the use of technology, and comments like “staring at screens” and “electronic distractions” assumes so much about what can really be going on in the mind of a child who is watching TV or using a computer. And I think the assumption that dirt is better than toys is a bit simplistic. My children have access to a wide variety of experiences and that includes media. I do not in any way find that they will only “play to the script”. I think the big problem in the families the mother observes is not so much what they have (toys, electronics etc), but what they DON’T have (parental engagement, time, attention and connection).

    I think that many people idolise old fashioned ways.

    The article also says, “Studies show that children who are free to explore their interests”. I think choosing to limit a child’s environment is not necessarily synonymous with them being free to explore their interests. What if the thing that they’re interested in involves the use of something that is forbidden to them?


    • Ashley the Islander says:

      yes! exactly. you hit the nail on the head for me! Not giving the child toys or technology limits them just as must as someone who didn’t let their kid play outside. My kids do both. I make it my goal to give them varied experiences and opportunities and truly let them explore what interests them. Sure, we grow a big veggie garden and maybe they will want to be farmers (my 4 year old says she wants to be a gardener when she grows up) but I also let them watch movies, play on the computer, play with all kinds of toys. My daughter is very creative, maybe she’ll want to be an actress? Maybe my son will have a love of technology and grow up to be a software engineer. Why limit them? They can play outside in the afternoon and still play with toys in the evening.


  34. Susan Kay says:

    Conversation yesterday with a mom of a middle-aged son, concerned about his screen-and-gadget-time: He doesn’t know how to play outside, she told me. I sent him outside yesterday but a few minutes later, he pleaded to come back in. “I can’t see my Kindle,” he said. “It’s too bright out here.” I told her, with what I hoped felt to her like kindness from an older mom, “Someone gave him those gadgets, and someone could set limits or even take them away.”

    I raised my daughter without TV but with a lot of imaginative play, books, art materials. She’s mostly grown up now, an amazing poet, reader, hiker, farmer, and observer of the world.

    Will’s mom is on the right track. Thanks for sharing her inspiring way of giving her child the best life possible.


  35. Donna Bryant Goertz says:

    Somewhere in all this rich discussion I read the question,”Could you deprive your child for his own good?” The choice of word “deprive” in relation to “for his own good” struck me as odd. I think that’s often the real crux of the problem. Somehow our thinking gets tangled. As parents its so easy to get caught in the sticky web of the “norm,” the commercialized childhood, that surrounds us, so that what we know is best for our children feels or looks or seems like a deprivation. In reality, If we think it through and build a strong community of support, we know that by keeping to what is for our child’s own good, we are providing him a privilege, not a deprivation. It’s when we fail to act for our child’s own good that we deprive him. By abandoning him, failing him, by taking the easy or lazy way of letting him have and do whatever is most common, we deprive our children. it’s interesting, isn’t it?

    If we really think it through, we know that when we surround our children with the healthiest environment and rlationships, and eliminate what is not the best, we are true true ourselves and to our children. They may whine or protest but that’s their role. Our children strengthen themselves by pushing against the limits and boundaries we provide. They learn how true we are, how courageous, when we are calm and sure and cheerful in response to their anger ot their lobbying. We model values for them in doing so and we give them security.

    However, if we feel unsure, if we feell that we are depriving our children and then we waffle and we let them down, if we are not true to our values, we betray their need for the model of our strength and courage. Then they have no model for being true to themselves, and they feel insecure.

    Or, on the other hand, if we hold to our trutth of what’s best for them but we do so while feeling that we are “depriving” them “for their own good” rather than privileging them, our children will feel conflicted. They will feel a mixture of security and deprivation, rrespect and esentment.

    All this is hard work for parents, real character work. It is much easier for parents to do their best for their children with the support of a homeschooling or unschooling community or within Montessori or Waldorf school communities. Donna Bryant Goertz


    • Donna you wrote so clearly what I’ve been thinking about lately. Today as parents it seems we must constantly push back against intrusions that work against babyhood, toddlerhood, childhood, and adolescence. Those intrusions are pervasive and damaging, yet more and more they are seen as the norm. Those of us who resist may feel like we’ve flinging sandbags of our values against a rising sea. And yet without drowning in that sea of materialism, crappy food, constant superficial distraction, and early sexualization our kids are “deprived.” (quiet scream) You are so right, without a community of friends and family also resisting that sea, it feels nearly impossible.


  36. Shana says:

    My daughter has too many commercialized toys! she has started kindergarten and is bored easily and just “on the go”.

    After reading your article, it has confirmed my suspicion that our home environment is unsuitable. all toys will now be put in a large box in the garage. my children are going to be sent back to basics and simple play along with limited tv. I wish I knew more about this area before my children were born as it has completely opened my eyes. Thankyou, I think you have just enriched the appriach to my children’s quality of life more than you know. It will be difficult at first but it must be limited… I just hope the hubby agrees with this approach. It will be done regardless ;)


    • Yikes! This article is a window into one woman’s decision for her child and NOT a prescription. It’s meant to illuminate that childhood has its own richness and own full ways of learning. My home has toys and I don’t advocate putting all toys away. For young children I think it’s helpful to rotate toys to keep them from being overwhelmed, and to have some control over what kinds of toys you prefer. When my kids were small I particularly made an effort to steer toy-giving extended family members to do what the woman in this post does, ask them to give gifts of experience (a day at the park, a ride on a horse, time on a boat, etc) or gifts that kept giving like a good magazine subscription.

      For most kids, especially those who have had toys and then had them taken away, and who are surrounded by peers who have toys, this exact lifestyle isn’t feasible. Using this woman’s story to help bring more balance into our lives, however, is entirely possible.


  37. Great article!! My husband and I aren’t poor, but we do believe in limiting our toy purchases for our children to holidays and/or special occasions. Instead, we travel and spend time together creating memories and learning. We don’t own a tv and we don’t allow our children unlimited access to our media, such as phones, computers and the iPad. Our kids play, learn, create and see value in the possessions they have. It’s refreshing to read that others out there share our views and raise their children simply. While it’s not for everyone, it is definitely a great choice for us. Thank you for sharing Will’s childhood. :)


  38. Michelle says:

    I can see the benefit, but I can see the downside of restrictions. My sons have things they want. We do our best to do what we can with our budget. They had tons of store bought toys and home made ones. They had tire swings, tools, and crayons as well as video games and tv shows. Sometimes they choose to play outside, sometimes they watch tv, sometimes they build, sometimes they read. They are coming into their teens now and they are fun to be around.
    I’m sure some kids are just as happy with toys they’ve made than other things, but just because you choose to do that doesn’t mean they will be happy. My concern is about someone who might read this and think this is the way to go and take away things their children love because they think it’s the only way their child will become a creative and grateful adult. Raising children is more about enjoying time together, respecting each other, and loving relationships than what kind of toys they play with. It seems this person is doing that and that’s what makes her son a great person, not that she didn’t get him store bought toys.


  39. Dana says:

    Was the title of this post intentionally misleading? Because Will had plenty of toys — they just weren’t purchased at a store.


  40. Pingback: 10 Inspirational Natural Parenting Blogs Not To Miss in 2014 | Love Parenting

  41. Isaac says:

    As a father, I coach my 6 years twin boy how to ride bicycle, swim, math, reading and toy making. I love doing all these thing so much. I realized kids today do not make toys like we use to. One day, I decided to limit the TV down to almost zero and I was surprised that when feeling bored, they became busy ants, making all sorts of things. My wife was worried that they might be bored if there is not enough toys. Well, my two boys started making all kinds of things out of whatever they can get a hold of. OK, there were a lot more cleaning up but the result of shutting out one distraction ( I mean strong one ) is quite a surprise.


  42. Aubrey says:

    Hi, Laura! Thanks for linking me to this inspiring and affirming post. I love this as an example of children knowing what they need and having the instinct to create their learning experiences out of practically nothing. Right now we have a junk pile of bricks and whatnot in our backyard that looks awful but provides the best opportunities for learning. (Think “The Land” but in small scale.) It’s really difficult for us as adults to truly allow the child the time and space for creation. We get hung up on what it is that modern commercial toy companies think will bring them joy and we don’t spend enough time watching what they already do and how they interact what what’s in their environment already.


  43. Pingback: Treibholz – Lieblingslinks der letzten Wochen | liebevoller leben

  44. mamamia2010 says:

    what a mom, making the best of what she has! i think the key in this story is not that the boy has no toys. it’s not about what he doesn’t have. it’s about what he does have. he has a mother who cares, who provides him with opportunities and a wealth of experiences, who makes sure he is integrated in a community. who gives him the freedom to pursue the things that interest him. who provides as best as she can the materials and tools he needs to do it. and she cut out in a rather extreme way what her son doesn’t need. it’s not about a no toy success formula. and maybe the title of the article is misleading, because it put the entire focus on the no toy part of the story.


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