It’s the time of the year when toy shopping for children reaches its peak and we all stuff shopping carts (and online shopping carts) with toys for all the children in our lives. But before you check out, there is new research by a team of occupational therapy practitioners to consider that might have you checking your list twice.

AOTA member Alexia Metz, PhD, OTR/L, Associate Professor in the Occupational Therapy Doctoral Program at the University of Toledo, with three then-OTD students Carly Dauch, Michelle Imwalle, and Brooke Ocasio, this month had research published in Infant Behavior & Development titled, “The Influence of the Number of Toys in the Environment on Toddlers’ Play.” The study examines the play habits of 36 toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months. During the study, the toddlers were placed in rooms with either 4 toys or 16 toys and observed. The team found that toddlers in the room with an abundance of toys presented reduced quality of play and that offering fewer toys at once helped the toddlers to focus better and play more creatively.

The findings have attracted some media attention this holiday season. Among mentions in several top news outlets nationwide, The Toledo Blade reports that fewer toys can actually lead to better play for toddlers.

In The Blade article, Metz says, “As an occupational therapist and parent, I had noticed when environments were busy, kids flitted around a lot more. It was hard to keep them focused on what was at hand if there was something in their periphery that was tempting them to break away.”

If you have items sitting in your virtual shopping cart, it’s easy to find out if you should still buy them. As experts in how play helps children to develop physically, cognitively, and socially, occupational therapy practitioners can help families understand the appropriateness of selecting toys. AOTA offers a Tip Sheet, “How to Pick a Toy: A Checklist for Toy Shopping” and “8 Guiding Questions for Buying Holiday Toys” to help shoppers select the most age-appropriate and beneficial toys for children.

“Selecting a toy can be overwhelming,” says Sandra Schefkind, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA, Pediatric Program Manager at AOTA. “Rather than making a knee-jerk purchase based on packaging or where an item is placed on the shelf, occupational therapy practitioners who specialize in pediatrics recommend considering how the toy can benefit playtime and act as a catalyst for cognitive and physical development.”

Experiences often make great gifts: tickets to the science center, children’s museum admission, tickets to art exhibits, session fees for sports camps, dance instruction, music lessons, and more are generally appreciated.

If you’re reading this and thinking it’s too late, and your (or a client’s) children already have too much stuff, consider toy rotation. Pediatric Occupational Therapist Rachel Coley, MS, OT/L, offers tips for toy rotation in a recent blog post on CanDoKiddo.com. The article, “Toy Rotation: Save Your Sanity, Reclaim Your Home, and Foster More Fun,” offers tips to manage the things that children accumulate. According to Coley, reducing the number of choices the child has to make decreases anxiety and stress and foster feelings of appreciation for the things they have.