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Berlin Nursery Begins Toy-Free Experiment

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A Berlin nursery has begun a toy-free experiment with the intention of educating its children on different ways to play. This will come as a surprise to many, as while there’s increasing concern about an overreliance on electronics and screens, very few in recent times have suggested that the toy animals, blocks, cars, board games and most art materials be packed away for a time. That’s exactly what happened here.

The project, of course, has not been implemented without critics. Some claimed it was deprivation, with parents at the Berlin Kits divided over the time given to the toy-free environment. After an announcement of a proposal for no toys for 3 months, several parents complained, leading to the project being postponed. Further discussions resulted in an agreement of a 6 weeks toy-free schedule. The project, which was originally suggested in winter, was also re-scheduled for the spring so that children could spend more time outdoors. Additionally, a weekly forest trip was also included.

Elisabeth Seifert, the MD of a youth non-profit based in Munich that promotes the toy-free project, commented that such adjustments are common. She also noted that there is one toy-free day each week in many kindergartens. To reassure the parents, Seifer composed a video showing how children cope without familiar toys. Much more role-playing is seen, as well as kids making use of their natural environments, collecting sticks, stones and other items. This showed that children were still playing, but differently.

According to Seifer, the children in these settings begin to play more together, developing games for themselves rather than all retreating to their favourite toys. It can also help with developing psychosocial competencies, with the nursery teachers not immediately telling the kids what to play, but coming up with ideas themselves. As much as the project seems harsh to some, its supporters say it has important educative goals. The free-toy project is meant to enhance the life skills of children, strengthening them through self-awareness and understanding, critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, overcoming mistakes and having empathy for others.

Various studies concur with what Seifer implies of the project, highlighting that communication skills, empathy, social interaction, and creativity can increase with children participating in toy-free moments. The rules of the toy-free kindergarten suggest only items like pillows and blankets and furniture are left while all toys are removed. A meeting of the teachers, parents, and children is held before the project. However, when the project commences, teachers simply observe instead of directing the children’s play. Here children are left to find solutions to their frustration and boredom on their own.

Outdoor play time is increased to give the children opportunities to create games. Since the project is free to implement, the youth non-profit organisation that supports it believes that it has the potential to easily become well-known and widespread. We’ll be keeping our eye out to see whether the initiative picks up over in the U.K.