What kids really need when they play

The online booking platform Travelcircus has summarized 15 particularly “exciting” playgrounds in major German cities. Whether jungle or dragon playground in Berlin, construction playground in Hamburg or water playground in Munich – the selection is large. The toy researcher and educator Dr. Volker Mehringer says in the RND interview: The children’s imagination is often enough to play.

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Sir. Mehringer, on the ranking of the most beautiful playgrounds in Germany, you can clearly see that the adventure playgrounds, where something really happens, are at the very top. Do children really need this?

I think a lot of kids think it’s great when a lot is happening on the playground. But I’m also sure that children can stay busy – and it does not always have to come from outside. The ideas for play often come from the children themselves, so do not underestimate the children’s imagination. Even in spaces where relatively little is offered, children can often find great play ideas and create imaginative games. However, toys can also be good sources of ideas. A stick or a ball, for example, encourages too many play activities. Such a toy can develop an incredibly stimulating character. Therefore, I believe that a particular basic set of toys definitely does not hurt.

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Is it important to play outside?

I think it’s very important to play outside, but it’s just as important to have a balanced style of play – it’s about balance. There are good things to play inside – but of course it can not replace play outside. Playing outside simply gives many more opportunities to move, indoors you are much more limited. Being in the fresh air and being in contact with nature offers other play options and complements play indoors really well.

What do children need to play?

Above all, children need freedom and time to play, which is no longer a matter of course today. Targeted teaching offers start earlier and earlier, and as parents you are of course afraid that the children will miss the boat – usually it is at the expense of free play. It’s easy to overlook what a great development machine game actually is and what unique educational opportunities follow from them.

Is there a disadvantage if children have too many toys?

Despite having heard this over and over again, there are no clear results in the research that support that children have disadvantages of too many toys. Children can definitely pick and choose what interests them – toys that are actually boring for the child are often left in the children’s room. I see more of a problem when kids have too much of the same toys. Toys should address different facets of play behavior. There must be something to construct and build, but also equipment for social games, rules games and craft materials. If you have a wide selection of toys and it’s all child- and age-appropriate, it’s not too much. But if the 100th doll or the 200th puzzle is bought, then only a little new game value is added. And if you can no longer take a step through the children’s room without stepping on a toy, you might want to clear out the mess.

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Is it worth storing toys that the child has not played with for a long time?

With some toys it is clear that the child no longer wants to play with it, with other things it is worth trying to just put it away first. If you take something out of the children’s field of vision, it may happen that the toy becomes interesting to the child again after a month or two. If not, it is usually not worth trying further. You can resell the toy today or give it away – it would be a shame if it ended up in the bin.

How important is contact with other children when they play?

Contact with other children is extremely important. Play is the children’s main occupation until they start school, and in doing so they learn a great deal from being with other children. Social skills, communication, negotiation and also handling the first conflicts are all combined in games.

Children often get lots of presents and toys for their birthday or Christmas – and are overwhelmed by them. How do you decide which toy to give your child for the holidays?

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In order for the child not to have to stand in front of a large pile of gifts during the holidays, one should perhaps consider whether one really needs to link the gifts to birthdays and Christmas. There is play all year round and the excitement of new toys works all year round. The joy for the child will be at least as great if one or two new toys are added during the year – and then you have the opportunity to offset the holiday a bit. When you as a parent realize that there is a free time when it comes to games, it may be appropriate to give it a fresh boost – and you can do the same on other days of the year.

How much should you consider children’s desires when it comes to gifts?

One should not underestimate that the wishes of the children are often of great importance and that children may be disappointed if not a single wish of a child has been fulfilled for their birthday. Of course, this is often not easy, because gifts can quickly become very expensive. In order for a wish to be fulfilled, I can only recommend throwing it away with the whole family, so that a greater wish may be fulfilled – even if you are not always 100% convinced of the gift.

Can parents learn from their children while playing?

Parents should try to take their adult glasses off once in a while and go back to their own childhood. Of course, you have some educational responsibility, but that does not mean that your own game should get in the way. If you as a parent just ask yourself what the child thinks is so cool about playing and what is fun about it, both parents and child can benefit from it. Adults can also have a lot of fun playing – but we just forgot a bit.

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If you live in a small apartment or just do not want to buy so many toys, Volker Mehringer has a tip for you: In some German cities (approx. Berlin) it is now possible to borrow toys as in a library. The advantage: what has become boring for the child can be easily and cheaply exchanged for another toy.

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