Should you take toys away to get your kids outside?

You might remember last June, when I took my kids’ toys away for the summer. My theory was the fewer distractions inside, the faster they would move outside. So I reduced the number of toys available inside our house by about 2/3rds. How did it work?

Truthfully, I wish I’d gotten rid of more. I got really worried about rainy day entertainment  and couldn’t seem to make myself hide the LEGOs, Hot Wheels, Lincoln Logs and a few other things. Of course, we had almost no rainy days this summer, so I had those distractions hanging around on sunny days instead. As a result, there were definitely a few mornings where I had to use the dreaded “Get outside! It’s BEAUTIFUL out there!” line.

Overall, they did not miss about 90% of the things hidden away in our basement. No one cared about the assortment of trucks, puzzles, doohickeys and whosie whatsits that were gone. Over the last four months, they asked about the following things:

A set of wooden blocks I truly thought they’d outgrown

A wooden marble ramp set

That’s it. Two things, both simple. I brought both back up last weekend. I will probably also refresh the puzzle shelf with the ones I took away. As far as I’m concerned, everything else can go. That’s a win.

Did it work to get them outside? Hard to say for sure, but I think yes. There certainly were less distractions inside and the ones that were still there had a specific purpose: cars, building, coloring. For aimless time-filling play, they needed to go outside.

So. Do I recommend depriving your kids of toys to get them outdoors? Absolutely. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you don’t want to do a giant, dramatic clean, just start by removing one neglected toy a day and see where your kid’s tipping point is. I bet they’ll notice less than you think.
  • If you are hesitant about something, don’t give it away. Hide it in a basement or closet like I did. If they ask about it, just say, “Oh, I thought you might be done with that.” I actually didn’t get things they asked for right away, but waited until they asked twice or more so I knew they really missed it.
  • Keep toys that encourage being outdoors (binoculars, bug nets, magnifying glasses, bubbles, walkie talkies, those really loud didgeridoos their grandparents brought back from Australia) and put them in a designated spot by the door. I felt like a genius when I thought of this and it really did make it much more likely that they would be inspired to go outside on their own to play.
  • Don’t forget, if they whine about being bored because they don’t have enough toys, you just need to channel that universal parental line: “If you can’t find something to do, go outside.” And remember: outside whining is usually temporary.

Good luck. I’ve got your back.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.