Toy-Free Kindergarten


One morning when the children entered the kindergarten, they found that except for the furniture, all the rooms were empty. In vain, they searched for dolls, games, or stuffed animals. There were no books or building blocks either. Even paper and scissors were missing. All toys had been removed and would not be returned for three months. What had happened?

This kindergarten is one of a growing number in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland that are participating in a remarkable and innovative project called Toy-Free Kindergarten. Strange as it may sound, this project, which has been highly commended by health experts of the European Union, aims at addiction prevention. In recent years researchers have come to appreciate that people are less susceptible to addiction of any kind if they develop social skills early in life. These include, says a newspaper report, “communication skills and the ability to make contact easily, to handle conflicts, to take responsibility for one’s dealings, to set tasks for oneself, to see problems, to get help, and to find a solution.” According to proponents of this program, such skills ought to be developed as early as possible, and toy-free periods serve this purpose, promoting creativity and self-confidence.

The three-month absence of toys has been carefully planned and discussed with both parents and children. Initially, some children are at a loss without toys. “There are day nurseries where children go wild for the first four weeks,” and the planners are at their wit’s end, the report notes. But children learn to adapt and learn to be creative. Having no toys to play with, children consult, plan, and play together more, thus improving social and language skills. Some who used to “hide” behind their toys are now making friends. Parents have also noted positive changes. The children behaved better at play and were more creative than before, they said.