Step one: throw away all your children's toys

A BRACE of German public health officials called Rainer Strick and Elke Schubert have startled the global toy industry; after conducting a three-month experiment at the Friedrich Engels Bogen nursery in Munich, they concluded that children didn't really need toys at all.

Their experiment wasn't sophisticated. They removed all the dolls and flannel bears and wooden trucks from the nursery, and observed how the children amused themselves with only chairs, a table and some blankets. Amazingly, they did fine, converting the furniture into shelters.

Now, you may be thinking there's something chilly about all this. Neither Rainer nor Elke (nor, to be honest, the Friedrich Engels Bogen nursery) sounds like a barrel of laughs. You can almost picture the pair, a white- coated Mulder and Scully, as they performed this exercise in deprivation on the hapless tots of Munich, packing up the Mousehole games, hurling Barbie dolls and Sylvanian woodland creatures into Sainsbury's bin-liners and consigning Mr Bucket and the Junior Meccano set to the darkest cupboards. "Zo," they must have assured each other at the end. "Zer kinder no need for zer playzings gehaften. Not Bob zer Builder, nor zer Crocodile Dentist, not even zer Foolish Putty..."

If true, this could save us all a fortune. In Britain we spend pounds 850m on toys in the run-up to Christmas. Imagine what we'd save if children were found to thrive without small plastic homunculi and cuddly elephants.

I resolved to try a controlled experiment in the home environment. I piled the playroom toys into a cupboard, swept the house clean of Lego bits, jigsaw pieces, Scalextrix track and Teletubbies cups and saucers. "It won't work, you know," said my 12-year-old dryly. "She'll just have hysterics."

But I wasn't so sure. These Germans know a thing or two.

My youngest child came into the kitchen looking for her Play Cafe, with its cash register and plastic vegetable rack.

"I've got rid of it because you don't actually need toys, darling," I explained.

"But I want to wash the potatoes in my sink," she said. "I always wash the potatoes in my sink."

"You can pretend to wash them, sweetheart," I told her. "It's the same thing. It's all to do with pretence and imagination".

"I WANT TO WASH THE..." Though only four, she has a uniquely carrying voice. "Look," I said, "here's a real potato. You can pretend to wash it in this, er, sink."

"But that's not playing, Daddy," she said, and began to sob.

"Dad," said the middle child, aged eight, "where's the Wheels From Hell Blitz Machine gone?"

"I threw it out because you don't really need toys," I reassured him. "You will become more socially integrated and better adjusted, group- dynamics-wise, if you cease to indulge this solipsistic absorption with a remote-controlled motor vehicle."

An eloquent statement of the case, I felt. Unfortunately, he stamped off in the middle of it and started to scream in the hallway.

The youngest reappeared, holding a King Edward potato. "This is my baby," she said. "He's called Pinkie..."

"Lovely, darling," I beamed. So Rainer and Elke had been right all along. "You see?" I said. "You don't need toys at all."

"...and I'm taking him upstairs to meet Baby Expressions, who's his mummy."

"I've in fact put Baby Expressions in the attic, darling," I told her, "because you can indulge in quasi-maternal, role-playing scenarios without relying on expensive and stereotypical petit-bourgeois simulacra."

She threw the potato at me. I still have the bruise. Some children just have no imagination.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering