Every year, in the months prior to Christmas, the toy sale catalogues begin to arrive. Letterboxes around the country see more action than they do all year!
Store after store sends you page after page, filled with shiny, coloured, plastic, flashing and doing-everything-else toys.
It can actually be a little overwhelming.
Wooden toys make up only a small percentage of toys promoted in Christmas catalogues, and they are often associated with alternative parenting.
Before you skim past the wooden toys on offer, here are some things to consider.
Why Wooden Toys Aren’t Just For Children Of ‘Hippies’
Many of the online stores or marketplaces that sell traditional, beautiful, handmade wooden toys align themselves with a ‘hippie’ philosophy or approach.
They often have words in their name such as ‘eco’ or ‘hippie’ and might identify as Steiner or Waldorf inspired, which has the same connotation.
It is important to recognise that, regardless of your parenting style, lifestyle choices or opinions on schooling, wooden toys are beneficial for all children.
What Are the Benefits of Wooden Toys?
Play is crucial to child development. Children need long, uninterrupted periods of play – that is, doing things they choose to do, in the ways they choose to do them, and with the people they choose to do them with.
For more on this, see Professor Peter Gray’s work on defining play.
Some toys are very set in their purpose. An example that springs to my mind is a toy my son was given as a baby – a plastic giraffe that you put balls into and it played music.
When we provide children with that type of toy, rather than toys that inspire open ended play (e.g. blocks), several things can happen:
- Children lose interest pretty quickly
- When they master it, the challenge is gone
- Children struggle to create their own play ideas, which leads to boredom.
Toys that encourage open ended play are the ones to look out for. Wooden toys often do that, and offer a range of benefits:
#1: They Inspire Creativity
This is closely linked to the idea of being ‘open ended’, and the most obvious choice of all is blocks. A basket of blocks encourages children to use their imagination, to create, and to develop physical skills at the same time. Unlike their plastic counterpart Lego (which, when I was a child was very open ended, but now tends to come in kit form), wooden blocks have no instructions.
#2: Wooden Toys Are Long Lasting
In our house we have a wooden rocking horse that I picked up second-hand for $20 from the local markets, more than eight years ago. It was almost vintage then and now, after an extra eight years and three rambunctious little ones playing on it, it is still beautiful and sturdy.
Plastic toys tend to have a relatively short lifespan, and some break just days after you buy them.
Wooden toys last. If there is damage or breakage it can usually be repaired with a hammer and some nails, or a bit of sandpaper or wood glue.
Wooden toys lend themselves to being handed down between siblings, and even generations.
#3: You Can Support Handmade, Locally Made or Fair Trade Products
A few years ago, our family set itself a challenge. We would purchase only handmade, locally made, or fair trade goods for Christmas.
I love wandering through market stalls and meeting the makers, hearing their stories and seeing the hands that built the toys.
Last year, my mum gave my daughters a beautiful handmade wooden clothesline, a metal tub and some pegs. It was, by far, their favourite present.
Supporting small or ethical businesses is important for our economy, and for nurturing a sense of community.
Walking into a large department store, choosing a box from the shelf, scanning it, and lining the pockets of large corporations simply doesn’t compare with meeting the makers, and knowing that the money you spend not only buys you a quality product, but also supports their families.
That is pretty powerful.
Let’s face it – wooden toys are pretty! They evoke a sense of nostalgia that their plastic counterparts could never replicate. Wooden toys stimulate the senses: the smell of the timber, the solid feel of them in your hands, and the muted colours of nature.
Plastic toys on the other hand overstimulate the senses: the smell of chemicals, the flimsy or sharp edges, and the array of bright colours competing with one another.
Sure, life isn’t all about what looks good. But our home is for all of us, not just for our children, and wooden toys are at home in our home – they fit in as part of the furniture!
#5: It’s Better For The Environment
Perhaps this is another area where the ‘hippie’ connotation comes into play. Hippies are often aligned with environmentalists or ‘greenies’. I must admit to being a little of both, but is there anything wrong with wanting to look after our planet for future generations?
Making conscious choices about our children’s playthings is a positive step toward a sustainable future and wooden toys do a lot for the cause. As I mentioned before – they are long lasting. Re-using toys for other children means reducing the need for new toys!
Sustainability resources often use the term ‘food miles’ to indicate how far our food travels from the producer to us and the impact that has on our environment.
It’s worth thinking about ‘toy miles’, which is essentially the same concept. By buying locally, we can reduce the environmental impact of toys being shipped all around the world.
One of the key things to consider is the number of toxic chemicals found in many children’s toys. Some of the data on this is actually quite disturbing.
However, just because its wood, it doesn’t automatically make it good. Be on the lookout for products made of sustainable timber.
Making A Change
It’s easy to spout the benefits of wooden toys, but what can you do when your house is overrun by plastic flashing and beeping things?
Here are a few tips for making change:
- Consider having a toy purge. Be brutal, but also sensible. Donate unwanted things and keep the toys that really enhance play.
- Ask yourself a few questions before any new toy purchase: How long will this last? What is it made from? Who made it?
- Talk to family and friends about your choices – have an honest conversation.
- Set a family challenge for Christmas. Try the handmade, locally made or fair trade challenge. We found that we ended up with less ‘stuff’ and a few special, good quality gifts instead.
Wooden Toys Are Great For Everyone!
So, I urge you to brush off the ‘hippie’ label, and see wooden toys for what they are – long lasting, beautiful and play-inspiring!