Wooden Toys: traditional play for today’s kids

Contributed by Hannah Davey

Le Toy Van's Sweetheart-Cottage

Le Toy Van's wooden Sweetheart cottage, from D'Artagnan Distribution, offers imaginative play.

Given the proliferation of electronic gadgets and the huge number of products featuring flashing lights and beeping sounds, it’s perhaps surprising that something as traditional as a wooden toy is still finding room on retailers’ shelves and in the family toy box. Or is it?

Despite the popularity of those noisy, usually battery-powered gizmos, wooden toys — everything from balance bikes to dollhouses and games to stacking rings — are making a big comeback with consumers in the last couple of years. It seems an increasing number of better educated, eco-aware parents want their kids to have toys that do less rather than toys that do too much.

Because today’s wooden toys are commonly made from a variety of sustainable wood sources like bamboo, beech and birch, they’re also often described as “green”. With that kind of pedigree and for many other good reasons, wooden toys are now a significant segment of the broad and best-selling category known as educational toys. (According to industry stats, North American sales of educational toys grew 120 percent in the last five years.)

Janod Maxi Kitchen

Janod Maxi Kitchen, from Canada's Jeux Alary

Wooden toys, which now come in a variety of price points ranging from several hundred dollars to under $8, provide consumers with good-value alternative choices. And without frills, trims or expensive motors, well-designed wooden toys engage kids of all ages in creative, time-honoured play patterns.

Having fewer bells and whistles puts emphasis on the child using his creative energies and less on deciding what button to press for results. Powered only by imagination, wooden toys, such as doll houses, tractors and kitchen sets, also allow preschoolers — many of whom are already talented at creating stories, games, and magical make-believe lands — to involve the toy in whichever pretend scenarios they wish.

Imaginative play, during early learning years, is important for developing skills that help kids to understand the world around them and prepare them for all sorts of life’s tasks. For example, in doll-house play, simply choosing where certain furniture and dolls should live not only involves decision making and understanding the perspectives and emotions of others, it also refines manual dexterity. And sharing this creative world with siblings or friends encourages key language skills that’ll last a lifetime.

But if their learning benefits haven’t convinced you, here are just a few more reasons for choosing wooden toys:

Safe

wooden_elephantIt’s not uncommon for children under three years old to explore new things by tasting, sucking or chewing them first. But these days, no parent wants to see her toddler with a mouthful of plastic that may be part of a future recall. So, toys made from all natural wood are a natural alternative. Toys like those from respected manufacturers, such as Plan Toys, Janod, Le Toy Van and Hape International, feature non-toxic varnishes, coatings and paints and instead use food-grade dyes and pigments.

Convenient

wooden_dishesWood, including today’s new composites, is hypoallergenic and incredibly easy to clean. After the kids have finished putting it in their mouths/covering it in food/spilling drinks over it, parents simply need to wipe it with a damp sponge or give it a soft rub with fine-grade sand paper if there are deeper stains. Some products, like Plan Toys’ new PlanWood line, which is made from moulded, repurposed wood particles, can even be sanitized in the household dishwasher.

Eco-friendly

wooden_earthmoverWood toys, made from sustainable and managed forest resources, are brilliantly earth-friendly. While many plastic products end their usefulness being shipped at great cost to landfills where they emit various chemicals, wooden products are mostly biodegradable or easily recycled.

Durable

wooden_pegboardFeaturing fewer fragile parts and small pieces, their chunky styling makes them more suitable for little hands that are learning to grip. And because they’re so durable, most better-made wooden toys stand up to a toddler’s rough play and a lifetime of service to several siblings.

The holiday season is just around the corner. Why not give your youngsters something they’ll remember — the gift of imaginative play that comes from traditional wooden toys.

Hannah Davey Hannah Davey is a member of Big Game Hunters, a well-known U.K. supplier of active play products, ranging from doll houses to garden games. She consults on children’s development and imaginative play

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