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Plastic can get out of my life, like, yesterday (click here to see why). I want my children to play with natural toys. Wood is an excellent toy material because it is sturdy, it fosters imagination and creativity, it can be handed down to other lucky children, and it is non-toxic and environmentally friendly.
Plastic toys tend to have lots of bells and whistles, meant to stimulate and distract children. The best wooden toys are simple. They are meant to encourage your child's imagination. Plastic toys are not nearly as sturdy as wooden toys, eventually breaking or losing parts. In the end, they finish their life as part of a heap of garbage in the landfill. Wooden toys tend to have a level of quality and creativity that just can't be matched with plastic.
In this article we will talk about:
WHY CHOOSE WOODEN TOYS
Wooden toys are meant to be open-ended, to allow for your child's imagination to take the lead. If you have any familiarity with the Montessori system of education, then you know that that philosophy is famous for favoring real toys made of wood that are simple and become tools for a child’s imagination. Contrast that to plastic toys which are presented in a very specific way, and meant to be played with in a certain way, diminishing the creativity that a child can bring to play.
At first thought, you may think that wooden toys are wasteful and harmful to the environment, but often they are not. Wooden toys are often made from wood that is grown on a renewable and sustainable tree farm. These sustainable forestry methods ensure that the environment is not damaged and that reforestation is possible.Wooden toys are bio-degradable, returning to the Earth after their usefulness has passed (after many years, if not generations of play). Plastic toys are made with unsustainable materials that are not biodegradable and can leach toxic chemicals into the environment.
Wooden toys have a long life span. Once your child has outgrown them, they can be passed along to someone else. Plastic toys often break or loose their appeal after a short period of use. Many of these plastic toys are poorly made, and often just end up in the garbage. Their paint eventually starts peeling, they lose parts, or they stop working.
I would be remiss not to mention the magic of my kids playing with the same wooden toys my parents used to play with. I don’t know if my kids appreciate that part of the reusability, but I definitely do.
safe for kids
One of the biggest issues I have with plastic toys is a safety concern. Many of the plastic toys available are made with PVC plastic, a plastic that has leaching properties. Your child will absorb these chemicals either through their skin or through their mouth. Phthalates in plastic can disrupt hormones, which is especially bad for developing children. Their bodies are constantly undergoing changes that are orchestrated by hormones, so it is detrimental for them to have this system tampered with.
Wood is a natural item that does not leach dangerous chemicals. A natural wooden toy can be slobbered on, touched and put in a baby's mouth without worry.
FINDING THE BEST WOODEN TOYS
When looking for wooden toys, we need to be aware that just because a toy is made of wood does not automatically mean it is safe. Some wooden toys are painted with toxic paint, or made with chemically treated wood. We need to do our research when looking for a high-quality, safe wooden toy for our children.If you are going to make your own wooden toys for your kids, make sure the wood has not been treated with chemicals (stay out of the pressure-treated board area of the store – those boards have a greenish color), and be aware of the type of paint you are going to use.
WHERE ARE THE TOYS PRODUCED?
If the toys you are looking to buy are made in China, then you may have a problem. Toys made in China can contain lead paint, and there have been hundreds of recalls on toys made in China because of lead in paint (check out this recall from 2007!). American and European made toys cannot contain lead paint, as it is illegal.
Toys that have been made in China are often made with cheap labor, shoddy environmental practices, and poor resource management. European made toys are often made with quality craftsmanship and clever design. Europeans have high standards when it comes to materials, wages, safety, and the environment.
WHAT MATERIALS WERE USED IN THEIR PRODUCTION?
Toys made with sustainable wood grown on managed plantations are the best choice. Look for natural, non-toxic paints and beeswax or linseed oil as a sealant.
Generally, wooden toys can cost more than plastic toys, and a high-quality wooden toy is going to cost more than a cheaply made wooden toy. In the case of wooden toys, cost reflects quality. The wonderful thing about wooden toys, is that they will last for generations, so they should be seen as an investment.
type of toy
The best types of wooden toys for kids are building blocks, play kitchens, dollhouses, moveable vehicles and ride-on or climb-on toys. These types of toys will get the most use as they become tools of your children's imaginations.
I have 2 kids, and I have bought various plastic toys over time that I've felt were a worthwhile "splurge." (*wince*) Some of the highly "dynamic" ones I was so excited to surprise my children with, only to find that they didn't really play with them. Over time I have observed that my kids are like the various cats I’ve had over the years. Get them a special, expensive, “contrived” toy, and they walk away. Throw them a ball of tinfoil, and they’re entertained for hours. (This is not the only child-cat-similarity I’ve noted, but it’s the only one I’ll touch on right now.)
REcommended Wooden Toys
I feel strongly about giving the shops on Etsy their due attention as well. Possible shipping speed is a very small sacrifice to make in exchange for toys that are being mindfully handcrafted by people who put their hearts and souls into them and support their families by making them. The following toys have devoted followings and numerous positive reviews – it doesn’t take more than a second to see why.
Besides the favorites listed below, I have included a list of wooden toys afterwards that I recommend that are available with lightening speed from Amazon. Skip to that list below.
Blocks are a staple children's toy. They can be combined and recombined in so many different ways to build so many variations of an idea – a wonderful way to stimulate the imagination! Any human being enjoys blocks, not just children. The best wooden blocks are those that stack well and come in a variety of shapes.
Everwood Friends on Etsy have answered the call for wooden blocks that you remember from your childhood. Large, heavy, smooth, unpainted and precisely crafted, BUT they’ve also add some of their own shapes (like building platforms!) that you won’t remember.
Reasons we love Everwood Friends blocks:
Their 61 piece Core Set of building blocks contains 15 different shapes and is an awesome block set for both new and more advanced builders. This set is designed as the foundation for our more advanced sets. The wide variety of 15 different shapes and sizes helps this block set grow with a child's ability. The included building platform allows kids to build on thick carpet, or to add another level to their structure.
Many of their thrilled customers have purchased multiple sets and built amazing play areas!
Here we go with a When-I-was-little statement,.. When I was little there were not the beautiful wooden castle block sets out there. Anywhere. The best my brother and I could hope for were Lincoln Logs or square blocks or sticks of similar length. I envy the children today who can set their imaginations free with these building blocks as their tools. It's not at all a surprise to find review photos from customers of adults sitting down with these. Just gorgeous.
The Village Blocksmith on Etsy is one of those shops we love to see everyone supporting. This "little" shop has been family owned and operated since 1989! They've made mindful choices in wood choices and treatments while creating beautiful artwork to build with.
Reasons we love The Village Blocksmith castle blocks:
Their 67-Piece Set is a great introduction to their sets of castle building blocks. It gives you (ok, and your children!) a chance to work up to the architectural challenges and entertainment that lies ahead with their 200-Piece Set which integrates a tower set and a Roman arch! Time to forget about your worries and start building beautiful castles! Ok, ok, and the kids can help, too.
Children love to pretend they are adults, and the kitchen represents the heart of the home. My kids LOVED playing with their play kitchen, and it had many, many years of use. Now it's with a family friend where it entertains her toddler to no end. From making potions for their wizardry, to playing restaurant, a play kitchen can become a central part of a variety of imaginary games.
Wooden play kitchens have a special quality to them, they radiate warmth. I prefer a wooden play kitchen over a plastic play kitchen any day of the week.
Willow Toys on Etsy is a local one-man shop in New Hampshire that makes exceptional quality wooden play kitchens. They are so well built that they will retain their value even after your kids, their kids, your friends' kids have used them. They also have a velvety olden finish that looks aesthetically pleasing in any room of your house. Another way kids resemble cats is that they prefer to be where the action is. So having this beautiful handmade kitchen wherever the action is in your home will look just fine.
Reasons we love Willow Toys wooden play kitchens:
I'm not sure if there's an official category for "climbable" wooden toys, but I'm ready to declare there must be one. While I've been researching the best wooden toys on the Internet, I stumbled on this gem of an idea. Ready?.. Wait for it...
So ShopJoeyCo on Etsy is a family business out of Houston, Texas, busy making some of the coolest climbable wooden toys for kids E V E R. Does it surprise us that they're nearing 4000 positive reviews? It does not. One look at the slew of customer photos and reviews shows that *toddlers* are climbing on these triangles! I'm in love with these toys! Squee!
Reasons I love ShopJoeyCo on Etsy and their wooden toy climbing triangles:
Joey Co. designed the climbing triangle for enhanced child playtime. It will help with balance control, creativity, motor skill development, and many other critical aspects of your child’s life. Their Climbing Triangle is designed to be used by children of almost any age, and you can see oodles of customer photos with children younger than 1 year navigating them!
The best wooden toy brands on amazon
I have found some kiddie favorites through my own trial and error, and by watching the kiddies playing on the wooden toys at the Montessori school that my kids attended for several years. My favorite brands make high-quality wooden toys and are included in the following list. I have only included brands that use sustainable wooden and non-toxic paints. These companies take exceptional pride in their products and are not made in China.
Click the links to see the selection of these toys available on Amazon:
Brands to Avoid
The following brands are very popular and easily found. They do however make their toys in China, so if you want to avoid toys from China, these are the ones you will want to stay away from:
When we are looking to buy natural toys for our children, wooden ones simply can't be beat. They are sturdy enough to outlive us, and they have a warmth that cannot be recreated by plastic.
If you are going to spend money on a toy, why not buy something that will not only last, but will be *wanted* by the kids who are inheriting it? That will give you the most bang for your buck possible and significantly increase the chance that the toy won't end up in the landfill. All that while they open the doors to your child's imagination and creativity.
Do you have any wooden toy suggestions? What do your kids like to play with?
This post was originally published on March 3rd, 2016. I've updated it to reflect the newer (and inspiring!) offerings available online.