I know what you’re thinking. What a surprise! A smug blog post in praise of wooden toys! But I don’t prefer wooden toys because I started Little Goldie. I started Little Goldie, in part, because I’m so keen on the benefits of wooden toys.
When Theo was born, we inherited – and were bought – a slew of plastic toys. I thought: That’s just what babies play with, right?
I didn’t consider it any further than that until I spoke to a friend of mine when Theo was about 6-months-old. She told me her rule: no plastic toys at all for her daughter.
No plastic toys? It didn’t even seem possible. Just because they’re ugly? My friend and I didn’t really talk about it then, but it stuck with me and I thought about it a lot. After considering it carefully, I try not to buy plastic toys, either – and here are my reasons.
Plastic toys are environmentally irresponsible
This is the first reason why I decided to stop buying new plastic toys. As if the mass-produced nature of plastic wasn’t enough, 99% of seabirds in the world will have plastic of some kind in their stomach by 2050. That’s the trouble with plastic; it’s not actually disposable. When we’re done with it, it doesn’t go away. It does real harm. We’ve got enough plastic in the world already, haven’t we?
Wood is a natural material
Wood – unlike plastic – is naturally anti-bacterial because bacteria can’t grow on it. This alone makes it the perfect material for a teether. Think about it: why do we give children hunks of plastic to gum on?! I did, but now I know there are alternatives.
I choose toys that are made of natural, sustainable wood, and – if coloured – finished with water-based paints and natural oils. So, when my baby puts this stuff in his mouth – which he is programmed to do – I don’t have to worry about it.
BPA and phthalates sound pretty nasty
I used to wonder if this was all just a paranoid fad. But it isn’t and it’s real and we do need to be aware of what we’re giving our children.
On the whole, though, I’m not militant about it. I mean, my child doesn’t drink out of a glass beaker. But it is a thing and I do think about it. (Are there any non-plastic sippy cups out there, incidentally?! I really want to know!)
I want to encourage imaginative play
Open-ended toys are wonderful for encouraging children to create many different play-scenarios. Conversely, you buy a child an electronic toy with buttons (these are pretty much always plastic) and all the toy is used for is to press those buttons and do what they toy says.
But if you buy them an open-ended toy like, for example, a wooden wave stacking toy, they will use it for the obvious – pretend water in small-world play – but they are also likely to access their imagination and use them for something else. My toddler uses his wave stacking toy like little telephones. He picks one up, says “Hiya! See y’soon!”, and hands it over to me to chat to whoever. So I don’t need to buy him a plastic toy phone.
The feel of wood is just… nicer
There is something gorgeously tactile about wood because it is a natural material. Whizzing around a wooden car on the floor just feels a bit nicer than a slippy plastic one, right?
I love the generational value of them, too. When you sort through your child’s old toys to put away and treasure, you naturally tend to set aside things that will store well and have a timeless feel. Wooden toys are so great for that.
On the downside… wooden toys are pricier
Yeah, they totally are. I’ve reconciled that with my motto: buy less, buy better. (This motto is hard to stick to, especially when it comes to clothes!)
Plastic toys are cheaper, which means we tend to buy more of them. It feels great to get our children something new and fun, though, doesn’t it? But they don’t need a new, crappy thing every week. Kids don’t have such a short attention span with toys, not if they are free to use their imagination with them. And I’m keen to teach mine not to become reckless consumers, but to – instead – make more thoughtful choices.
While the price of wooden toys may be higher, you can easily find lovely ones second-hand – wood has a great lifespan and sometimes it even gains character with time. My mother-in-law loves browsing the charity shops in North London to look for toys for her grandchildren. She has found the sweetest pile of second-hand (or – if you want to be pretentious – vintage) wooden toys that her grandkids love.
It would be hard to avoid plastic altogether. I am just consciously moving over to buying more natural toys.
If the toy had great play-value, of course I would buy a plastic toy – something like Lego or Duplo or PlayMobil – but I might try and get them second-hand first (Lego, incidentally, are now committed to experimenting with a new eco-design).
I also like a company called Green Toys, who manufacture plastic toys made from recycled milk bottles and the quality is great. I have the bucket-and-spade set, and have my eye on the watering can.
One last thought: what was your favourite toy as a child? It probably wasn’t something flash-in-the-pan. A plastic, singing cat isn’t something you’ll remember or keep forever, is it? 😉