Tug, tug. “Come see my castle!”
“Beep, beep! Coming through!”
“Wheee! Push me higher!”
Those are the sounds of play, of childhood. Sounds that will be imprinted in your mind for years to come.
You want to do all you can so you can hear these sounds every day. And that starts with providing quality toys that inspire your child's imagination.
Wooden toys are great options for your child’s development. And even better, they’re more environmentally friendly than those annoying and noisy plastic options. Here are the magical benefits of wooden toys and how to find the absolute best ones for your home.
The 3 biggest benefits of wooden toys
Encourage open-ended play
Wooden toys, like wooden blocks, animal figures, and cars, allow your child to be creative in their play. There’s no specific way these toys have to be played with — and that is great for encouraging your child’s imagination.
Open-ended play means that the wooden shapes can first be used in a puzzle, then as doors to a castle, and then transform into roadblocks in a car race. Open-ended play fosters your child’s creative skills. It’s amazing to watch all they dream up while playing.
Open-ended play also helps children:
- Develop a strong sense of self
- Increase their independence
- Learn to make good choices
- Engage in critical thinking and problem solving
No flashing lights and repetitive sounds
“Hi, my name is Rex The Robot.” “Hi, my name is Rex The Robot.” “Hi, my name is Rex The Robot.”
Ugh…you hear that one incessant toy over and over. It’s stuck upside down, the talk button pushed in. And of course, it’s buried at the bottom of the toy box, impossible to find.
Instead of enduring that headache, choose toys that don’t talk or light up (and ask that grandparents do the same). Though it may feel like you’re making that decision for your own sanity, your child is also better off for it.
A toy that has one specific function, one certain button to push, and one phrase that it says on repeat doesn’t allow your child to be creative. Open-ended play, and all the benefits that come with it, is often not possible with battery-operated toys.
Beyond just the benefits for your child, there’s a positive environmental impact of not going through a set of batteries every other week for this or that toy. No more batteries will be ending up in a landfill on your account.
Wooden toys create beautiful family heirlooms. High-quality wooden toys can withstand many laps around the track and trips to the moon. They can be taken back and forth from grandma’s house time and again without looking worse for wear. They can be teethed on in infancy, thrown about in toddlerhood, and carried along on adventures throughout childhood.
Wooden toys can withstand the test of time and even be passed to younger siblings or family members. Other families choose to donate their wooden toys when their child outgrows them, giving them a second, third, or fourth life.
Grow not only your child’s imagination but also generations of children to come by choosing quality wooden toys.
What to look for when shopping for wooden toys
The options for wooden toys can feel overwhelming. There are so many options: painted or unpainted, manufactured in the US or abroad, hardwood or softwood.
Here are four main features to look for that to keep your child entertained and safe, and our planet healthy.
Sustainable sourcing of material
Trees are an invaluable resource on this planet. So, it’s important to buy from companies that are sourcing their wood in ethical, environmentally-friendly ways. Look for companies managing their forests responsibly and ethically.
If you’re buying from a small shop or business, reach out to the owner. Many small businesses take pride in their work and will be happy to chat with you about where their materials are sourced from.
Using non-toxic paint and stains
Toys with lead paint and other chemicals have slipped through the oversight of health agencies and into the hands of consumers in recent years. It’s important to be diligent about what is going into your child’s hands, especially in their early years when every toy goes straight into their mouth.
There are many types of paint that don’t contain harsh chemicals — including plant, water, or milk-based paints.
Some wooden toys aren’t painted but instead are covered in a stain or lacquer. As with everything else, there are some stains that are safe and some that aren’t. So do your research and ask questions before purchasing.
Even if you don’t understand every chemical and what it does, that’s okay. There are certifications you can look for to help you know that the toy’s paint, lacquer, or stain is safe. A CE certification on a toy means it’s free from harmful chemicals so you can feel confident that it’s safe for your child.
Using non-toxic glue
If the toy contains glue, either to hold pieces together or because it’s made of composite wood, ensure the glue is non-toxic. This may be difficult to find out from a toy description on a website; you may have to play detective and dig deeper. If possible, reach out to the seller to ask what type of glue has been used to assemble the toy. Then continue your sleuthing to see if that type of glue is free from harmful chemicals.
Choosing sanded, smooth toys to avoid splinters
A splinter in the finger is a childhood woe most of us remember all too well. It’s easy for kids to get a splinter while playing at an old park or chasing each other around trees playing hide and seek.
But especially with babies and small children that still mouth toys, you want to avoid rough wooden toys that may cause them harm. Feel a toy and rub it in your hands before purchasing to make sure that it is totally smooth. If you’re buying online, this can be a bit trickier but it’s still possible. Look for the word ‘sanded’ or for extra information about the paint or sealant in the description.
Play and grow with wooden toys
Play is the best way to help your child’s brain and body grow. Choosing well-made, wooden play pieces allows your child’s imagination to run free. From fighting dragons to becoming a princess, wooden toys can help set the stage so they can play however they want.
And all the while, they’re learning invaluable skills. Fine motor skills are refined as they precariously balance blocks or race cars along a narrow track. Gross motor skills grow as they climb over wooden structures that have become castles or mountains.
Problem-solving skills are developed as they work through which shapes can fit through which hole and how they can stack the blocks high enough to make a castle. Cause and effect will be better understood as they push the ball and watch it roll quickly down the slide. They’ll develop interpersonal skills as they learn how to share their toys and play with other children.
Put simply, open-ended play is what your child needs for a rich and fulfilling childhood. And wooden toys easily provide the tools for imaginative play. Better for your child, the environment, and your sanity — there’s not much better than that.
We’d love to know — what are your favorite wooden toys, both now as a parent or when you were young? Share with us in the comments!