Jul 3, 2018
There is something special about the tactile sensation of running your hands over a well-crafted, strong wooden object. And children seem to understand this better than anyone, given that wooden toys have never really gone out of fashion over the centuries, and remain a central play object of homes, playgroups and schools across the world.
Wooden toys are enjoying a major resurgence as parents wistfully recall their own childhoods when choosing toys for their children, and as consumers in general return to traditional toys to balance out the ever-sophisticated toys and gadgets of the digital age.
Few have summed up the appeal of wood in recent times better than sociologist and design historian Amy F. Ogata, who wrote in her book Designing The Creative, that wood "is a familiar and poetic substance, which does not sever the child from close contact with the tree, the table, the floor."
So, here are six major advantages of wooden toys for children.
Wooden toys made from sustainably sourced, certified wood are, of course, a much more environmentally friendly option than plastic toys. As an organic, renewable substance, wooden toys are biodegradable and can be recycled.
Wooden toys offer further eco credentials when any paint used on them is free of toxic chemicals – or if no paint is used at all.
The production of wooden toys, particularly when hand-crafted and when all materials are sustainably sourced and certified, offers a stark comparison to the creation of many mass-produced plastic toys, which can contain dubious chemicals and often offer little prospect of renewability.
Wooden toys also present a direct connection to the natural world for children.
In 1976, the pioneering educational psychologist Dr. Lawrence Mestyanek noticed a lack of educational toys for children and infants who suffered from learning disabilities. He sought to change this by constructing a number of special wooden toys in his garage, and ever since, we have come to understand more and more how wooden toys offer a range of educational qualities.
Some of the classic staple wooden toys include puzzles, building blocks and miniature construction sets, all of which can help children with numeracy, literacy, motor skills and problem solving.
As Ogata writes, "Among the educated middle and upper-middle classes, wood became the material symbol of timelessness, authenticity and refinement in the modern educational toy."
Workplaces with wood are both calming and stimulating in the best of ways. Working in an environment with nature-similar lighting and the exposed grain of solid wood sets our minds and bodies at ease and ready to tackle real work. Less mental effort is expended on overcoming negative feelings that are stronger when the workplace is defined by cold, harsh lighting and unseemly and steely (even if practical) furniture and objects. Workers can think and learn better as well as be more creative in spaces with wood and other biophilic elements
It is undeniable that toys take quite a battering from their young owners, getting bashed up, thrown around and left out in the weather. Plastic toys can be brittle, while anything digital or audio-visual always has a risk of malfunction or obsolescence.
Wood, on the other hand, can endure rough treatment and last for generations, ensuring these toys can be handed down through the family tree.
Gold Coast-based mum Megan Walford has seen this first-hand.
"I have a whole set of wooden toys that I played with as a child that I've now passed on to my two boys," she says. "They've got a few scuffs and scratches but they're still really strong, and will last for who knows how long."
The relentless advance of technology has ensured that toys today are replete with bells, whistles, bleeps, screens, noises, colours and so on. But often, simplicity is best, and less is more.
Wooden toys offer children a blank slate upon which they can project all the wildness and extravagance of their burgeoning imaginations.
"My youngest son's favourite toy is currently a stick he found in the garden," says Walford. "It's amazing what a child's creativity can do with the simplest thing."
Playing computer games, though increasingly dazzling and wide-ranging in their scope, can often be a solitary activity for children. Wooden toys can foster interaction with other children and promote sharing and teamwork.
Wooden toys, naturally devoid of any possibility of sound or interaction in themselves, allow for children to supply their own voices and sound effects in collaboration with one another.
Some modern toys, with their electronic and interactive capabilities, ‘do everything’ for the child. Meanwhile, the simplicity of wood allows for role-playing and world-building (creating imaginary communities and towns and so on), and can aid spatial and social awareness as a result.
It is an unfortunate fact that plastic toys, especially the cheaply made variety, can break easily, potentially leaving sharp edges and small parts that may do a child harm – particularly if they are at an age where everything they come across gets put in their mouth. Wood, strong and sturdy by comparison, offers less risk in this way.
Not only are wooden toys safer than plastic toys, wood as a material can offer benefits to a child’s health and wellbeing. As a recent report distributed by Planet Ark’s Make It Wood, The Wellness + Wood = Productivity, makes clear, a connection to nature through contact with wood can improve mental and physical wellbeing. The report notes that in particular, education spaces (where toys are often found), have increased rates of learning, improved test results, concentration and attendance when wood is prominent.
Wooden toys can aid a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. With an ever-expanding range of wooden toys available today, this is a world of play that children and parents can discover together.