Many parents will relate to the sinking feeling of being knee deep in plastic tat at the end of a typical day (or even hour) at home with a toddler. A child can have many, many plastic toys, but ultimately these tend to merge into one indiscernible multi-coloured mass. Never mind the wood for the trees, it’s a struggle to see the fun for the toys sometimes.
Wooden toys, on the other hand, tend not to be subject to the same bottom-of-the-toybox (let alone depths of the landfill) fate as their plastic counterparts. The reasons for this are many, ranging from the active learning element which retains interest value, to the quality aspect which promotes durability and longevity.
The fun factor of many plastic toys is superficial, and therefore often short lived. Bright lights and music are all very well, but the novelty is often as fleeting as the battery life. Traditional toys, on the other hand, tend to require degrees of deconstructing, reassembling or remaking. This process builds children’s imagination and retains concentration, since children are innately creative problem-solvers who thrive on making their own fun. Toys which capture a child’s attention through lights and buttons are often less successful at imparting skills and holding intrigue than those which allow them them make their own rules.
Most wooden toys have the potential for a partner element, which is a key element of both enjoyable and functional play. For example, building blocks, dolls houses, train sets and play kitchens all support playing with others, which helps children learn all-important negotiation and sharing skills.
Toys made from durable materials tend to be passed down from one generation to the next, lending a nostalgic and sentimental appeal to many pieces.
Something about wooden toys helps create a unique sensory play experience. It is no coincidence that childhood classics such as Pinocchio and Toy Story's Woody are all made from, well...wood! There’s something about the tactility yet robustness, coupled with the soft feel and sounds, that have entertained children for millenia in the simplest and most rewarding way possible.
Plastic toys tend to be cheaper and more immediately attractive due to their vibrant colours, and as such they account for a large proportion of the toy market. Unfortunately though, they pose the same risks (if not worse) as any other plastic item, mainly owing to the fact they are near impossible to recycle, yet are highly disposable due to their cheap costs and low durability. Plastic toys pose a unique challenge given that they’re often composed of other materials too, such as metal, and the recyclable components can’t be separated out or therefore repurposed.
Wooden toys last lot longer than their plastic counterparts, which is inevitably part of the appeal. They are also chemical free, which is important as at least one of the chemicals used in the manufacturing and softening of plastic toys (phthalates) has been linked to a number of health issues.