Children today are used to the more technical toys that are designed to “do” something. Many of these toys simply entertain them and have little to no practical or educational value. With these toys, you can push a button to make them walk, talk, or light up. The flashy lights and noises mesmerize but are these good toys for them to have?
Children have a natural desire to explore, discover, and experience things for themselves. Your child should have the ability to create their own play experience. This means that that the toy should involve your child in the actual playing. It should not be a situation where your child is simply a passive participant that only gets to watch the play happening… toys that encourage your child to use their imagination to create the play activity. When children are allowed to use unstructured toys, their creativity is nurtured. Research has noted that these types of toys encourage children to be problem solvers by promoting the well known theory of “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Another thing to think about is the materials that the toys your children play with are made out of. Some of these materials present certain images for your child. Young children and babies are in the beginning of learning about the world around them. It is an important thing to provide them with toys that give a better image of the world. For example, a wooden rattle is made from nature. It comes from a living thing. This is something that the synthetic made toys can not compare to. Wooden toys have more texture, they are warmer, and every toy is unique. Your child will notice that there is a definite difference between the two. This will happen when they manipulate, touch, and play with the toys. I just love to run my fingers over little wooden toys… how about you? There is just something magical about them.
Plastic or synthetic toys are normally single purpose. These types of toys lead overconsumption. The advertising for the synthetic or plastic toys leave children feeling dissatisfied and wanting more. These toys leave much to desire. They do not allow for much imagination when playing with them. They are designed to be more of a disposable thing than a long lasting play thing. Many children only play with these types of toys just a couple times. I think all parents know this from experience. The gimmicky, commercialized, plastic, hot toy of the moment becomes boring after a short time. Many of these toys are then thrown away or quickly donated to make room for more of the same. When these toys have outlived their few plays, they are added to the pile of toys that are useless and not played with. If you have gone to very many garage sales, you will understand.
All this is doing is teaching your child that when something is boring that they should throw it away. This should not be the case. With natural or wooden toys, your child will see the creative value and insist on playing with them over and over. One of these toys is building blocks. Simple wooden building blocks are a great gift and can be used to make just about anything. Blocks, as simple as they are, teach so many things. Building a block structure takes balance, imagination, creativity with different designs and patterns. Physically it helps with dexterity and strength their fingers and hands, and it improves their eye-hand coordination. They are also so proud of their creations. Take some pictures of their creations and help them create a photo journal to record all of their inventions and accomplishments as mini architects.
Legos are another toy that I like. They are plastic but they are built to last. My 7 year old son has never received Legos of his own, yet he has a huge box of them from his Uncle (my younger brother). He plays with them quite often. They are also easy to find at yard sales.
Another awesome toy is a simple playsilk. Playsilks can be used as a flag, a fairy skirt, a tea party tablecloth, a boat sail, a veil or headwrap, a curtain, a sarong, or a doll sling or hammock. Give them the basic raw materials and see what they can create!
There are also some really good toy companies that make simple, open ended, high quality, natural toys. Here are some of the toys we like in our family:
Little Amsterdam blocks by Haba – This 166 piece set allows for hours of building, stacking, and creating cityscapes. The wooden blocks contain arches, half domes, windows, and many more shapes so that little homes and urban cities can be made. Beautiful colors and non-toxic paint.
Sticki Giant Fit Together Building Blocks – These are classic…just like the ones I had when I was little but with a cool twist. They have nubs on top and holes on the bottom, these blocks can actually be fitted together rather than just stacked. They have multiple coats of natural, water-based, non-toxic paint. These are made to last! Also check out the Haba Bausteine Eene, Meene, Zoo blocks I reviewed for younger kids.
Sometimes though, kids just want BIG blocks so they can create more life size structures. My sons LOVE these Jumbo Cardboard Blocks from Melissa and Doug. These jumbo blocks look like bricks but they aren’t heavy so when a mini Godzilla knocks them down no one will get hurt and furniture will remain unscathed.
Do you remember those plastic spheres that you pushed plastic shapes through? Well here is a wooden version. Very cool… Shape & Sort It Out. Put the blocks through, open the lid to take the blocks out, and then start over again.
For game lovers why not try Domino Rally. Build the domino track, and then tumble it down with one tiny push of the marble! You can also add on to this set with other ball track sets. Domino runs are educational and they help children develop hand eye coordination and problem solving skills.
I also love all the pretend toys they have at KangarooBoo. My younger son has some of these sets.
It was hard to break the cheap plastic toy habit but one thing has really helped is not taking my kids with me on non-grocery shopping trips. If they see all the flashy toys they will want them. Natural toys do cost more than what you can buy at Wal-Mart most times but they last longer and the extra expense makes it easier to make sure they aren’t filling their rooms with useless toys.
So do you have any natural toy favorites? Share them!