Wooden Toys - An Acquired Skill?
I have three kids who are now 15, 13 and 11 and who spend a lot of time with toys made of metal and glass – iPods, iPhones and iPads!
But when they were small they had toys of every kind as they are blessed with Omas that love giving gifts. We collected a lot (no, I mean A LOT) of PlayMobil. PlayMobil is beautifully designed – I love the colors and the story concepts (wedding sets, farm sets, etc.) but I do not love how many little pieces there are.
As I write this Blog in defense of the wooden toys that we have carefully chosen for our Gingerbread World online shop I realize that my kids did not have many wooden toys. Their world was full of PlayMobil, dress up clothes and forts (of sticks or snow!).
An Acquired Skill
We as a family have always listened to audio books when we are travelling in the car. We started out with sets of CD’s – the whole Little House on the Prairie series, the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, the Magic Treehouse series (not my favorite!). Then we evolved to downloaded books – books we bought from Audible.com or iTunes – and found lots of wonderful, clever stories.
But the reason I am telling you this is that I have noticed over the years that listening to audio books is an acquired skill. My kids, who have been doing the audiobook thing for years, immediately settle in and listen intently to the story. But when we have friends in the car with us on road trips they often do not settle and fidget and talk throughout the book – we often have to turn it off as my own kids get frustrated.
I am wondering if wooden toys are similar – they are an acquired skill. If a child starts out with simple, imagination-driven toys they acquire the skill. If they start out with tons of inexpensive plastic toys where everything is done for them, they would need time to acquire the skill of playing with more simple wooden toys.
My kids and I spent a summer in Germany some years ago – the kids were maybe 7, 9 and 11. We brought a very few toys with us. And when we moved into our summer home we bought a very few more from a garage sale (I think it would have been called a “Flohmarkt”??). So in the end they had a small PlayMobil structure and maybe 20 figures between the 3 of them.
The kids played more happily that summer than I had seen them play in a long time. It seemed that having less toys at their disposal fostered more imaginative play – they made really big paper airplanes and flew their PlayMobil figures out the attic window and then ran down the two flights of stairs to see where it had landed (they also threw PlayMobil figures out the window attached to plastic bag parachutes. I’m hoping we entertained the neighbors!!).
This also happened when we moved to the cottage every summer when the kids were smaller. We brought just a few toys and these were augmented with a lot of sand, rocks and craft materials. There was less distraction – and less mess.
Another place this simpler play happens is at Oma’s house. When my kids were young my Mom had some toys at her house leftover from my childhood. But the big hit at Oma’s is the dress up clothes – old shoes and hats are the best! Fewer toys and the time to create elaborate stories with and around them were special times (and add in the cousins and life could not be grander!)
Philosophy and Reality
There are people out there that get pretty philosophical about toys and preach the virtues of wood toys. I’m not that hard core. But I do have some thoughts on wood toys and this explains why we carry a small collection of them in our Gingerbread World shop:
- Wood Toys have a sense of peace about them – they are simple, there are often not a lot of moving parts, the colors and grains of wood are beautiful to look at and touch
- Wood Toys demand patience and imagination from both the child and the parent – sometimes it takes a bit of work on the part of the adult to get down on the floor with the child and show them what is possible with wood toys. Line up the animals two by two on their way into Noah’s Ark, empty out the wooden box of costumes and use it as a house for the mouse dolls…
- Wooden Toys are often a little more expensive than plastic toys so maybe we are not as tempted to buy as many toys for the children in our lives – and this is a good thing. I strongly believe that the imaginative play that wooden toys foster has less to do with their being made of wood and more to do with kids having to create more with the fewer toys they have available to them.
Are wood toys better than plastic ones – sure, certainly better than cheap plastic stuff that breaks after a couple of days – but not better than every plastic toy out there. PlayMobil and Lego are made of plastic and they are fabulous toys that foster creativity.
But certainly a child should have some wood toys and an at least occasionally have the environment to really appreciate the beauty of simple play with fewer distractions.