There is something intriguing and irresistibly appealing about natural wood toys. Wooden toys just feel good when handled by children of all ages. There is a mysterious, ancient connection found with all wood toys that plastic and electronic toys just can’t compare with. What causes this passionate connection to this material? It may be the fact that humans have played with these miniature wooden representations of common objects, flora, and fauna which we call toys, for thousands of years.
Until very recently the by far most common building material for a toy was wood. It was rare to find anything other than marbles that was made from anything else until the 1950s when toys began being manufactured with metal and increasing amounts of plastic and rubber. Today’s toy stores are predominantly filled with plastic toys which are cheap to make and harmful to the environment. As a species, humans are not even sure what will happen to this plastic in the future, but they know that it’s already harming the environment now.
If only toys grew on trees! Wait a minute. Wooden toys are still around and actually seeing a resurgence of popularity but not just because they are environmentally friendly; not all of them are. While there are many sustainable ways to harvest wood, many countries around the world do not necessarily follow them. A reputable natural wood toy manufacturer is proud that their wood is harvested with nature in mind and proudly displays this fact on promotional material and in store display boxes.
Environmental concerns aside, wood is still a remarkable toy material suitable for any kid. It is solid and strong, wears well, and looks great. It can be left unfinished or painted with any non-toxic paint in a variety of colors. Imagine stepping on a plastic toy. Did it break into a thousand jagged little pieces in your mind? Now imagine stepping on a similar wooden toy. It probably survived, though you may not have been so lucky. Even if it did sustain any damage some elbow grease, a dowel and a little sandpaper are often all that are needed to make it good as new.
All wood toys are not created equal, only the finest sustainable hardwoods allow for year after year of wear and tear. Hardwoods such as maple and oak not only look great when carved or assembled into a simple toy train or fire truck, but they are as durable as they are long lasting. Someone’s children’s children could use the same toy if taken care of and occasionally refinished. A remarkably preserved wooden doll was found entombed with a young Roman girl who died nearly 2000 years ago. Wooden dolls have also been found in Egyptian tombs buried since 2000 BC. In wetter environments the wood toys likely decomposed into the earth never to be seen again.
Study after study has shown that simple wood toys, such as building blocks, are important for many aspects of a child’s development including creativity, motor control, dexterity, communication, and problem solving.