Okay, full disclosure: I’m a first-time mom who was classified as having a geriatric pregnancy. I’m also pretty much a Type-A person, who loves knowing every little thing about whatever project I’m handling.
Add having a miracle baby who had to stay in the NICU for a week after birth into the mix, and you get a momma who is obsessed about keeping her little bubba safe 24/7. I mean, all moms could relate, right? We just want to be sure that our kids are safe and sound all the time.
For me, that pretty much translates into poring through studies and journals and reviews about everything my baby touches: food, gear, clothes, vitamins, toys, you name it. Most especially toys. I think my baby spends practically half the day clutching at them, gnawing at them, throwing them, and, well, playing with them.
So from the get-go, I wanted to minimize plastic use at our home, given all the research about toxic chemicals and leaching. I came across parents espousing the benefits of using wooden toys as an alternative to plastic ones, and boy, that opened up a whole new world to me. I didn’t know there are so many nice wooden toys available in the market these days. To say that I’m a believer is an understatement. I was beyond thrilled to know that lots of good brands are available locally, too!
So why do I love wooden toys so much? Let me count the ways:
1. They are (generally) non-toxic.
Quality toys made from natural materials such as wood have less chemical treatment than plastics or other synthetic materials. And this is important for me as a mother who’s always obsessing about safety, because my teething baby loves munching on everything (especially when my back’s turned). While I can shoo his hand and mouth away from his toys most of the time, I won’t be able to do that at every waking moment. That’s why I want to have peace of mind that when he does use his toys as teether substitutes, I know that he won’t be putting nasty chemicals into his mouth. There’s a caveat, though. Wood can still grow molds, so make sure that your toys are safely stashed away from liquids. Also, I put a slight disclaimer at the header because not all wooden toys are created equal. Sadly, there are so many low-quality wooden toys that are available in the market right now. I’m talking about those that are heavily coated with toxic paint and are made of thin plywood that could easily splinter and hurt your child. Personally, I try to get my hands on toy brands that comply with the European Union’s strict EN-71 standards on toy paint and cosmetics for kids to ensure safety. At the same time, wooden toys have less (or even none at all) loose parts, lessening the risk of choking hazards for babies.
2. They are open-ended.
Most toys that have all those bells and whistles have very short shelf life. Once your baby grows tired of their features, you could say goodbye to them forever. Let’s say you have a remote-controlled car toy. Absolutely wrong with that. It could be very exciting for your child for a couple of weeks or months, but since it only has limited features, it won’t be surprising if your child gets bored of it easily. Most wooden toys, on the other hand, are versatile. Stackers could also be used as pieces for castles, landscapes for pretend play, funny eye pieces, or tools for introducing shapes and colors. This is such an important point for me because I want my baby to be able to use his toys for a long time, as well as to engage his imagination and creativity. Having open-ended wooden toys means his playthings grow with him as well. This makes them more practical, too, in the long run, as these toys get a lot more playtime than those that have singular features.
3. They last for a long, looooooong time.
Wooden toys are oftentimes referred to as “heirloom toys,” and for good reason. They can be passed down through generations. Quality wooden toy brands such as Grimms or Raduga Grez, for example, are made of tough materials that don’t break easily. Our stackers and blocks endure being thrown at dizzying speeds every single day, and they are still very much intact. Aside from being durable, wooden toys are also timeless, so you can definitely store them and save them for future siblings and even your grandchildren. How awesome is that?
I also find that a lot of wooden toys are crafted with specific age ranges in mind. Of course, being developmentally appropriate is not exclusively limited to just wooden toys, as there are many plastic toys that are like that, too. It’s a good feature to keep in mind, though, as we moms want toys that hit the soft spot between challenging and boredom. We don’t want toys that are too easy or too difficult for our kids to play with.
I am quite happy to report that my one-year-old is also taken by his wooden toys. He enjoys building with his blocks and is even more thrilled when he topples them over. He also uses them as pretend food, which he loves to pretend cook, eat, and feed our family. He also still loves chucking them around the room and biting on them (when he thinks) I’m not looking, and I’m glad all of them are still in one piece despite the abuse. And that’s not even the best part. Despite having these toys for a little over a year now, he still reaches for them every single day. And yes, that also means our house is shamelessly messy 24/7, that I wouldn’t be surprised if our dogs started picking up and storing away the toys on their own as a defense mechanism from all the clutter.
I also won’t get tired seeing my baby’s laser-like focus whenever he concentrates on things he finds enjoyable and challenging. At present, that means fidgeting with locks on his lockbox, placing the proper order of shapes onto his nesting board, carefully pouring a variety of liquids and toys in cups, stacking a wide array of figures on top of each other, and matching different categories (animals, colors, shapes, etc.). It’s like having a sneak peek into the amazing way his mind works.
And I guess that’s the joy of learning through play for us as parents. We get front-row tickets to our child’s development when we see them play. What a privilege, indeed. What a delight.