Wood Toys. History, Design, and Material Advantages
Please enjoy our 4-part series entitled Wood Toys as we discover the history of designing wood toys from the very beginning and materials used for these old fashioned toys. In the next few weeks we will also explore Past Trends and Antiques, Current Trends & Unique Designs, and lastly we will look into This Season’s Greatest Hits as we head into the Christmas shopping season. We hope to inform you, reveal something about wooden toys that you’ve never known before, and give you inspiration for shopping not only this season but all year long as you search for the perfect, meaningful gift for any age kid.
Blog 1 of 4: History, Design, and Material Advantages
Who doesn’t love a traditional wooden toy?
Not only do wooden toys look charming compared to plastic and metal pieces all over our homes, but they’re sturdier and more environmentally-friendly.
Yes, wooden toys can be expensive. But, they also hold up better and can be passed down for generations, adding to their charm and value.
Don’t settle for any old wooden toy though – choose ones made from sustainable materials and free from chemicals. And, as many wood toys that have to be assembled, make sure you are prepared when timing the gift giving of one.
The best thing about wooden toys, apart from their character and eco-credentials, is the fact that they never run out of batteries. With no flashy gadgetry or noisy features, wooden toys encourage children to use their imagination during play. So get down on the floor alongside your child and enjoy some classic, plastic-free play together. You’ll be glad you did.
FACT: TOY means Thinking Of You. That’s actually not fact but an interesting thought from someone.
During the 19th century, factory-made toys, including tin and clockwork toys, went on sale. Rich children had more to choose from: train sets, toy soldiers, rocking horses, dolls and doll houses, tea-sets and toy shops with toy fruit, vegetables, meat, hats and medicines.
Other popular toys were alphabet bricks, sailing boats, jigsaw puzzles and Noah's Ark. In many homes, children were not allowed toys on Sundays - except Noah's Ark, because that was in the bible. For a look at more information on Victorian toys and games click here:
Even today most wooden toy makers offer their own variant of Noah's Ark toys and rag dolls that are still made using traditional hand crafted techniques.
Wooden toys have been an important part of childhood since early civilization and while children today are much different than those thousands of years ago, many of their favorite toys are similar to those that have been around for centuries. As long ago as the ancient Greek and Roman empires, children are known to have played with dolls, horses, and chariots. The earliest toys discovered by archaeologists were all made of wood.
FACT: The earliest dolls were made from available materials such as clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, leather, or wax. Archaeological evidence places dolls as the foremost candidate for the oldest known toy. Wooden paddle dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to as early as the 21st century BC.
Though the exact date wooden toys first appeared is unclear, there is evidence that the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used wood to create playthings. In fact, archaeologists have uncovered ancient spinning tops made of wood, ceramics, and bone. The 1700s brought the onset of educational toys in England with the advent of wooden alphabet blocks. The 18th century also saw the emergence of wooden sleds and carved miniature animals.
FACT: One of the oldest toys is the spinning top.
Wooden toys continued to be a common part of childhood for thousands of years. By the 1700's, German toy makers began to craft a variety of toys from wood to sell to the general public. Salesmen would travel around Europe to market these popular wooden toys, taking advance orders for special occasions and often for custom made toys. Almost life-like dolls and animals were becoming favorite playthings for children all over Europe.
Over the next century, toy makers became more elaborate and detailed with their wooden creations. Miniatures…in the form of dollhouses and theaters became popular during the 19th century, as well as wooden toy soldiers. Many, like the classic Jack-in-the-box, were hand painted with bright, vivid colors. Wooden trains, along with their wooden tracks, were one of the best selling toys during this time period.
By the end of World War II, a number of new materials had been introduced to the manufacturing industry including the still popular...plastic. The production of wooden toys steadily declined as more and more toy makers opted for cheaper and more modern materials. Plastic toys were much easier for mass production and were more affordable to families with children.
Wooden toys are typically simple playthings that encourage a child to use their imagination. Puzzles encourage children to develop cognitively as well as develop fine motor skills. Ride-on toys and pedal cars enhance physical skills and gross motor development. Whether it is a fire station or a farmhouse, miniature wood play sets aid in social and emotional development. Wooden toys hold great educational value because of their simplicity.
Plastic toys are still generally less expensive than wooden toys and are considered safer by some because of the flammability of older wooden toys and possible injuries from thrown or falling wood objects, but wooden toys do not contain toxic PVC like plastic toys do. Toys made from wood are the most durable toys and can usually last through generations of play.
Today's wooden toys are just as innovative, if not more so, than modern electronic toys. Cars, trucks, and wind-ups make wonderful gifts and pull along toys delight toddlers.
Quiet games like chess and checkers, and even tic-tac-toe can be found made of wood, as well as physical games like ring toss. For toys that provide educational benefits and last for decades, choose the toys that have been tested by time, wooden toys.
When considering toys….
...the main concern for parents is that toys should be safe for their children to play with. They expect toys to be sturdy and well made as they know that children will often play roughly with them.
Toys for toddlers, in particular, need to be able to withstand a lot of the same action over and over again.
Some parents are prepared to pay for expensive toys, particularly if they think their children will play with them for some time; other parents prefer to buy less expensive toys.
Many parents like toys to be educational as well as fun. They like toys that will stimulate their child’s creativity or imagination, enable them to develop a physical skill, or improve their knowledge. Parents consider it a great side benefit if their child’s memory and concentration improves and they learn problem solving techniques (by playing with such toys as alphabet bricks, construction toys and shape sorters).
Some parents and grandparents like to buy traditional toys such as rocking horses or clockwork train sets and many children enjoy playing with these items.
Above all, parents want to buy toys that their children will have fun playing with!
Wood is still used to manufacture a number of traditional toys such as rocking horses, hobby horses, jumping jacks, jigsaws and some push or pull along toys. Parents often like wooden toys because they find them more visually appealing than plastic ones and know that they are durable.
FACT: The Jigsaw puzzle was invented in 1767 to help kids learn geography.
The reason wooden toys are usually more expensive than plastic is because of the cost of the raw materials and production techniques: many are handmade, at least in part, rather than mass produced.
Softwoods, such as pine, are most commonly used to make toys as they are relatively easy to cut and shape.
Hardwoods are more expensive but beech is popular for indoor toys; elm is good for steam bending and cherry is splinter resistant. Manufactured boards, such as plywood or MDF (medium density fiberboard), are also used in toy manufacturing.
Some toys are made out of a combination of woods. Pine, for instance, for the frame of a rocking horse because of its strength and MDF for the horse itself because it is easy to shape and cheaper.
Because wood both absorbs and releases moisture, it is not suitable for bath time toys, or many outdoor toys. If you do purchase wood toys to be used outside you will need to apply a surface finish such as wax, varnish or paint.
We’ll conclude by giving you the 7 major advantages of wooden toys.
1. Environmentally sound
Wooden toys made from sustainably sourced, certified wood are a much more environmentally friendly option than plastic toys. As an organic, renewable substance, wooden toys are biodegradable and can be recycled.
Wooden toys offer further eco-credentials when any paint used on them is free of toxic chemicals – or if no paint is used at all.
The production of wooden toys, particularly when hand-crafted and when all materials are sustainably sourced and certified, offers a stark comparison to the creation of many mass-produced plastic toys, which can contain questionable and problematic chemicals and often offer little prospect of renewability.
Wooden toys also present a direct connection to the natural world for children.
2. Educational qualities
As stated previously, parents are not only looking for fun for their children, but fun in learning. In 1976, the pioneering educational psychologist Dr. Lawrence Mestyanek noticed a lack of educational toys for children and infants who suffered from learning disabilities. He sought to change this by constructing a number of special wooden toys in his garage, and ever since, we have come to understand more and more how wooden toys offer a range of educational qualities.
Some of the classic staple wooden toys include puzzles, building blocks and miniature construction sets, all of which can help children with numeracy, literacy, motor skills and problem solving.
FACT: Fisher Price. Known for practical and educational toys.
3. Improves Concentration
Workplaces with wood are both calming and stimulating in the best of ways. Working in an environment with nature-similar lighting and the exposed grain of solid wood sets our minds and bodies at ease and ready to tackle real work. Less mental effort is expended on overcoming negative feelings that are stronger when the workplace is defined by cold, harsh lighting and metal, plastic or concrete furniture and objects. Workers (kids!) can think and learn better as well as be more creative in spaces with wood and other natural elements.
4. Durability and longevity
It is undeniable that toys take quite a battering from their young owners, getting bashed up, thrown around and left out in the weather. And let’s face it, children aren’t the only ones playing with these toys! Adults are often just as guilty, if not more, of misplacing their “toy” only to find it left outside or accidentally dropped into the kitchen sink while making dinner.
Plastic toys can be brittle, while anything digital or audio-visual always has a risk of malfunction or obsolescence. Wood, on the other hand, can endure rough treatment and last for generations, ensuring these toys can be handed down through the family tree.
5. Ignites the imagination
The relentless advance of technology has ensured that toys today are replete with bells, whistles, bleeps, screens, noises, colors and so on. But often, simplicity is best, and less is more. Wooden toys offer children a blank slate upon which they can project all the wildness and extravagance of their burgeoning imaginations.
My youngest son's favorite toy is currently a stick he found in the garden, says one mom. It's amazing what a child's creativity can do with the simplest thing.
So we say…let them!
6. Promotes social interaction
Playing computer games, though increasingly dazzling and wide-ranging in their scope, can often be a solitary activity for children. Wooden toys can foster interaction with other children and promote sharing and teamwork.
Wooden toys, naturally devoid of any possibility of sound or interaction in themselves, allow for children to supply their own voices and sound effects in collaboration with one another.
Some modern toys, with their electronic and interactive capabilities, ‘do everything’ for the child. Meanwhile, the simplicity of wood allows for role-playing and world-building (creating imaginary communities), and can aid spatial and social awareness as a result.
It is an unfortunate fact that plastic toys, especially the cheaply made variety, can break easily, potentially leaving sharp edges and small parts that may do a child harm – particularly if they are at an age where everything they come across gets put in their mouth. Wood, strong and sturdy by comparison, offers less risk in this way.
Not only are wood toys safer than plastic toys, wood as a material can offer benefits to a child’s health and wellbeing.
As in a recent article posted by Benchmaster WoodworX, 8 Reasons That Will Convince You To Use Wood Products For All Your Needs makes clear a connection to nature through contact with wood can improve mental and physical well-being. It should be noted that education spaces (where toys are often found), have increased rates of learning, improved test results, concentration and attendance when wood is prominent.
Wooden toys can aid a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. With an ever-expanding range of wooden toys available today, this is a world of play that children and parents can discover together.
Thank you for taking the time to read about wood toys today. If you would like to leave a comment or share with us your favorite toy---wood or otherwise---please feel free to do so below.
Also, don't miss the next three posts as we delve more deeply into Wood Toys and their value in our society. Sign up below to receive our notices on blog posts.