Toys for Thought

I am a snob when it comes to toys. The worst kind of snob, because not only am I one of those I-only-let-my-kids-play-with-wooden-toys parents*, but I make sure everyone around me knows it. I am sure I offend, or at the very least, irritate a lot of people with this attitude. But snobbery notwithstanding, I have given a lot of thought to why I insist on wooden toys. If my attitude stems from well thought-out opinions, even if others don’t share those opinions, then it’s (I’m) not quite as annoying, right? So here is my attempt to share why I feel the way I do about wooden toys.

The first reason has to do with a connection to nature. In my opinion, our culture puts up walls to separate us from nature, from structures that keep out wind, sun, and, rain, to appliances that neutralize natural temperature variation (i.e., my house growing up was always 68 degrees, no matter what the weather outside). I feel we are disconnected from nature. Wooden toys (or toys from any natural material - wool, cotton, etc.) offer contact with our natural environment. It is a way to bring nature through the walls we’ve built and into our homes. Plastic toys feel like another component of the barrier between children and nature.

The second reason comes from an explanation a teacher once gave during a parent discussion group. She made an analogy between toys and food. Food is nourishment, it allows us to grow and develop. The more natural and wholesome the food, the more nutritious it is. The more processed the food, the less nutritious it is. Toys are the same, nourishment for the mind and imagination, with natural toys being healthier than processed, artificial toys.

That is not to say I am anti-plastic. Although I do like bringing natural materials into my home for the whole nature connection thing, there is another component that tends to go with plastic toys, and that is complexity. I love the expression, “Toys should be 10% toy and 90% child”, meaning, children should have to do the work of making a toy what it is. For example, a red fire engine with a ladder, flashing lights and a nice, loud siren can only be a fire engine. It leaves no room for imagination. A simple block on wheels can be a fire engine, a police car, a roller skate, a doll sled, and on and on and on. In other words, the more a toy does, the less the child does. Plastic toys tend to be quite complex. I don’t really have anything against simple plastic toys.

I don’t know if any of this matters; children find a way to play no matter what they have or don’t have. But at the very least, I do know that sticking to wooden toys makes for a much quieter house, and for me, quiet house = sanity = better mom. That alone is reason enough to deprive my kids of noisy, plastic toys.

*I don’t actually only let my kids only play with wooden toys. Legos. Magna-tiles. Bath toys. Balls. And more. I guess that makes me an even worse kind of snob: a poser snob.