I guess, we will tell you no secret here if we say we are in love with natural toys in our home. It is a love affair that has developed slowly and almost unnoticeably over the last years: and by now we can say we are deeply committed. Natural toys have not only transformed the atmosphere of our home but also the way our child plays and we started thinking about play. In brief, we love them, because they have brought us beauty, joy, respect, and they have also reconnected us with the natural world. But let me explain a little bit more what I mean by it. I have compiled a little list of our (magical number seven!) reasons for slowly switching to natural toys.

1. Natural toys are simply beautiful.

It’s one thing that natural toys come with their own aesthetic appeal, so I don’t feel like hiding them in the bottom of boxes or baskets. But I also believe that beauty and harmony truly matter for a child. Whatever we surround our children with, they will absorb it like little sponges. Or as my favourite quote by Maria Montessori puts it:

„The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.”

We instinctively know this, because we try to mind our words and behaviours in front of our children – but why should the environment be any different? We should really give them beautiful and graceful objects, things that bring us joy, too.

2. Natural toys are alive.

They are made of materials which are alive. Think of wood, for instance. In every piece of wood, there is written the unique history of time and place where it grew, and it also bears the marks of all the prosperity and hardships it has been through. And it keeps on changing even in its second life, when it is made into new thing. Therefore also makes into a real „living toy”: a toy, which almost feels alive. But it is not only wood, but also other natural materials – wool, metals, stones – that are constantly evolving, too, and continue absorbing their environment. And here I don’t only mean the aspects of their surrounding (think of light or humidity, for intstance), but also our beings. Call me old-fashioned or sentimental, but I do believe these toys carry a bit of their makers’ soul, too, and of all the children’s who have ever played with them.

3. Natural toys feel real. 

So natural toys help to mold our world with the natural world. But it’s not the only reason why I find this sense of authenticity important. A child, especially at this age, develops through his senses. And natural toys put these senses to work. Unlike plastic toys, they have texture, temperature, and even smell or taste. If you drop them or knock them together they make different amusing noises. Many wooden or metal toys have weight, too: something that worried grandmothers or guests, fearing injuries or damages, are also fast to point out whenever they come for a visit. But I don’t see it as a bad or dangerous thing at all. On the contrary! What I have actually noticed is that children show much more care and respect for objects that feel real. I figure, they feel trusted and honoured in a way. They are also more aware of what they are doing when they interact with these items. Heavier toys help feel their movements, and that also contributes to the development of their muscles as well as fine motor skills.

4. Natural toys are many times open-ended and versatile. 

Many natural toys are simple and open-ended. Therefore they spark imagination, curiosity and creativity. They engage children to a greater extent, and actually they help their development more than the toys marketed as “developmental”. The focus is more on what the child can do with these items, rather what the toy knows or does for them. As another wonderful and wise woman, Magda Gerber has put it:

„It takes passive toys to raise active children.”

Open-ended toys make them more prone to become the active creators of this world, rather than spectators or consumers. Being able to transform their environment also gives them a sense of control and a huge satisfaction. Versatility is also inherent in many wooden or natural toys. Not only they can be used hundreds of different ways, but they can be combined with one another, too. Less becomes much more.

5. Natural toys last longer. 

They serve for a longer time. Not only because they are made out of durable materials and they can be mended more easily than their plastic counterparts. But also because through their open-endedness the child can use them for years. Practically they grow with him. If you wish you can monetize this aspect, too. But to me it also has an added emotional value that my son becomes attached to his toys over time. And then they still don’t end up on a plastic dump in the middle of the ocean, but we can pack them away for his children or even grandchildren.

6. Natural toys are silent. 

Now this might sound like a joke, but bear with me, I am quite serious here. When I was expecting my son, I swore we would never ever have a toy which might contribute to a nervous breakdown. I like my home clutter free, and that includes unwanted background noises. But it’s not only for the sake of my sanity. Research has been backing quite some time now that what is not good for our nervous sytem, it is not the best for theirs either. Battery-operated flashy musical toys overstimulate and distract kids. They influence the development of their concentration skills – to the worse. Isn’t it better to nurture their hearing and help them stay sensitive for the natural sounds around them? My child always seems so delighted when he picks up from the outside world the sound of the wind or the rain, a passing dog barking, a little bird singing, or the church bell signaling lunch time. And even if the natural toys make some kind of sound while they are manipulated, like the wooden hammering toy or musical instruments, it’s still more pleasant to our ears, simply because… well, they are more natural!

7. Natural toys are healthier and more environmental friendly. 

I don’t think I need to be too wordy about this point. We all know plastic is not the healthiest material on earth. And that is especially a serious concern when most of the things still end up in the little mouths. PVC, BPA or even heavy metals found in many plastic toys are few of the nasty chemicals that I don’t exactly want to be part of my child’s diet. Beside the plastic toys, which have a short life cycle and are pretty much impossible to recycle, have incredibly huge environmental impacts. Whereas good quality wooden toys are more durable, so they yield less waste, they are biodegradable and in some cases may even be made with sustainable wood.

Having said all these, of course we are not extremists. So don’t get me wrong. I don’t say or even think that having plastic toys are of the devil, and all natural toys are gifts from the gods. Actually there are a lot of cheap, low-quality, poorly painted wooden toys, too, which are better to avoid. And in the same time, there are plastic ones, which might not be natural per se, but still score high on the list above. We do have a couple of these ones in our home, too.

My point is rather that I try to consider all of these things above when I pick or decide about keeping a gift toy. The questions I ask myself: What is its purpose?  Is it safe? What is it made of? Does it feel or look real? Is it a beautiful piece? Is it simple or open-ended? Can it be used many different ways? Does it combine well with other toys? Will it last long and grow with us? And then I try to find a balance that feels right for us. As everybody else should fine what feels right for them.


Picture: Jasmina Lozar The post was originally published on my previous blog, Mummy & the Wanderers.