When my children were young I made the decision to stop buying plastic toys and only have natural toys. At the time, in the late 90’s, it was a very unusual road to walk and trying to explain to grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends my reasoning was often difficult. I am sure they thought I was just being a hippy and there were many rolled eyes.
Some nearly 20 years later, the decision to avoid plastic toys is no longer obscure or strange, it is becoming more and more mainstream. It is fantastic to see a new generation of Mum’s and Dad’s value natural toys within their home and family. However explaining to grandparents, aunties and uncles and friends that you’d rather them not purchase a plastic toy that’s currently all the rage can still be difficult.
So I thought I would share my top 5 reasons to choose wooden toys, to help explain why avoiding plastic is the best option for our children.
1. Wooden Toys Encourage Reverence
It might just be me, but there is nothing more beautiful or special than a gorgeous wooden toy placed thoughtfully on a toy shelf. Children who’s toys are placed within a space with conscious purpose, respect and love develop reverence for their belongings.
Teaching our children not to participate in a throw away society is important to the future of the world that they are going to inherit. Modeling care and appreciation is also important to nurture a sense of gratitude within our children.
Wooden toys can be cared for by children themselves by encouraging them to wax their own toys. This regular activity is a wonderful way to promote not only the longevity of the toys, but an authentic experience and connection to their belongings.
2. Wooden Toys are Safer
You might be surprised how many people think plastic is safer than wood for young children. This rhetorical pro plastic stance has grown in part from decades of effective marketing from petrochemical companies. The reality however couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Studies are finally debunking the concept that plastic toys are safe. A recent study used new technology called X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to penetrate the structures of a random selection of second hand toys. What the researchers discovered was shocking, with a large percentage of these toys containing high concentrations of “hazardous elements” (antimony, barium, bromine, cadmium, chromium, lead and selenium), which are highly toxic to children at low levels over an extended period of time. The researchers advised that parents should avoid allowing their children place plastic toys, especially second hand plastic toys, in their mouth. Crazy, as we all know that’s exactly what young children do with their toys.
Around 40% of toys sold in Australia today are made from PVC or polyvinyl chloride. Within the cocktail of chemicals they use to make PVC there are a few that have definite questionable safety. One in particular is a chemical known as orthophthalate or phthalate, this is a proven endocrine disrupter and not only upset the body’s hormonal balance, it has also been found to stimulate the growth of cancers.
Currently there is a very big fight being battled between 2 opposing sides concerning plastic safety. On one side we have big petrochemical and plastic companies who, in what seems to echo the tobacco industry of the not to distant past, are arguing that these phthalates are safe. On the other are independent researchers and scientists as well as organisations such as Greenpeace, who are fighting to reduce the amount of plastic being produced and warning people of their dangers not only to the environment but peoples health.
There is no doubt safer “green” plastics are available currently in market place. But navigating what may or may not be safe is very tricky, especially when most of the toys sold are imported from third world countries where historically the quality of the imported products are dubious and policing is very difficult.
3. Wooden toys Help Develop Imaginations
In the first few years of life children learn through play. As a result play is a vital part of healthy childhood development.
Imaginative or pretend play forms the foundation of a child’s learning. Many studies show that make-believe strengthens a wide variety of mental abilities, including sustained attention, memory, logical reasoning, language and literacy skills, imagination, creativity, understanding emotions and empathy.
Wooden toys by the very nature of their simplicity allow children to develop their own imaginative world. They can dream up the details, the story and use the simple structure of the toy as a basic framework. Wooden toys allow children to be the constructors of play, where more detailed plastic toys make them passive participants.
The simpler a toy is the more the child has to exercise their imagination, like a muscle that is worked and trained, the more a child’s imagination is inspired, the stronger it is.
4. Wooden Toys are Better For the Environment
I think we are all becoming more knowledgeable regarding the trouble that plastic is causing environmentally throughout the world. The movement to stop single use plastic shopping bags throughout Australia recently is the beginning of a very large push back against plastic. Fundamentally plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose and during the process of breaking down they create toxic residues. And given that most plastic toys do end up being broken and in land fill, that’s a lot of toys remaining within the environment creating all manner of havoc.
But the dangers of plastic are not just concerning the way the plastic is being disposed of, it is also concerning the environmental impact of its very production. Workers in plastic manufacturing facilities as well as residents in nearby communities are at risk of exposure from these chemicals which can be highly toxic and can contaminate the soil, water and air.
A large percentage of the wooden toys that are currently in production are crafted from plantation timbers such as pine, rubber tree, beech, ash and even bamboo. These forestry products, when managed correctly, create a viable and environmentally friendly option to plastics.
5. Wooden Toys Last
At the end of the day wooden toys last. Many families have a timber toy that has been past down through the generations. They are strong and durable and become family heirlooms. But if by chance they do break and end up in landfill, timber products decomposes safely and quickly.
A lasting toy is one that can move through a family, from sibling to sibling and then from generation to generation. Ultimately this is environmentally and economically the absolute best choice in a toy.
Comparably we know that a wooden toy that is passed down through a family is ultimately safer than a plastic one. Chances are those second hand plastic toys being passed around are indeed incredibly toxic and dangerous and not the kind of toy we would want our children playing with.