Since the early 1990’s the toy industry has boomed with innovation. Toys are now more interactive, require an infinite supply of batteries and are made with the intention of standing out on a shelf or advertisement to catch the customers attention.
It’s easy to think that with so many new features these toys must be superior, however don’t be fooled by the fancy marketing techniques that toy companies use. When it comes to young children, the most basic toys actually allow for the best cognitive function and development because the children will begin to use their own imagination when playing with them.
With this in mind, some of the best toys for babies are actually those that have a simple design which makes wooden toys an ideal choice.
Why Choose Natural Wooden Toys
Wooden toys might seem to be a slightly dated option when looked at in comparison to the modern-day options, however when buying toys for babies or toddlers, wooden toys can actually be the standout option.
Natural organic wooden toys are not only hassle free and offer more longevity than most other toys, but they are also surging in popularity again as more and more people become environmentally aware.
Wooden toys are ecofriendly and environmentally sustainable which means that as the global movement shifts more towards sustainability, they are now becoming a better option, particularly when compared to plastic toys which are seeing a drastic decrease in popularity. People often think that wooden toys are hard to clean or sterilize but they’re not. Read our easy-to-follow cleaning guides here.
You only need to make reference to the recent Burger King meltdown campaign to realize that plastic toys are in decline, so now is the best time to start investing in some natural wooden toys for your babies and toddlers.
In this article I’m going to cover some of the more popular wooden toy options that you’ll want to consider purchasing for you babies, especially if you are new to the wooden toy market.
Learning & Puzzle Toys
As mentioned earlier, imagination and problem-solving skills are crucial for a child’s cognitive development
Perhaps the most important toy for developing a child’s ability to learn and problem solve is the classic geometric shape puzzle. Styles may vary but the concept is to place a certain shape (circle, square, triangle etc..) into the correct hole.
As you likely already know, this is not as straightforward as it might seem! Babies don’t currently have the cognitive ability to accurately puzzle solve and will therefore spend a significant amount of time simply experimenting and trying to place the shapes into the correct hole.
This can be fun to observe but is also a great learning experiment for children as they learn to interact with their environment.
This is a truly timeless toy that can keep children entertained for hours and there are a range of variations that you can buy for these puzzle toys.
Basic shapes are always a good starting selection, but you can also use farm animals or numbers/letters in the form of peg puzzles, these give a different visual stimulus and a new point of reference as babies age and learn.
Wooden bead mazes (rollercoaster beaded toys) are another great starter toy for young children as they navigate the different shaped beads along the wire helping to develop hand to eye coordination and intricate motor skills.
Sorting & Stacking Toys
One of the next best choices when it comes to wooden toys should be a set of stacking and sorting toys.
These tie in strongly with the puzzle solving aspect that I covered above but are more suited for babies that are around a year old due to the lower cognitive demands. A stacking toy is a good starting point to develop fine motor skills alongside hand eye coordination.
Stacking toys are great for a few reasons, the first being that babies will learn about spatial awareness (a block stacked at an angle will fall over), size, texture, weight, and shapes; while the less obvious reason is the fact that babies like to then knock them down and start again.
It’s a very simple cycle and the fun part of knocking them down is often forgotten about but is an important part of the process for a child’s engagement with these toys.
Wooden stacking blocks might be the best starting option; however, it can be difficult for many babies to grasp the complexity of stacking freely. This is where a stacking ring set or stacking pegboard can come in useful.
A stacking ring set is suitable for babies that are less than a year old and will help them with the basic motor skills and as these ring sets often come in different sizes and colors it will allow the child to learn to sort and puzzle solve from a young age.
Whilst I grew up in the 1990’s when action figures and video games really started to take off, one of my earliest memories is a colorful wooden block set which can be used to make houses, towers or other basic structures.
While Lego is an incredibly popular toy for children, it’s not until a child gets to the ages of 4-8 years old that they can start to play with Lego due to the risk of choking for babies and the complexity of connecting the bricks.
Wooden building blocks however are a great entry-level toy for children aged 2-4 years old to build up their motor and cognitive skills. While you shouldn’t expect them to build large structures, the simple act of stacking building blocks is great for learning basic hand-eye coordination.
Building blocks are typically a variety of sizes and are a progression from the simple stacking blocks that I covered earlier. These different shapes pose a new challenge to a child as they can start to learn basics like a larger object will make a solid foundation for smaller and oddly shaped objects.
While the toys mentioned earlier are great for cognitive learning in the form of problem solving and learning fine/gross motor skills, musical instruments are an excellent addition to further boost cognitive skill and sensory development.
Exposing a child to music at an early age has been said to stimulate neurological pathways and it gives babies an outlet for self-expression, a way to understand their feelings and to act as a form of communication that they don’t yet possess in terms of language.
While the educational aspect is of course important, the more practical aspect is that for babies, musical instruments are fun and help to develop sensory aspects like processing sounds.
Wooden musical toys are great for babies to express themselves, while they won’t yet have motor skills for any intricate instruments, a set of wooden maracas, a rattle, wooden drum, or even a xylophone are excellent starter toys for a child to have fun with.
While the above are the core categories when it comes to wooden toys, you might also want to consider some of the following wooden toys that can make great additions to a child’s playtime:
- Wooden clutching and teething toys
- Wooden animals, vehicles, and objects (great for playing with as they have limited movable parts)
- Wooden pushing and pulling vehicles (like baby walkers)
What You Need to Know Before Buying Wooden Toys
Wooden toys might be more environmentally friendly than plastic toys however that is only the case if you know that the specific toy is from a sustainable source.
You should check that the toy is manufactured with materials coming from a certified sustainable forest. Most reputable toy manufacturers will make sure this is clear on the packaging.
Natural organic wooden toys are therefore the standout option when it comes to purchasing toys that will take the environment into consideration.
Also make sure that there are no harsh chemicals or paints that have been used, chemical-free and water-soluble paint is usually the best for babies’ toys and again, most reputable manufacturers will highlight this on the packaging and product descriptions.
Take Home Message
Toys are such a crucial aspect for a baby’s development in terms of motor skills and cognitive functioning, so giving them the ability to use their imagination is not something that should be taken for granted.
While multiple functions and features might seem like an attractive and unique feature to an adult, a baby on the other hand is still getting to grips with its environment and learning the world around itself.
Some simple wooden toys like those listed in this article are therefore perfect for giving your baby the opportunity to express themselves, learn and most importantly have fun.