Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's All About What I Have to Pick Up Off the Floor.

Why wooden toys?

Some folks choose wooden toys for their children for environmental reasons -- they don't want their children breathing in supposedly off-gassing fumes from plastic toys, or they don't want to contribute to plastic in landfills.

Some folks have Montessori reasons for choosing wooden toys: they argue that, for their own education, children should be given real things, not fake things, so they can learn about materials like wood, metal, wool, etc. instead of imitation things, like plastic.

Some folks have philosophical reasons for choosing wooden toys: wood is a natural material. As one mother-writer (whose name I forget but who founded the Natural Baby Catalog) wonderfully reasoned: consider a sunny field of daisies. Picture a child playing in the field. The child and the field belong together -- they fit. What sort of toy fits into that picture next to the child? A Barbie Doll? Rainbow Brite? A plastic laser gun? A Bionicle? Introduce those toys and something jars. Those toys don't fit. Now picture a rag doll with the child -- a wooden truck -- those toys fit. They are natural, like the child. Intuition and instinct. That's why they give their children wooden toys.

So why do I give my kids only wooden toys to play with? Honestly, for all the above reasons (though I am not enough of a science-type-person to understand if plastic toys really off-gas or cause cancer). But the main reason, I admit here, is due to my background as an oldest child of ten children: it's all about what I have to pick up off the floor.

I spent the first seventeen years of my life picking up toys, my own toys and the toys of my nine siblings. And I grew to hate so many different kinds of toys (particularly Legos and Fisher Price, sorry to say).

So when I started life as a parent some eleven years ago, I was adamant that I wouldn't be tricked into being in the position of caretaker of a quarter acre of Lock-Blocks, Polly-Pockets, Lincoln Logs, Barbie shoes, and Fisher-Price, no matter what I had to do. I became a Present Nazi to all my relatives, fiercely opposing gifts of Legos and electronic gimmicks with lights and sounds (what child needs more and louder sound effects than the ones he was born with?). I exchanged, I threw out, I gave away, I passed on -- and today, I am happy to say, wooden toys have prevailed in our house.

Yes, okay, we do have some plastic toys, but I'll explain what I do with those later.
But the main things lying around in our house are wooden toys. Brio tracks, wooden baby rattles, wooden push toys, and pieces of the wooden castle a carpenter friend made for my sons a few Christmases ago, which I photographed above.

Because it's all about beauty, for me. Even when they're lying in a dishevelved way on the floor like above, I like looking at wooden toys. Maybe that one writer was onto something when she said they were more natural. They don't jar the senses. They don't scream for attention. They "fit."

For homemakers (or should we call ourselves, "house artists?"), I think this is an important component of crafting a home. Beauty isn't just filigree, decoration, pictures and curtains and knicknacks we put around our home. It's also about the day-to-day essential components of our home. And it's about molding our children's sensibilities to appreciate beauty by surrounding them by what we ourselves find beautiful.

We try to simplify. But we should also remember to beautify.

And for me, at least, beauty is found in wooden toys.

Peace to your day.


LeeAnn said...

Lovely blog post! I love the look of wooden toys too. One of my current favorite sources is www dot thewoodenwagon dot com. While I haven't prevailed against the tide of plastic toys as effectively as you have, I have mostly kept out the battery-powered ones (other than the useful stuff like flashlights, cassette players, etc.).

I'm curious to read the second part of this post. What will you do when your boys are mad for Legos in the pre-teen years? Or those (super-expensive!) robotix Legos?

I was reading something about the purpose of toys, I think from a Montessori article linked to from the blog Starry Sky Ranch (how's that for meandering?), which suggested that when considering buying an educational toy evaluate how well does it do the job it's designed for? If your Jr. Leapster is meant to teach numbers or the alphabet, does your child really need it if they really already know all that? Or does your child does want it because it looks fun and plays music? So many times relatives give well-meant gifts of battery-operated junk because they think it's "educational."

Many toys in our home make their way to the donation box, some covertly, some by the children's own choice. Mainly their motivator is not having to clean up so many things! No matter how much they seem to want that New Toy, the novelty is mostly over after a few weeks.

Good for you, sticking to the principle of Beauty!


one of us said...

What a lovely, well-put post! Thank you for these thoughts on wooden toys. I agree with you wholeheartedly and have the same frustrations with picking up ugly toys. If our lives as mothers are going to pratty much consist of seeing toys and picking them up 24-7, why not lay down the law and have only beautiful toys? After all, we do, as you say, have to lookat them all day!

This mother you speak of seems to epitomize just why I've always felt so naturally drawn to wooden toys.. because they FIT. ---Amen. Well said.


Love2Learn Mom said...

Hi Regina!

It's nice to see you on the blogosphere. I so very much agree with you on the beauty thing, even though I'm not always that good at it. For me these things are largely about peace. John and I have been sincerely opposed to electronic toys since the kids were little (for similar reasons) and we used to joke about preferring "pre-Vatican II toys".

God Bless,


Meredith said...

What a great reason to start editing our toys--thanks!

justine said...

Hi, Regina! Beautiful pictures! I've bookmarked you.

regina doman said...

Thanks Ladies! I appreciate all your comments!

BTW another disclaimer: Please don't imagine a perfect house or perfectly-followed ideals outside the margins of these pictures. I'm not trying to set up ideals of perfection here. I just want to share what inspires me.

Kristen Laurence said...

We buy mostly wooden toys as well, and for the same reasons. This blog is delightful! God bless.

abigail said...

I like and agree wholeheartedly with this post. Wood is superior to plastic any day of the week, in toys and other home components. I love wooden toys, as well as old metal ones.

Unfortunately, my own home doesn't fit in the plastic-free ideal (insert picture: stacked, small plastic bins, some of which are even filled with plastic toys!)

And why is it that people never place wooden kitchen sets and such on the roadside to be found by thrifty seekers like I?

FUR & FURless Children said...

I'm a mother of 2 experiencing the tiny toy pick up aspect of life for over 7 yrs of high tech toys. Honestly, I have to say that the idea of solid larger wooden items is appealing. I love kinnetix but for some odd reason my children love only the small round metal balls that hold the pieces together, hence I am picking up about 50 tiny little magnetic sticks off the ground that they have no interest in except to scatter. My own store focuses on Educational Wooden Toys and the longer I work with and around these particular types of toys the more astounded I am at their durability, versatility and educational aspect. Boy I wish I would have had this perspective a whole lot sooner than this :-)

budgiejen said...

I 'almost' completely agree. No child, however, should be denied Legos. While a good set of wooden blocks can be just as much fun as Legos they are not the same. If you ask every famous engineer, architect, designer, sculptor, mathematician etc about the toys they played with most as a child Legos will come up again and again. Just be militant about having them pick up.