We often hear complaints that older children are glued to their electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones, and are missing out on the simple but educationally important pleasures of playing with toys. But even at the earlier stages, are plastic, technological toys taking something away from our children’s development?
Plenty of parents seem to think so, and are increasingly looking for simpler, more natural toys, particularly those using eco-friendly materials such as wood.
In the earliest stages, children can enjoy wooden rattles, grasping toys and blocks, and from six months to a year they will take to stacking and shape puzzles.
Once they start toddling, pusher toys are ideal, and from the age of about two they’ll enjoy simple toy vehicles and prams. In later years classic wooden toys, such as jigsaw puzzles, building blocks and construction sets can help children with numeracy, literacy, motor skills and problem solving.
Often hand-crafted from materials which are sustainably sourced and certified, wooden toys are environmentally sounder than plastics and electronics – as an organic, renewable substance, wood is biodegradable and can be recycled. If painted at all, wooden toys usually use non-toxic paints. When children are at the early ‘chewing’ stages, this is an obvious advantage.
Plastic can be brittle, and once broken can be difficult or impossible to repair. It can also expose sharp edges. Wooden toys tend to wear naturally, and if broken can usually be restored. Once finished with, they can be recycled.
The simplicity of wooden toys is another appeal – they offer a blank slate on which the child can project his or her imagination. Wooden toys are also said to foster interactive play, rather than the solitary pursuit of electronic games.
A final argument is that contact with wood is often said to be psychologically valuable. Finnish Doctor of Psychology Marjut Wallenius studied people’s reactions to different materials, and concluded: “It is especially interesting that the feel of wood is softer than other materials, not only experientially but also physiologically.” His studies showed that touching aluminium, plastic or stainless steel caused a rise in blood pressure, while touching a wooden surface did not cause such a reaction.
We all know that in later years it’s important to get children used to using digital technology, but it seems that to start off at least, the wooden toy provides a solid and natural grounding it’s difficult to find elsewhere.
This feature was originally published in the summer edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh, which you can also read here!
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