Deciding what sort of toys and materials you expose your child to is a choice every parent should consciously make, says Education Consultant and new mother Maggie Moffat Baxter. “As a new mum myself I am starting to consider the environment I am creating for my child to learn, grow, and develop in,” says Moffat Baxter.
As a new mum myself I am starting to consider the environment I am creating for my child to learn, grow, and develop in
– Maggie Moffat Baxter, Education Consultant
“However, as I start to curate my son’s exploratory surroundings, I am left with a dilemma: how many plastic toys do I let in? We all know the negative connotations, and plain facts, of plastic in general, but how about what they lend to child development in their playroom?
Here are a few points to consider:
Basic is better
Elli Kasbi, founder of UAE-based children’s retail store Elli Junior, which specializes in sustainable toys, clothes and interiors, agrees: “At home with my kids, we try to not encourage plastic toys as I know wooden toys are tactile, safe, less distracting and more interactive,” says Kasbi.
“My favourite wooden toys, which my children have loved, include building blocks (the best way for babies to learn the alphabet and numbers in a simple way using less colours and shapes), and a baby walker – this acts as the perfect support for babies who have started learning to walk, but also works as a toy in itself.”
At home with my kids, we try to not encourage plastic toys as I know wooden toys are tactile, safe, less distracting and more interactive
– Elli Kasbi, founder of retail store Elli Junior
Natural is more tactile
“Consider a doll made of plastic and one of natural materials- which one would a child cuddle more? That being said, there are fantastic plastic toys at the ready in every toy shop in the city that any child will point at and ask for.”
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Wood lasts (in more ways than one)
Maggie Moffatt Baxter expands on this: “It’s interesting to consider how these toys not only stand the test of time physically, but culturally as well. I remember my Fisher Price plastic phone with a dial that I would get my finger stuck in, as well as receiving a camera that clicked for my 4th birthday that I was obsessed with or a Skip It for my 6th birthday.
“But these items are simply out of date these days. Kids today wouldn’t have a clue what a phone is without a screen, a camera that you can’t immediately edit, or a game that isn’t connected to a controller.
“However, the wooden blocks that my aunt used in the 60s and was passed on to my brother and I, and will be shared with our children, are still going strong. That doesn’t diminish how much I loved that camera though and how many hours of enjoyment it gave me. Ultimately, I’m sure I could find a phone like the one I had online, but playing with the blocks is still relevant, whereas the phone is not.”
These toys are relatively open-ended, so children can use them in multiple ways
– Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Professor of Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut University
“Wooden toys are made with the intention of having a much longer lifespan than average and most products have the added benefit of being used for several different age groups and genders. We work with solid-wood products that are non-toxic, so they are also harmless for your child [whereas there are concerns about the potential harm from chemicals leaching from plastic toys].”
Imagination and inspiration
Maggie Moffat Baxter agrees: “Plastic toys are usually more complex and complete- made for purpose if you will. A Barbie, for example, doesn’t have many more uses than its intended shape and state. That’s not to say it won’t bring great enjoyment to your child.
“Many wooden toys, however, are more up for interpretation and require more engagement and imagination during play. Blocks can create a house, or a farm, or a school. A wooden car without batteries and lights, requires the child to make the sounds of a siren and horn. And a bamboo blanket can be a cape, tent, or dress depending on the day.”
Results from Professor Trawick-Smith’s TIMPANI toy study, which looks at how young children in natural settings play with a variety of toys, have found that toys traditionally viewed as male-oriented – wooden construction toys and toy vehicles for example – elicited the highest quality play among girls. Wooden toys can equally benefit either boys or girls.
“Ultimately, there is no right or wrong approach to which toys your child plays with,” adds Moffat Baxter. “The most important thing is that they are playing and building skills in general. And it definitely does not have to be an all or nothing approach. But now that you have this knowledge maybe next time you’re buying for a birthday party or considering a treat for your child, you’ll question the materials the toy is made of as well.”