We want the best for our kids, but what if you’re just not sure of the best toys? You’ll find yourself in a given aisle, overwhelmed by the choices. Your child may be attracted to the flashiest, most expensive item at first glance, while the classic wooden toys at the end of the aisle go overlooked. Nonetheless, you should still occasionally consider the simple wooden toys with basic packaging over the fresh and new. Here’s why:
Why Wooden Toys?
Wooden toys never go out of style. There’s rarely any major commercial hype around the latest wooden pieces, but they’ve been enjoyed for generations and are still going strong. Unlike plastic digital fads that get buried in new tech every year, wooden toys are as healthy as they are timeless.
There are many reasons wooden toys are better—not only for your child, but for the environment as well. They’re more durable (yielding less waste than their plastic counterparts), biodegradable and may even be made with sustainable wood. Good quality, eco-friendly wooden toys also don’t contain PVC, phthalates, or similar chemicals used in plastic toys. Be aware, however, of cheap, low-quality wood. Some are made from plywood that’s full of toxic glues and leach formaldehyde. Lack of quality control on these cheaper materials means there’s a high probability that paints tainted with lead were used, as well.
Low Cost, High Quality
Solid wooden toys allow you to remain eco-friendly even when you’re on a budget. There are plenty of quality wooden toys on the market that won’t leave a hole in your wallet, and are actually more complex than you may think. In 2015, the annual TIMPANI toy study found that a simple wooden cash register scored well in the creativity category, and was loved equally among boys and girls across socioeconomic backgrounds.
Play-Food for Thought
When children are playing with toys, they aren’t just keeping busy; they’re doing some serious learning, too. Research points to unstructured playtime—open-ended, simple wooden toys, for example—as both valuable and favored over classroom time. Children’s imaginations soar as they play with things that don’t have an obvious, single use. Imagine a toddler playing with wooden blocks: they can be stacked into the shape of a house, building, zoo, or anything else he or she can dream up.
Flashy Can Drain the Brain
Often it’s the popular toys, or the ones that look most stimulating to kids and adults, that aren’t a good addition to the toy box. These types of toys are the flashy, plastic items packed with an electronic element that offers little in the way of creative play, and may even interfere with development despite a manufacturer’s claims. Ultimately, basic is better. A toy doesn’t need all the bells and whistles. Besides, over-stimulation can lead to negative neural impact, making it more difficult for the brain to think critically.
Plastic: The Good, the Bad, and the Terrible
Even if you’re not buying flashy gadgets for your child, there are still plenty of reasons to avoid plastic. Developmental issues aside, many plastic toys can be harmful – and not only to the environment.
You may be aware of the recent reports linking hormone disruption with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) used in plastics. This is just one of the many chemicals found in plastic toys. PVC (vinyl) is another nasty chemical to avoid when shopping for toys, and can contain known carcinogens like phthalates.
How do you know if your playroom contains safe varieties of plastic? The good news is that most packaging contains labeling like “PVC-free” or “eco-friendly.” Also, look for the recycling number for the type of plastic used. Here’s a breakdown:
• #3 and #6: Indicating PVC and styrofoam, respectively, stay away from these worst offenders.
• #1 and #7: Indicating PETE/polyster and possible BPA, respectively, these should be avoided as well.
• #2, #4, and #5: The safest ones. These green-colored numbers that are also recyclable, making them the better choices for plastic. They’re often made from recycled milk jugs, which use one of the safest plastics out there. Although they may not be biodegradable, the fact that they come from safer plastic and are reusable is a definite plus.
Why It’s Good
Choosing between wooden or plastic toys shouldn't be an all-or-nothing approach. As with anything, it's always a good rule to exercise moderation. There's room for some plastic; not all of these toys stifle your child's imagination. But items that are made from quality wood or natural materials are both healthier and allow children to think more creatively during playtime.
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