Choosing Toys

This piece first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, February 2005

Following on from the above, I want to talk a bit about choosing toys. Mainly this is about toys for younger children, but some will surely be used by older ones, especially if they have been raised in a family which values play.

I’m constantly amazed at the wealth of so-called ‘Waldorf toys’ now available. But I am also uncomfortably aware of the numbers of these toys which, though beautifully crafted out of the finest natural materials, are very formed and therefore of limited play-value. What makes toys genuinely ‘Waldorf’ is that they encourage open-ended, imaginative play – that the knot-dolly purposefully has no facial features so that he can be happy, sad or angry as the child’s play demands. ‘Waldorf toys’ should be bricks and boxes, and things like cloths which can be cloaks or blankets or wings as the child sees fit. That beautifully-made (and expensive!) toy telephone can only be a telephone – it could never be a car, a dog or a loaf of bread. A wooden brick, on the other hand, could be all these things and more.

Bricks, off-cuts of wood (which you and your child can sandpaper together – now there’s a first-rate kindergarten activity), a sandbox, empty boxes and cartons (delivered free to your house by your catalog company!), lots of dressing up, and old pots and pans from the charity shop, are really the best toys for children up until about 7. And, if you keep these things available, you’ll be amazed at how older children will also play with them.

A great ‘toy’ that has years of potential and unlimited scope in terms of use is ‘The Board’. This is a smoothly sanded wooden board, anywhere from 5’ to 8’ in length, and about 12” wide. It can be used indoors or out and, if it has slats of wood as cross-pieces on its middle, can fit over a stump and be used as a see-saw (the cross-pieces keep it from slipping). The Board can be a stage, an ironing board, a balance beam, a doorframe, a slide, a ramp… You get the idea.

Please don’t get me wrong – I certainly appreciate the quality and sense of aesthetics that beautifully-crafted toys bring to our homes. There is no comparison with cheap, mass-produced plastic toys. I simply urge parents (and toy makers!) to ensure that most of the toys for young children are as unformed as possible – leaving the child’s imagination freer. 

Posted on July 3, 2005 in Play

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