What Are Waldorf Toys?!

The following was written by Sarah Baldwin, owner of Bellaluna Toys. Many of you will be thinking about holiday gifts at this time of year and Bellaluna certainly provides some of the best toys which we can recommend. Here are some thoughts on "Waldorf toys" by Sarah. And after reading, you can visit her website and have a look at all her lovely offerings!




What Are “Waldorf Toys?”


When I am asked by a new acquaintance what I do for a living, I explain that I am a Waldorf early childhood teacher and that I now own an online shop selling Waldorf toys. I am frequently met with a blank stare, in which case I know that more explanation is needed. I will go on to explain that the kinds of toys I sell are wooden, eco-friendly and natural toys. This gives most people a better idea, but there is so much more to it than that. Beyond simply being “green” toys, what exactly makes a toy a “Waldorf toy?”


Nourishing to the Senses


Since families have become more eco-conscious in recent years, toymakers are producing many more eco-friendly and natural toys to meet the increasing demand. But Waldorf schools, which originated in the 1920’s, have always provided children with toys made of natural materials, such as wood, silk, wool and cotton. Yes, these kinds of toys are good for the environment, but most importantly, they are good for children!


One important hallmark of a “Waldorf toy” is that it be nourishing to a young child’s senses. Imagine the sensory experience of a toddler cuddling a rigid, hard plastic doll with synthetic hair, and then cuddling a Waldorf doll stuffed with wool, covered in cotton with a head of soft mohair. Not only is the Waldorf doll more aesthetically pleasing, but its softness and warmth will also having a calming and soothing effect on a young child.


Beautiful to Behold


Waldorf toys should be beautiful to behold, because sight is as important as touch. We want to nurture children in a beautiful environment and their playthings should be beautiful as well. By surrounding children with beauty, we are not only contributing to their sense of wellbeing (or “sense of life,” as Rudolf Steiner referred to it), but also developing their aesthetic awareness and appreciation.


Toys that are made from natural materials, with natural colors and rich hues, and those that are lovingly made by hand are inviting and contribute to a child’s “sense of life.” A child is much more likely to feel reverence for a beautiful handcrafted toy and care for it accordingly than he is for a mass-produced plastic toy.


As Plato recognized, “the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”


Inspiring the Imagination


Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, suggested that children’s playthings should be largely unformed in order to stimulate a child’s imagination. What does this mean? Waldorf toys are often simple, without a lot of detail.

Waldorf teachers believe that toys should be simple and open-ended. Baskets of tree branches, play silks, stones, pinecones and shells all can be transformed into a myriad of objects. During a typical morning in a Waldorf kindergarten, one would likely see shells become money; wooden blocks become food; a small piece of tree branch become a telephone; silks become skirts and veils; and so on. By giving children objects that are not highly formed and detailed, they can easily become more than one thing, and give children’s imaginations free reign.


If you are familiar with a Waldorf doll, you no doubt have noticed that such dolls have minimal facial features, and sometimes no faces at all! As is the case with most aspects of Waldorf education, the reason is not arbitrary. Waldorf dolls have minimal or no faces in order to encourage the imagination of the young child—to cultivate her “inner picturing” abilities.


Again, think of a hard, formed plastic doll, with a highly detailed face, and a fixed, frozen smile. If a young child is playing “house” and caring for this baby, it is hard to imagine this baby to be sad or crying. Children want to imitate real life. Real babies smile and laugh, but they also look sad or cry when they are hungry or need changing. If a doll has just two eyes, and a suggestion of a mouth, the child is more easily able to imagine this baby expressing a range of emotions, living richly in her imaginative life. For the same reason, Waldorf puppets have only the barest suggestion of faces.


Imitation: Play is a Child’s Work and Toys Are Her Tools


Children naturally want to imitate adults and their daily activities. As Waldorf teachers, we strive to be adults “worthy of imitation” and bring consciousness to our gestures as we engage in the daily tasks of living, such as cooking and cleaning in the classroom, knowing that children will imitate our activities we attempt to work in an unhurried and careful way.


Bringing consciousness to one’s daily activities at home, and providing children with child-sized versions of household items such as a play kitchen, wooden play dishes, and tools such as a broom, or dustpan and brush will allow children to fully engage in their imaginative imitation of daily life, and build real life skills as well.


As I’ve tried to stress to parents over the years, choosing toys is not about “good toys” vs. “bad toys.” Rather, it’s about bringing new consciousness to selecting children’s playthings. Ask yourself:


  • Is it beautiful?
  • Does it feel good?
  • Does it leave room for the imagination?
  • Will it inspire imitative play?


If you can answer yes to these questions, you will be providing your child with all the tools needed for years of healthy play!

© 2010  Sarah Baldwin, M.S.Ed.

Posted on November 15, 2010 in Play

  • Natasha says:

    Thank you so much for this! I am an artisan who only started making Waldorf toys a little over a year ago. I plan to go back to school to be an art teacher and I would love to work at a Waldorf school. What you had to say here has given me much needed inspiration and encouragement.

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