One look at our children’s play room will tell you how much I love natural toys.  Wood, felt, subtle colors, handmade objects, found tree branches, soft dolls and floaty hand-dyed silks are what fill the woven baskets where we play.  It’s pretty standard fare for a Waldorf family but often people come to our house are quite fascinated by what they see.

My attraction to these types of toys and materials began when I started RIE classes with Hari Grebler.  She infuses her studio in Santa Monica with natural toys, similar to a Waldorf environment.  I began to notice how relaxed I felt in there.  Without plastic toys, commercial logos, garish primary colors, and annoying bells & whistles, I could hear myself and see my children clearly.  It was peaceful and soothing and the quality of the items was tangible.  I could also see that my children were very content and fascinated by these simple objects; they could entertain themselves for sustained periods of time and as they grew, those objects took on many roles and characteristics in their play.  They really needed nothing more than their own imaginations, which were flourishing before my eyes.

In my early childhood trainings with Sophia’s Hearth, Simplicity Parenting, and RIE we spend a lot of time talking about creating an engaging and developmentally appropriate play environment.  Across the board, the ideas about toys are similar:

  • Passive toys (silent & simple) allow a child to project their own ideas and imagination onto the toy, thereby drawing the child into play
  • Active toys (noisy, defined things with only one specific use) create passive children who need increased entertainment, rather than entertaining themselves
  • Commercial toys with logos (disney, star wars, etc) create young consumers who want and “need” brand name things at an early age; often these toys also have gender stereotypes and/or violent messages attached to them (this is more of a  Waldorf  idea)
  • Plastic toys are cheap and break quickly, adding to our already overloaded landfills; does this teach our children that things are disposable and therefore less valued? Is this how we care for Mother Earth?
  • Toys made of unnatural materials lack the “human touch”; do your senses feel nourished and satisfied when you touch plastic?
  • What types of chemicals are children ingesting, either through the mouth or skin, when they play with unnatural materials?  Much attention has been brought to this recently, everything is claiming to be BPA-free; but what else is lurking in there?
  • Children have “virgin” senses;  do you find bright colors, loud noises, and freakishly overdrawn facial expressions (on dolls/characters) soothing?

None of this is to say that our home is completely without plastic toys or some Hot Wheels cars. It’s not.  But they are 10% of what we own.  Every time I buy a cheap plastic toy, it’s broken and in the trash within 2 days.  It’s a total waste of money and materials.  I can see that the disposability of it is evident to my children; they don’t care for those things the same way they do for a wooden truck that looks less stimulating but is actually much more engaging for the imagination.

We used to have a living room but we finally accepted that it had become the children’s playroom so I cleared out most of the furniture and displayed their toys in a bookcase from Ikea, in order to get them organized and off the ground.  From an aesthetic point of view, our home still maintains an element of sophistication even though the toys are in full view. And selfishly, I love seeing our playroom filled with beauty.  That way I don’t mind when I’m tripping over toys strewn all over the floor!

My two favorite on-line sources for natural toys are: The Wooden Wagon & Bella Luna Toys …xxx, Leah

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