This you have to know --- I am not a snob when it comes to toys. If I see any educational value in it, I buy it. If I think it’s cute, or funny, or just plain bonkers, I buy it. I buy it sometimes for my son, sometimes for me. So when I say that I found a lot of benefits in playing with wooden toys, I am coming from a place of non-discrimination. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to motherhood --- I take notes. It’s a personality flaw that I like to observe and (over)analyze. But the upside of it is that I get to write from experience, and send it out to the universe to help another nerdy mom out there.
I believe that when a kid hits a certain age, they will like what they like --- and often enough they would be attracted to flashy neon toys that could play music, show videos, fly, expand in water, explode, curse in Spanish and what have you. I can just imagine the headache that future conversation would bring me as I try to guide them to make better choices. But as a mother to a rapidly growing toddler, I still have a chance to curate his toys and I do see the benefit of letting him play with wooden toys at this stage of his development.
These 7 benefits I am about to share are not just token words I read somewhere on the net. These are the benefits I actually saw in my child when he plays with the wooden toys he has.
At first glance, a plain wooden block is a pretty unexciting sight. But because of his curiosity, my son would pick it up anyway and fidget with it for a while. Then the block and the other blocks that goes with it transforms into a skyscraper, a fence, a bed, a truck and then other things I do not understand yet as he babbles to himself. The simplicity of wooden toys forces you to see beyond what the eyes can see, and instead encourages the brain to reach deeper and further into one’s imagination. And at his age of 2.5 years, all the world is still a construct anyway so it’s pretty amazing what he can come up with. It’s like watching The Matrix as Neo transforms one reality into another.
When my son is doing his peg puzzles, his eyes are darting across all the pieces and the peg boards trying to match the shapes and colors. I could see that his brains are working hard at it, his focus sustained throughout. There are no annoying sounds to distract him, no flashing lights to detract from the experience of figuring out where things fit. And he is doing all of that quietly. Sans the sounds and lights (which you have to admit gets pretty annoying after a time), he is learning the value of focused thinking --- not just mere watching.
Builds Problem-Solving Skills
Wooden toys are created to be manipulated. There is no electronic voice which will tell them to push this button or pick that piece, so they have to figure it out for themselves. This takes some trial and error, which is perfectly fine. I hope he is learning that mistakes are opportunities to learn, and that it informs you how to do it right the next time around. I wouldn’t want him to be a kid that gets easily frustrated every time he is stumped.
Builds Fine Motor Skills
Sure, there are plenty of plastic toys out there that also builds fine motor skills , and they are often cheaper too. However, there is something more engaging about how tactile wood feels. The texture of wood is interesting; the weight of it and sometimes, even the smell of it, just is more real. I don’t think this is just me imagining this. My child seems engaged longer when he is playing with his wooden toys, than when he is playing with his gimmicky toys.
Breaks Less Easily
My son has a beast mode. His play time sometimes involves a lot of letting toys “fly.” Wooden toys will sooner break your TV than break itself. It’s essential that my child is in a child-safe area when he is playing so I am not as concerned about him breaking stuff when his wooden animal figurines suddenly inhale fairy dust, levitate and accelerate across the room. I am also not so concerned he will hurt himself because his first few exercises has already taught him how it smarts to be hit by a wooden block (when it bounces of the wall right back to him, for example). Wooden toys lasts a looooong time if taken care of properly. I just make sure I buy from manufacturers sourcing their wood from sustainable forests. It’s just one way of helping lessen the plastic crap that will outlive my son and his grandsons in some landfill somewhere.
Not a lot of people considers gender neutrality as a factor when it comes to toys, but I do. Most cooking sets out there, as an example, are usually pink or purple. Not that it matters because my son loves pink, but his real favorite color is red. My son has enough colorful toys, and it's refreshing once in while not to prescribe color to a certain activity.
Now, of course, a 2 year old will probably not care how timeless or classic a toy looks. But I have to admit, a wooden toy emits a kind of gravitas. It pulls you in, like moth to a candle. When presented properly to my son, he gravitates towards it the next time. For me, I like the way it stands out on the shelf, looking all clean and authentic and real.
At the end of the day, I guess the benefits come down to design. I definitely do not say replace all your child's toys with wood because some pros are to be found in having a few but varied number of toys. My son at this age is still learning to focus, so as a Mom, I am just trying to give him tools which could help him gain this milestone. The simplicity of wooden toys are a perfect fit for him right now, and both him and me are having a lot of fun! :)
Smell ya later,