Making the Switch to Natural Toys

Posted on Nov 13, 2011 in Featured, Playing | 5 comments

As I wrote last week, creating a natural playroom doesn’t happen overnight. Taking the longer route, while perhaps more realistic, is not without its bumps and setbacks. Here’s a little about what you can expect and some tips to help along the way:

It’s no secret that kids don’t actually need a bunch of fancy toys, but unfortunately, I’ve also observed that given the choice, they just can’t resist the shiny, plastic, battery operated, noisy, walking, talking, lights-flashing ones.

When you first start to introduce natural toys you may find, like I did, that they aren’t played with as much as you’d hoped. Despite observing the kids in a Waldorf Kindergarten regularly play with rocks and acorns and silks, I have a hard time imagining my kids choosing horse chestnuts and pine cones over a bucket of Lego, given the choice. And it’s not just the rocks that pose this problem. At first even the more exciting toys like the wooden castle filled with wooden horses and knights were only played with when they were brand new and often sat in the corner after that.

So, you probably wonder what has worked for us?

First off, don’t get discouraged. Keep buying natural toys whenever you can.  Make it a priority to invest in these types of toys even if your initial efforts aren’t the raging success you were hoping for. Pool cash gifts from family and friends to get a big item or suggest that family members go together to purchase something you’ve been dreaming of. We started getting the kids some of the bigger ticket items every time a birthday or Christmas rolled around. We started with a beautiful wooden castle and eventually got each of the kids their own Waldorf doll. Expect that as you start getting more of them, there will be a shift.

wooden castle

Wooden castle folded open. King in the dungeon.

Expect that it will take a while, especially if finances are a big factor. Here are some ways to cut down on the expense:

Try making stuff. The woman who did up this room for her son says she got very DIY and made a lot of the toys. Some of the things that we’ve made for our kids include a wooden doll bed, some doll clothes, felt birthday crowns, a wooden sword, and a knight’s tunic. I also have a book that shows how to make simple felt animals which I intend to do with Rain. A lot of etsy vendors even sell patterns for making your own felt food and you can get cheap plain silk and dye your own play cloths. Involving your kids in the process is a good way to ensure that they will be more willing to play with the creations too.

Evaluate what big items you really want to purchase and what could be skipped. Do you really need those expensive play arches (even though they are cool)? It seems to me that you could invest in a lot more TOYS to be played with rather than the fancy shelves. Could you make do with a homemade stove/sink combo that sits on a table top rather than an expensive kitchen? Save those purchases until the end when you are really sure that you want/need/can afford them.

Two Good Starting Points:

Felt Food – I started getting the kids one set of felt play food from etsy for every gift giving occasion. I only spent about $20 at a time, but I did this for Easter, Valentine’s Day, Birthdays and Christmas so they added up quickly. At first they didn’t get used often but as the sets have started to pile up, they now play with them quite a bit. The sets aren’t expensive when you buy them slowly over time like this, and I feel good about supporting handmade etsy products. These make playing with the Fisher Price plastic stuff more fun until we can eventually afford the time/money to either make or buy a kitchen.

Dress Up – starting a dress up bin is also a good place to start. This can be done inexpensively at a Thrift store and you can round it out with some play silks, a shield, a pirate hat, a sword and felt crowns. You could splurge and purchase some of the key items to round out your dress up bin or you could make your own. I personally found that the silks were instrumental in getting the kids to play dress up more often. I didn’t expect it but as soon as I started showing the kids all the ways they could use a silk, they regularly became a part of their play.

dress up

Play silks, sword and birthday crown in use.

But how to get the toys played with??

Rotate toys. Every preschool and daycare I’ve ever set foot in rotates their toys so that they are always offering the kids something fresh and new to play with. Put the wooden farm away for a month and then bring it out and put the Playmobile away for a while.

If possible, try to weed out the undesirable toys across a developmental stage. It’s easy to get rid of the plastic baby/toddler toys when your preschooler no longer plays with them and replace with natural toys that are age appropriate. This isn’t always possible when, like us, you have younger kids who might still be using those toys or if your older child isn’t even close to outgrowing their current toys yet.

Move some of these toys to a part of the house where they can still play with them but it might not be as desirable. For example, when Silas started crawling we moved all of the Lego upstairs for safety reasons. Rain has begun playing dress up and castle more often because those items are on the main floor where he prefers to play.

Waldorf doll

Most of us probably have far more toys around than are really necessary. You can institute a strict rule that every time something new comes in the house, an old toy is donated to good will. Or if you’ve taken a toy out of rotation for a while and it really doesn’t seem to be missed, send it to the Thrift Store. Over time, the balance of natural toys and plastic toys will shift, and as it does, you’ll find your kids will be more creative about using the toys they have around.

5 Comments

  1. Great post! I had every intention of raising our son(8months) with natural, open-ended toys. Our families have spoiled him with beeping, plastic, one use only, toys. We ave a smaller home and Our living room is turning into Plasticland! I have a hard time returning someone’s gift because it doesn’t fall in our “Reggio inspired” home. We are very grateful for thoughtfulness but I’m considering saying “your presence is your present” for our sons first birthday, to avoid getting more plastic toys.

  2. I can really relate to wanting the most natural toys for my son but also having some Diploma mixed in.
    That castle is amazing! Did you make it?

    • And by “Diploma” I really mean “Duplo.” 🙂

  3. where did you find the castle?

    • It is a Melissa & Doug model that has been discontinued. They do still make a couple of folding wooden castles that are similar to that one, but the one we have is no longer available.

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