Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.

Why Choose Natural Toys

Natural wooden marble run toy

 

You anticipate toy shopping soon—as do I. I just want to give you a few reasons to look for toys made from natural materials like wool, cotton, wood, and rubber.

The Negative Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Choose toys made from natural materials because they aren’t made from plastic. It isn’t just that plastic is unsustainable, being made from oil and gas that are in limited supply. Plastics, especially soft plastics, can be health hazards.

With the passage of the CPSIA in the U.S., six plastic softeners (phthalates) were banned in children’s products that could be used for eating or sleeping because of the risk that a young child will suck on the products. These plastic softeners were’t banned in every product, though, and they can still pose a hazard through off-gassing. You know that new plastic smell? That is the toxic off-gassing, the hormone disruptors that can cause developmental problems for children (as well as high rates of miscarriages among women and erectile dysfunction among men).

You are less likely to find some of the worst chemicals in children’s toys now, but that doesn’t mean all plastic toys are safe. Avoid soft, vinyl plastics (phthalates) and polycarbonates (Bisphenol A or BPA).

The U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is still warning against toys made with PVC plastic. Even they are recommending that parents “choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.”

For more details on the reasons to avoid plastics in toys, see “Why No Soft Plastics.”

For sustainability and for health, just avoid plastic toys. Choose natural toys instead.

The Positive Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Natural materials are sustainable. They grow in nature, and they can grow again after they are harvested to make your child’s toys. That is what is meant by renewable materials (in contrast to petrochemicals used to make plastic, which do not replace themselves—or, more accurately, only replace themselves over millions of years).

  • Cotton grows as a protective fiber (a boll) around seeds in a cotton plant in a field
  • Hemp is grown as the stem of a hemp plant in a field
  • Wool is the hair of a sheep, sheared annually
  • Silk is the coccoon of a silkworm
  • Rubber is the milk of a rubber tree
  • Wood, of course, is the body of a tree

Natural materials generally require less processing before they can be used to make toys. Pick up a stick, it’s already a toy. Sheer a sheep, and you just have to wash the oils out of the wool in order to use it for stuffing. The milk of a rubber tree coagulates easily into the kind of rubber we know as Sophie the Giraffe or a rubber duck. Natural materials are renewable in the long term but they are also lower impact in their processing in the short term.

In addition to sustainability, consider the sensory experience of natural materials. They feel warm, smell nice, and look soft. Natural materials feel good in the hands of a child. Read more about the sensory experience of natural materials in last week’s post “What Are Waldorf Toys?”

It’s tough for me to come up with rational reasons to choose natural toys because I usually just stop with “why wouldn’t I choose natural toys?” They are the obvious choice unless I’m buying into the nonsensical stories that mass marketing tells me about the superiority of plastic toys over nature.

But there are rational reasons: choose natural toys for the short-term and long-term good of the environment and because of the sensory experience your child will get with natural materials.

Choose Natural Toys

We know that most of our customers are deliberately seeking more natural ways of parenting. Choosing carefully when you buy toys that your child will play with every day is an important step in creating a natural environment for your family.

Read more about natural toys in “Toy Monday: Why Natural Toys.”

To buy natural toys, see our Holiday Gifts Guide at bynature.ca.

What Are Waldorf Toys?

A child play with silk cloths

 

We are asked in the bynature.ca store about Waldorf toys and Waldorf dolls. Waldorf toys are simple toys made from natural materials, beautiful toys that inspire a child’s open-ended play.

First, What is Waldorf?

The “Waldorf” in Waldorf toys comes from Waldorf education, based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian founder of anthroposophy around the turn of the 20th century. Sometimes people refer to “Steiner schools” or “Steiner toys,” and these are the same as Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired schools and toys. The “Waldorf” part comes from the name of the factory where the first Steiner school was created for children of the factory workers.

Waldorf education is followed in schools and in home education throughout the world. You don’t need to follow Steiner’s educational philosophies or Waldorf education methods to appreciate the beauty of Waldorf toys, though.

Play in Nature

If one of your goals as a parent is to help your child understand and flow with nature rather than against nature, you can do that more easily with toys made from natural materials.

You know we love natural materials—not just because cotton, silk, wool, wood and other natural materials are renewable therefore sustainable but because natural materials enhance a child’s experience of nature. A child can experience natural toys through all of their senses—or most of them. We don’t necessarily want our child tasting their toys, but if you have used food-grade coloring on natural materials, a lick here and there probably won’t hurt. Natural materials look beautiful; they smell nice; they sound rich when when a child plays with them; and they feel warm to the touch.

When you want to teach a child about a tree, what makes more sense? Look at a book about trees, get out a plastic model of a tree, or go outside and meet a tree. If you want your child to learn about nature and how things work in the natural world, put them in nature! Even when they are playing with toys, a natural toys put them closer to the natural world.

Soft and Simple Means Open

There is a softness to Waldorf toys—soft dolls, soft lines, soft colors, soft details.

A Waldorf doll made of cotton outside and wool for stuffing and hair will have a simple face so the child adds the details through imagination. Sometimes, a baby doll get sad. It’s tough to imagine that when the doll has a smile painted on her face.

Waldorf toys and other handmade, natural toys inspire open play—play led by the child rather than play that follows a specific motion to a pre-determined end. Waldorf toys join the stories a child tells in his mind, and they stimulate a child’s imagination rather than bringing a child out of her own world into an assembly-line play experience. Natural, simple toys can be more than one thing. A play silk can be a cape flying in the breeze outside or a river flowing past a doll house or the wrapping for a gift.

When you are choosing a toy, think about whether it leaves space for open play. Will this toy inspire your child’s imagination? Will this toy join the ongoing stories of your child’s play? Will your child add the details to make this toy a rich part of her or his experience?

A Few Waldorf Toys at bynature.ca

 

Every Kid Needs Puzzles & Games

Mosaic wooden puzzle gift for child

Puzzles and games are essential for every kid as holiday gifts. Where to find a game that doesn’t encourage competition and bad feelings, though?

Growing up in my family, every person had to receive at least one puzzle for the holidays. As I grew older and more smart alecky, I gave my mother puzzles with thousands of pieces, or glowing pieces, or same on both sides, or some other nearly impossible puzzle. She still worked her way through every one. Now that my mother is gone, I still need to give my mother-in-law and my children puzzles. They drive me crazy, but everyone else loves them. I realize more over time that putting together a puzzle is a meditative activity, and it has always been one of those essential holiday activities in my family.

If you find that your children need that quiet time during a busy holiday season, consider encouraging down time with a puzzle. Also, if they see you doing a more difficult puzzle, they will get more and more curious until they take over. That’s my experience, anyway!

Another of those essentials for my family both growing up and now with my children is board games or card games. My children love playing my old games, and we still add several new games a year to our game closet. Over the holidays, we give small gifts over several days, and one day is always a game for the whole family. Since there are no other gifts to distract us, we have a family game day.

There are a lot of classic games available, but I find that my children become more competitive when they see the opportunity to win. That isn’t really the feel I’m going for with family game day, so we favor the cooperative games. At bynature.ca, we carry a lot of cooperative games and puzzles to fit your family’s interests.


Puzzles for Children


Port Side Pirates Puzzle

Port Side Pirate Puzzle for Children

Looking for an interlocking puzzle? Set sail with these two puzzles based on the Port Side Pirates sing-along book. The 12-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew discovering a treasure chest ashore the tropical island. The 24-piece puzzle shows the pirate crew sailing the high seas aboard their ship. The two puzzles allow for a range of difficulty included all in one box.
Age: 3+


Wooden Mosaic Puzzle

Rainbow mosaic wooden puzzle

If you are looking for a puzzle that will last longer than an interlocking puzzle that is used a few times, try our high quality wooden mosaics. Our large puzzle has 192 colorful triangle an trapezoid-shaped pieces. Arrange them in the bamboo tray or go rogue and put the rainbow of colors together any way that suits you. Includes a travel and storage bag.
Age: 3+


Cooperative Family Games


Elves and Ogres

Ogres and Elves cooperative game for kids

The Royal Elf Family is coming to visit their Mountain Kingdom. They want the Elves (players) to fill their treasure chests with the different gems they mine. Ogres, however, have heard about the visit and plan to grab all the valuables for themselves. Work together to get Royals & Ogres alike to share the goodies. The game requires lots of tricky teamwork, increasing in difficulty with rules for 3 games based on age (ages 5-7, ages 7-12 & ages 12+).
Ages: 5+


Snowstorm

Snowstorm cooperative game for kids

When a winter storm hits the city, the players help out residents by completing their tasks. The weather is constantly changing so players must keep on top of errands by paying attention to weather reports and moving through snow and ice with cars and service trucks. The game is different every time you play.
Ages: 5+

Stocking Stuffers: Animal Puppets

Hand Puppets and Finger Puppets for Kids

Puppets make great small holiday gifts for children. You give not just the character you see but the character the puppet becomes for your child and the stories your child tells through the character.

Puppets inspire creativity, promote hands-on discovery, encourage interaction, teach fine and gross motor skills, help develop early language, and become a child’s lovable companion to be treasured for years.

We carry dozens of small animal hand puppets and finger puppets. You could collect a whole safari, but it usually just takes 1-2 puppets to start the story rolling.


Hand Puppets for Children

Each of our puppets comes with facts about the animal to help your child understand the creature in its own environment.


Little Turtle Hand Puppet

Turtle Puppet for Children

You will want to keep petting the textured shell of the turtle hand puppet. At about 7″ long, the hand puppets fit in a stocking then in your purse or your child’s bag for easy entertainment on the go.


Little Polar Bear Hand Puppet

Polar Bear Puppet for Kids

This soft, furry polar bear comes with interesting facts about this solitary mammal. About 8″ tall.

Add these other hand puppets to your collection: Little Lion Puppet, Little Wolf Puppet, Little Lop Rabbit Puppet, Little Elephant Puppet, and more.


Finger Puppets for Children


Mini Fawn Finger Puppet

Deer Finger Puppet for Children

This soft fawn finger puppet easily fits in a pocket or a diaper bag. About 6″ long.


Mini Cardinal Finger Puppet

Mini Red Bird Finger Puppet

Your child will fly this bright, soft cardinal all over the house. What a great opportunity to learn about wild creatures of the world. About 5″ long.

Need a puppet for each hand? We also have these finger puppets: Mini Penguin Finger Puppet, Mini Black Sheep Finger Puppet, Mini Skunk Finger Puppet, Mini River Otter Finger Puppet, and many more. We have 20+ animal puppets to choose from.

Gifts that encourage open-ended play give your child more than just a morning of delight. They open up a wide, wild world of adventure.