Think about the toys in a sustainable playroom. What do they look like? You’ve probably seen some influencers’ set-ups of natural wood toys sitting neatly in woven basket displays.
These wooden toys are popular with Montessori schools and among parents who advocate for independence and open play. They’re touted as the be-all-end-all to eco-friendly toys. But with their price tag, are they worth the hype?
comparing wooden toys to plastic toys
From a sustainability standpoint, plastic is a clear loser. It is not biodegradable, nor are the toys built to last. Many can’t hold up to enthusiastic children for very long so parents wind up buying them frequently. The toys break, get tossed in the trash, and the cycle repeats.
Wooden toys, especially from established brands and makers, are made from sustainably-sourced wood and environmentally-friendly dyes or paints. They’re durable, made to last for generations, and many consider them heirloom toys.
environmentally-friendly toys for a play-friendly environment
I’m going to be real here. At the start of my parenting journey, I really loved the electronic plastic-y toys. The marketing is powerful and they’re the norm. How would I think anything different? But…as my little one got older the toys piled up.
Bright. Loud. Clunky. Clutter.
In that exhausted parent stupor, I would have a stubbed toe here and stumble over there. Eventually, it got to be too much and the walls felt like they were closing in around me! There have even been studies which show the effect of clutter on caregiver stress and anxiety. Spoiler: it is not a good effect.
Would you believe, too, that my kid didn’t even engage with them…?
No, seriously! All of that anxiety, all of that plastic, and she had little-to-no interest. What does a mama do?
As it turns out, children engage more with fewer choices. The engagement is longer and deeper with open-ended toys. “Less clutter and more developmentally beneficial playtime? Count me in!” were my thoughts. Off I went, into the BST and wooden toy fan social media groups to find out more.
grimms, grapat, what’s that?
There are a lot of wooden toy companies out there, but a handful always pop up in discussions. Collectively they are known for superior craftsmanship, durability, play value, and eco-friendly practices. Individually, each company has its own strengths in design and play value. Given the quality of the brands, the toys retain retail value and can be found second-hand in excellent condition.
Grimms, based primarily in Germany, is famous for stacking rainbows and blocks. The company also produces popular toys like nesting bowls and wooden cars. On their website, they explain efforts towards ethics and sustainability.
Right alongside Grimms in popularity and quality both is the Spanish company, Grapat. They’re a go-to for small world play and creative “parts”. My little one loves putting little peg people into wooden rings and tubes. For parents wanting a more diverse play set, Grapat makes their peg people in different skin tones.
budget friendly wooden toys
The drawbacks to investing in brands like Grimms and Grapat are scarcity, access, and initial purchase costs. Restocks sell out almost instantly for larger retailers and the nature of the toys mean they come with a comparably hefty price tag. Besides, not all friends and family members are willing to sit down at their computer for that midnight release rush to purchase…blocks.
Thankfully, there are other more common brands available in most toy stores and online. For sustainability, I’d rank these as a second-tier, below some of the more exclusive brands and occasional Etsy makers. Among them are Hape and PlanToys. Both are great budget-friendly options for sustainable toys.
how to tell if a toy is sustainable
There are so many handcrafted wooden toys out on the market that, inevitably, you’ll want something from a smaller maker. How can you tell if they toys are safe and sustainable? No matter the size of a company, if safety and sustainability are core values, they’ll have a statement about it somewhere. Look for a webpage, social media post, or section in a product description.
Did you know: anything intended to be a toy needs to undergo testing to be legally sold. I wanted to start painting little peg dolls and other wooden toys to sell on Etsy but opted not to as the cost to get the toys tested far outweighs anything I’d make.
Why tell you this? Well, there are a lot of small businesses who do not follow legal policies and perform safety testing. They get away with it because it’s so common and there have been no major accidents. As cute as a toy might be, find out what materials they use and if they’re deemed safe.
To judge sustainability, peek at their business from policy to purchase. Look for any eco-certifications, what materials they utilize, where they’re sourced, supply chain ethics, and distribution. If something isn’t listed, ask via email or social media.
Are sustainable wooden toys worth the hype? Absolutely! There are a variety of options to suit the needs of any buyer. You can count on any of them to be safe, great for play, and durable. Most notable of all, these companies take great efforts to be eco-friendly.