The John Lewis toy department is one of our kids’ favourite destinations, second only perhaps to the toy department in particular TK Maxx stores.
They promise what seems to be limitless distraction and interaction and we have quite happily whiled away an hour allowing them to roam the eyes, playing with everything they can reach. If you ever pick up a toy from one of these stores in the London area and it’s run out of batteries already, you can be sure our kids will have something to do with it.
The appeal for the kids is access to all the bleeping, flashing toys they can get their hands on. The appeal for us, is the kids enjoying these toys without us having to buy them. Of course we could look into toy rental as an option, but there is something more adventurous about almost illicitly enjoying toys that we’re not paying for. We get all the toys and none of the commitment.
What’s interesting is that the toys our kids run for are those that promise the biggest noises, the widest selection of buttons to press and the best flashing gizmos. But what makes them so great is the very reason we don’t buy them. They grab attention for a short amount of time and then the kids have moved on to the next one and the next one. The buttons and the lights are engaging for such a short amount of time that they don’t last long as entertainment.
In the store you’ll feel compelled by your kids that these are the toys they really want. No one wants to be buying the toys that their kids don’t seem to want. But the lure of these 5 minute wonders is just that, they are highly entertaining for 5 minutes, and then they’re mostly done with.
When it comes to kids play, imagination is king
It should come as no surprise to us really, but we still get caught in the trap. Imagination and invention are the keys to sustained play times for kids so when a toy doesn’t inspire a child to imagine and invent new games out of it, its life span is limited.
I remember my own childhood games with my siblings were more likely to last the more ludicrous the imagination involved was. Creating funfairs or hospitals, building planes or mazes from boxes; the stuff that stays with me had very little to do with the toys we were actually playing with. Even our love of Lego, Playmobile and Action Men endured mostly because of the endless re-invention of games or the addition of makeup and ‘outfits’ for our action men. Today, one of kids’ favourite games is as hairdressers. With an assortment of items from their play kitchen, they wash, brush and trim Shreya’s hair with great sincerity.
The key with toys that inspire imagination is that the toy can become more than what it really is. It’s the addition of the creative kids mind that turns it into something that can be played with longer than what my mum would have called a 5-minute wonder.
What makes a great creative toy?
If the key to great play is inspiring your kids to create and imagine worlds for themselves, the best toys help do just that.
The first key to inspiring creative play is toys that are less about detail and more about imagination. There’s so much desire amongst toy brands to your kids the real-world experience. It’s a natural part of creating that you want to do it all, showcase every detail, give them the experience of the real world in their very own hands. But the more buttons, detailing and sign-posting you add for ‘how’ to play something or what play ‘should’ be like, the more it limits the child’s own creative freedom.
Imagination needs shaping, yes; but dictating doesn’t spur imagination. Giving suggestions or ideas for what something might be, hinting at different worlds or inspiring a child to believe they are in that world are the sort of prompts that spark imagination.
What’s so good about wooden toys?
If imagination is the best toy, wooden toys are the fuel on the fire. They’re brilliant because they typically leave more to the imagination. Lighter on details, sounds, and sensation, they give space for kids to figure out games for themselves. A simple wooden phone shape has many more possibilities for games than a phone that flashes and makes noises. Wooden toys inspire kids to be creative and enter new worlds. Toys that give kids everything on a plate are consumed and then put aside once the possibilities given to the child are exhausted.
Wooden toys have huge potential to inspire kids. Whether it’s train sets, kitchens or other occupation dress up kits and bags, they allow space for your kids to create and interpret the toys to be re-purposed in different games.
Wooden toys are also far more sustainable. Cheap plastic has transformed the number of toys we have available for our kids to buy, but cheap availability isn’t always good. Too many toys is bad for concentration and contentment and it leads to a huge amount of waste. Wooden toys might cost a little more, but they last longer and when made from the right wood (FSC certified) they’re highly sustainable. Alternatives like bamboo are also great for a range of sustainable kids’ products and it’s why we have used them in our plates.
Wooden toys are also durable. It’s partly what makes them great sustainable choices. You tend to be able to pass on the toys in as near to new condition as when you had them first. There’s nothing worse than small parts of toys that break-off and render the entire toy useless. Robust wooden toys that last mean your kids can keep on playing with them until they grow beyond them.
7 great wooden toys to inspire your kid’s creativity
- This wooden toy set from Wild Pines is not only made from wood, but features a whole logging world! It looks beautiful and from experience, kids just love toy trains – endless games.
- The toy kitchen and wooden food set combinations available now blow our minds. The toy kitchen has become a staple of our kids lives – we wrote about it here – and never a day goes by without it featuring in our kids’ games. The classic Ikea kitchen is a staple, but you can also try adapting it to suit your own design style.
- Candylab have an amazing set of wooden cars, trucks and vans of every style. The detail is beautiful, but they leave enough to the imagine for kids to create their own games. Plus they go perfectly with creating a wider world that involves the train set above.
- Melissa and Doug are the queen and king of wooden toys and their ranges of puzzles and developmental toys for pre-schoolers remain a much loved staple for our kids.
- Wooden fishing game with magnetic rods in this beautifully designed set has been a popular part of our toy collection for a few years. Great fun and great for building up dexterity.
- Le Toy Van really get the magic of play. From dollhouses to roleplay toys, they make wooden toys come to life with a little imagination. Our kids love their doctor’s medical kit, but there aren’t many of their toys we haven’t seen and not loved.
- Aldi’s Little Town wooden sets are the cheaper equivalent of Le Toy Van and they’re awesome. The quality of their sets (from dentist to detective to vanity set) is brilliant and the price is very affordable. We love this full on hospital set up (though sadly we don’t have the space for it in our flat).