Stacking and teaching animal recognition – that’s not what we have in mind when we make our wooden toys. The world is full of so many toys that are meant or used for stacking that we do not feel we need to add more to these. Although we offer the most realistic wooden toys (click here to see our full collection), we also believe that there are so many other efficient and cheaper ways to teach animal recognition. Then what are our toys made for?
We are committed to learning deeper and wider about play and toys, incorporating this knowledge in our decision-making process as toy designers and makers, and sharing it with you in our blog. Here we are sharing some of the ways in which wooden animal toys can be used. This is not an exhaustive list, and we have not arranged its items in order of importance. You can click on the links to jump to the text parts that are of special interest to you if you are too busy to read the whole of it.
Aesthetic experience and development
When we design our toys, we strive to make our toys beautiful – not cute, but beautiful. We think we have very good reasons for that, and we will share our thoughts on the subject again and again as it is such a huge and important topic and try to make a strong and persuasive case for this elusive quality.
In short: we believe that beauty matters. We believe that beauty matters not only to adults but also to children, that aesthetic taste, recognition and experience of beauty can and should be developed from a young age. It is not just art and decoration that play a role; daily use of beautiful objects is important too, and the objects with which children interact the most are their toys.
Using beautiful toys to incorporate in beautiful setups, along with other objects and materials (we will share a list of these at the bottom of this page) is an engaging activity, immensely enriching children’s play. While children arrange toys in a careful manner (no matter what the goal of their play is), relishing their beauty, they feel deep satisfaction and relaxation – that’s what most mothers who engage in arranging invitations to play and rearranging shelves have experienced many times – that’s one of the reasons why they buy the toys – to enjoy the aesthetic experience themselves. Don’t children crave, need and deserve the experience and the feeling too?
It is true that it is not easy to put the need persuasively in words in a world that is focused on utility and efficiency, but its very existence is hard to deny.
Appreciation and respect for art, crafts, mastery, hard work, time and patience
Cherishing beauty opens the door to appreciation and respect for art and crafts and the mastery and time needed to create a beautiful object. We spend hours on carving, sanding, painting, and polishing a toy (after hours of design decisions and testing ideas). When children admire an object, they need to learn about what it takes to produce such an object. They should know that people could reach a level of mastery if they work hard, do not spare their time and effort, and strive to become better.
Children could use our toys as inspiration or models to pose (individually or in groups or as part of larger setups) for their drawings, paintings and collages as well as their sculptures made of clay or plasticine. Some children might even be inspired to create their own objects out of wood. There are many books and online resources teaching different art and craft techniques they could employ.
All these activities will help bring up your children as patient, determined and hard-working persons, eager and able to lead productive lives as adults some day.
Commitment vs. consumer attitude and throw-away culture
We live in a world flooded by cheap objects we can buy and have immediately, and we quickly lose interest in them as they do not mean anything special to us. Some people might say that it is a bad idea to get attached to objects, and while we do agree, we believe that appreciating what you have and taking good care of it to keep it in good order are some of the paths to happiness. If we do not appreciate what we have and we do not bother about preserving it, we feel an emptiness we need to fill with new meaningless objects that we will just forget or throw away, or they will grow the clutter of our homes, which makes us feel depressed and despondent.
Your children could be engaged in the process of cleaning and maintaining their wooden toys, a rewarding activity, which will also help them build useful habits. Here is an article on how you can clean and maintain our wooden toys. Some of these ideas are applicable to other brands and homemade toys too. Here is a link to another article and comments on the topic, by Sara Baldwin from Bella Luna Toys.
Open-ended small world play
“Open-ended” has become a buzzword in the context of toys and play. However, open-ended play is a type of play that has kept humankind’s children engaged for millennia. That’s the most natural type of play that children invent themselves. It is so different from the games that adults invent for children as it has no strict and fixed rules, and it lets every child be a creator of a world and its ruler. From your own experience you know how playing Ludo can be different from pretending to be a mom or a doctor.
“Small world play” is imaginative play with smaller toys (and sometimes other objects and materials – we will share a recommended list at the bottom of this article). Through it children create realistic or fantasy worlds of their own and play out many different scenarios. They can create towns, villages, forests, castles, homes, etc. and populate them with people, animals, cars, fantastic creatures, etc.
We believe that these are among the most important types of play as they not only let children’s imaginations soar but they also help children experiment with different situations, moods, feelings, behaviors, and ideas. It helps them make sense of the world, deal with family and peer problems, etc. in a safe environment. Here is why this type of play is so often used in play therapy. As children we enjoyed immensely this type of play, and nowadays, as adults, at our homes we create environments to encourage this type of play. Whenever our friends complain that their primary school children prefer such play to doing their homework, we try our best to convince them that it is not just ok but it is essential and desirable to let their children have this type of experience.
You can read an article explaining our design decisions and see how our toys are purposefully suited to imaginative play.
Learning about nature, geography, and culture
We have seen some parents create clever matching games and materials to incorporate their wooden animals to teach young children physical recognition and animal sounds. However, we believe that wooden toy animals can go a much longer way in educating children. We also believe that the less we, adults, use them as direct teaching tools, the better. What we can do instead is provide children with knowledge, safety and an inspirational environment and let them use their toys and imagination to consolidate the knowledge they have gained from other sources, such as books, videos, etc.
How will children use them to learn then? For sure, they would not say to themselves “Now I am going to learn about the life cycle of elephants”. What they would just grab toy animals and start playing, recreating scenarios they have learned from encyclopedias or fairy tales. They will combine pieces of knowledge to create new scenarios and solve new problems. This helps them understand what they have heard or read better, and as a result, remember it better.
Animals could be used to open gates to knowledge of habitats, and from them to physical geography, to people who populate the places native to these animals and their lifestyles and cultures. This will teach them about the diversity of the world.
As for animals themselves, children are especially interested in their habitats, behaviors and life cycles. Some of this knowledge could also be used to teach about seasons and seasonal changes (see, for example, the first part of our blog post about foxes), about the interaction and interdependence between animals and people, which could be the first step to take into introducing children to ecology.
We are committed to adding more and more articles to our series on specific animals, but our general advice is: whenever you would like to teach your kids about a specific animal but you are too short of time (and / or cash) to search for the best books to introduce children to the subject, you can safely use articles in Wikipedia; you do not need to read the whole articles but just use the content links at the top to take you to what might be of most interest to your children. Of course, we do not advise reading to your children directly from Wikipedia but retelling them what you believe is appropriate in a simple language they would actually understand. We would also recommend a FB group, currently titled “Nature-Inspired Children’s Books and Storytelling”.
Many parents and teachers use toy animals as storytelling props. Storytelling is important as it helps expand vocabulary way beyond daily conversation, develop language skills, focus, memory, and appreciations of literature. However, we believe that it is even more important than that as human beings crave and need stories, and these are essential to their emotional well-being.
How adults could help enrich children’s play with toy animals
We will keep sharing our findings about the topic in further publications. So far we have written specific articles about playing with specific animals and how play with these wooden toy figurines could be enriched with the help of parents – foxes, bears, deer, pigs, goats, sheep, and more to come. In fact, we have given clues in many of our product listings in our shop, but we believe that we should elaborate on these in more blog posts to be able to share more ideas and sources.
In short: the more children learn about the world, the richer and more meaningful and engaging their play becomes. In turn, through play they consolidate their knowledge of the world and their deeper understanding of it.
Parents could help a lot by providing children with sources of knowledge – science, history and geography books and encyclopedias, real stories they share, fictional stories they read or tell – from folklore and mythology, through author fairy tales, stories and novels. There are so many free audio stories online.
In turn, all these enrichment activities and play activities will interact to not just provide fun and emotional growth but also lay the foundations of general knowledge and develop skills (speech, problem-solving, communication, etc.) that are so important for future academic success – a nice spin-off, isn’t it?
Objects and materials that can make a good match to playing with wooden animals
- Fabric (e.g. silk and cotton), wool and felt, yarn, knitted and crocheted things
- Leaves, flowers, acorns, pine and other conifer cones, chestnuts, almonds, feathers, sticks, logs, driftwood, stones and so many other things you can find outdoors or in your larder
- Paper and cardboard, empty boxes – painted, cut out, turned into papier mache
- Clay / plasticine – to make additional objects and playscapes
- Other wooden toys – cubes, rainbows, stackers – the easiest to use to build habitats for your animals
Toy animals and play research
Both scientists and educators are interested in children’s play and toys. One of the recent researches shows that animal toys top the lists of best toys in several important categories. The 2017 TIMPANY Toy Study found that animal sets were the highest-scoring toys that inspire mindful play and nurture imagination. Here is a link, and you can also watch the video there.