Good toy designs are passed down generation to generation. That is why wood toys are still thriving today, and why they are just as prized now as they were centuries ago. Quality toys made from natural materials will never go out of style.
This guide to toys made from wood will glide over some of history’s favorite playthings and then provide smart buyer’s tips and recommendations for modern wood toys.
The history of toys is really the history of wooden toys. Archaeologists have unearthed wood pull toys from Egypt that are 4000 years old. Early versions of chess and checkers were played with wood pieces on a carved board.
Later, Roman children played with carved wooden horses and chariots. In fact, children’s toys may have inspired the gift of the Trojan Horse! Clearly, the ancient world was full of wooden toys adored by children and adults alike.
More recently, in the year 1760, the first puzzle was created by mapmaker John Spilsbury, who glued one of his maps to a thin wooden board and cut it into pieces. In Russia, stylized and stackable wooden dolls captivated the royal families for generations. At that time Victorian women were also passing their time by constructing elaborate wooden doll houses, some of which were complete with ivory and marble and cost as much a real house!
And don’t forget Pinocchio! Wooden puppets have been popular since the Middle Ages, crafted with care by wood carvers and showcased in rowdy street-side carnivals with ventriloquists.
But probably the most famous wood toy in history was invented in 1916. The son of an architect came up with Lincoln Logs, which are still on the market today. His father was Frank Lloyd Wright.
After the first World War, many children fell in love with making wooden models of airplanes, fire trucks, and cars. When materials were hard to find, thrifty folks would use old peach and apple crates to create realistic versions of their favorite things.
Why Wood Toys Endure
Wooden toys endure because toys made from natural materials are inherently valuable. The pride of woodcraft, good workmanship, and the values recycling natural goods are all part of the mystique of toys made from wood.
On a practical note, wood is also a naturally germ-free material. So carved wooden objects have always been prized as safe for babies to chew on when they are teething.
Lastly, wood toys excite the imagination due to their natural beauty, texture, and smell. These toys connect people to the place they live and remind us about what is truly important: our families, our communities, and the natural world we depend on.
Contemporary Wood Toys Buying Guide
Today, wood toys remain high quality possessions that can last a lifetime. Many of the ancient forms of toys are still available today by traditional toy makers. Also, some toy companies are producing sustainable wood toys, which are produced in environmentally sound ways to ensure the future of our forests.
Wood Block Toys
Wooden blocks are still one of the most popular children’s toys today. Wood blocks can be safe for infants but also keep the interest of older children. A good set of wooden blocks contains foundational blocks for building and accent pieces that will be appreciated by older children who are modeling their creations after a historic time period.
For instance, HABA’s Russian House Building Blocks are a great mix of simple blocks and fun tower top pieces and archways. These blocks are recommended for ages 3 to 9, but don’t be surprised if you see full grown adults crafting a beautiful Russian temple for hours!
Wood Pull Toys
Just like the ancient Egyptians, today’s toddlers are captivated by pull toys. These toys are really appropriate for babies 24 months +. (It’s hard to pull something when you haven’t learned how to sit up yet!)
Toys like Melissa and Doug’s Pull Along Zoo-Animals are great entertainment and also a chance for babies to learn about all the classic zoo animals of the world.
We also recommend sustainable wooden pull toys like the Taraluna Pull Train Toy. It is crafted by Fair-Trade artisans, made with sustainably harvested wood, and painted with vegetable dyes and a non-toxic varnish. It doesn’t get any earth-friendlier than that!
Wooden educational toys are simple toys that remain popular for a long time after children have grown bored with the latest plastic whirling gizmo.
Puzzles are just as exciting now as they were three hundred years ago. But today puzzles can teach young children about colors, textures, numbers, letters, and anything else.
We love Melissa and Doug’s wooden jigsaw puzzles. These 12 piece puzzles are hand crafted and decorated with farm, home, and work scenes. These are hearty wood pieces that will last a lifetime.
Melissa and Doug also shine in building educational toys like classic wooden dollhouses as well as miniature wooden barns and horse stables. These wooden toys make great gifts that will be certain to entertain kids for years.
Contemporary doll houses are just as intricate as in the Victorian days, but much more affordable! For example, Melissa and Doug’s Doll Crib is made with hand-crafted wood and includes a tiny pillow, blanket and soft little mattress.
This guide just scratches the surface, so to speak, on the great wood toys now available. Be sure to check back for more of our expert reviews soon.