Toys! Toys! Toys!

One of the most common questions one hears in the Waldorf World is about toys –  those beautiful, expensive, wooden, natural fiber toys.  How does one transition into those, what does one do with the plastic toys, how does one handle inappropriate gifts?

Uh, pour yourself a cup of tea and come back, because this is a big subject.

I really respect all the natural toymakers out there and Waldorf sellers of natural toys.  They are wonderful.   (Also, I am not against plastic toys at all, some of them – legos come to mind, some families love Playmobile or matchbox cars).   However, there are a few things to keep in mind regarding toys, before you start adding to your child’s toy collection with natural toys.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you do not need many toys at all.  I wrote a post about this awhile back, why not click over and see if it resonates with you?  Here it is:

Kim John Payne also gets to the heart of this in his book “Simplicity Parenting” (for a review see here:  I believe Marsha Johnson also has a wonderful article in her FILES section of her Yahoo!Group ( to join) addressing this very topic.  Both of these resources talk about the positive effects of LESS. 

Under this topic, I  have to mention that a beautiful wooden kitchen is still a beautiful wooden kitchen, but a box can be a kitchen, a spaceship, a house, a cave…the possibilities are endless!  So, I guess my point is that whilst I too love the wooden toys and natural toys, do keep in mind that the simplicity of it all should be in toys that can be more than one thing, toys that can transform as a child’s play flows from one thing to another.

Toymaking with children or with your children in mind is also important.  You don’t need a lot of skill to start, and the book “Toymaking With Children” really lays this all out for you:   Why not consider making your own toys?

The second thing to keep in mind is the age of your child and the development of play, so you know what toys are appropriate and needed.  This way you do not put out all the toys a child from birth to seven will go through at once, but only the ones specific for that age and only a handful so you can rotate them in and out.

Ages Birth – Two- and –a- half:  Their own hands and feet are the best toys in the first year, and perhaps I would add a beautiful mobile or Nature Table to look at.  Around the toddler years, one could add a VERY SIMPLE knotted or  bunting -style doll.  There are instructions on how to make one of these in “Toymaking With Children”  Meredith has a nice post regarding dolls here over at Waldorf Reviews:

Wooden spoons, pots, bowls are all welcome as well, along with baskets to fill and dump, and also some playcloths to set up a corner in which the child  can hide or rest.  I would also add blocks, pails for the sandbox, a basin to put water in for play. 

It is important that every toy has a home and is cared for with love and reverence.  A doll should be included in your rhythm as part of the family and cared for with love.  🙂  Here is an article from Gateways regarding the relationship of the child to the doll:

More Notes About Play During This Period:  “Toymaking With Children” has this to say about birth to the third year:  “The adult’s actions are absorbed not consciously but lovingly.  At first, children limit themselves to apparently purposelessly imitative activity.  They go around the room like their mother, picking up things which she has just tided away, only to put them down again somewhere else.  When the mother fills her pot with potatoes, the child fills a basket or cart with building blocks.”

So, being able to show your child some WORK is of utmost importance.

Ages Two-and-a-Half to Age Five:   This is where fantasy and imaginative play really emerge.  The children of this age take the toys and pretend they are whatever they need at the moment – things for a store, things for the farm.  Open-ended toys such as playsilks and clips to make a house is wonderful, playstands are often used at this age, and baskets filled with open-ended objects from nature such as shells, stones, pinecones, etc that can become whatever the child needs in the moment. 

Playing in nature is very important at all ages, but especially at these ages.  Mud, sand, water are all the child’s playground. 

Work hard into picking up WITH your children and making it fun; they will not go and pick up by themselves with just a verbal command.  They are imitating you, and you get to be the leader of a fun game for cleaning up.  Put the time for clean-up into your rhythm.

Ages Five to Seven Years:  A doll with arms and legs to dress and undress is important at this age.  Simple toys and crafts Waldorf sellers that focus a bit more on fine motor skills may be appropriate at this point for those times of inbreath, but time in nature and developing gross motor skills is still so important – can your child ride a bike?  Walk on stilts?  Do the monkey bars?  Swim in the deep end?  Jump rope?  Play hopscotch?

You might be saying, this is wonderful, Carrie but what do I do with all of my plastic toys?

Families I have known have approached this in several  ways.  First, do sort through the toys and discard the ones that are broken.  Your children may  enjoy finding toys to give away to goodwill, but in my experience, many children do not.  Yet, many parents feel badly about going through their children’s toys and donating them.  Sometimes what works is to leave out a few toys and put the other toys in boxes for rotation into the play area.  If you arrange your toy area in a beautiful way, you may be surprised about your children being more content with LESS.  You may even be able to donate a few of those boxes of plastic toys as no one asks for them ever again as some more open-ended toys come in to the space.    I also encourage families going through this to cut back on media and plan some activities outside. Get the children involved in your practical work.  Set up play scenarios to show them how this would work.  Tell them fairy tales, spark their imagination.

Here are a few back posts to help:

and this one:

Most of all, please be confident!  You are not taking toys away from your children but increasing the quality of their play through the power of less!

Many blessings,


13 thoughts on “Toys! Toys! Toys!

  1. Sometimes, I find myself asking “who is this awesome 600$ castle for…myself or Emerson” LOL

    I try to be so careful…but still toys creep in …However, we’ve really got out toys in a place that is great for us…we have one “plastic baby’ out of bath time necessity LOL…one of our nice dollys “took a bath”

    I’m lucky in that we started our daughter on wooden toys and knew wanted to keep it natural…it was also the height of the china toy lead issues… which made it easier to convince relatives.

    They really are creative. Emerson seems my laptop on occasion and turned our dishwash’s untensil caddy into her “laptop” — it opens on a hinge…

  2. So true- when just the playstand and a handful of toys are out, my kids run to the playroom. After they have dumped a tote of plastic toys out in there, they avoid it! I have 3 totes hiding in the basement of commercial toys from Christmas and birthday presents and in 3 months, they’ve only asked for a few of them… but I feel it is important to add a little intuition and understanding of your child when clearing out the playroom. It seems my 2 yr old was born loving matchbox cars, just as he loves to sit on dad’s lap and pretend to drive in the truck (while its standing still in the driveway) or on Grampy’s lap on the huge John Deere tractor. He spent hours driving his cars across my tummy and legs during my last morning sickness period when I was laid up on the couch. It has been positive for him.

    I really love what Kristie Burns (of Earthschooling) said about wooden and fabric toys- that the whole point is that they are HANDMADE with love by someone, not factory produced wooden items!

  3. One thing I used to do when my daughter was young and I have suggested to many of my parents in my classes is this,

    Invite the plastic fairy to come visit, my daughter and I would make a beautiful space with silks and lay the plastic toy (that she would get from some one for her birthday) down. In the morning the plastic fairy would turn it into something beautiful, It wasnt always a wooden toy somethimes it was a new silk or some crystals other times it was a wooden toy or a knitted animal. She was always so excited to see what it turned into that she did not care about that plastic toy leaving. You could also do a basket of pine cones, something you have handmade or something that she needs maybe a new dress or pair of shoes the possibilitys are endless. Get creative. We had fairies for every thing, It just always took the fight out of everything and made it magical.

  4. I have to laugh because this morning my boys(2.5 and 5) were fighting over who got to play with the imaginary dog. Luckily dad had another one in his pocket.

    • Tosca, that is priceless and should go on some kind of a “you know you’re a Waldorf parent when..” type of list!

  5. Hi Carrie,
    I just saw the Toys! Toys! Toys! post!!!!! I was so excited and relieved to read it. Thank you for all your helpful hints. I just needed a little direction in this area. Thank you so much for this great blog!

    thanks again,

  6. Great post, Carrie! You have such a real attitude about it, too. I sometimes worry that in my eagerness to have the “right” kinds of toys I’ve disrespected the intention of a gift or the life that my child has given to a toy (even if it is not the kind of toy I would choose for my child.) I think it’s important to choose toys with intention, but to also respect our children’s attachment to toys and not get too dogmatic about it. My 11 year old daughter plays lovingly and creatively with her handmade Waldorf doll, as well as those endlessly annoying Polly Pockets!

  7. Sigh, I keep returning to this post, as it’s very important to me, and I can’t get others to follow.

    My son just turned 1 year old last Friday, and for his birthday party (in a few weeks) we decided to do a one gift, one cause, inspired by ECHOage:

    Since the economy isn’t great, and we already have too much stuff we’re trying to get rid of, we thought we’d have everyone contribute (if they want) to a new carseat (gift) & a donation to our local library (cause).

    Then my parents bring him a child-size drum set.

    Yes, we are musically-inclined parents, and he loves music already (especially percussion & guitar), and he really loves the set, already playing on it better than me. I just don’t want to start a trend of people not listening to our wishes, and filling our house with stuff (yes, I know musical instruments are not stuff).

    Thank you for being a touch-stone of sanity in my world. 🙂

    • Kerrie-
      Happy Birthday to your little guy! I so understand about the gift challenge as well.
      Many blessings,

  8. Thanks, Carrie. 🙂

    I’ve been trying to create a brief “toy/gift philosophy” since before he was born, but it just seems to get longer! 🙂 I just try to practice-what-I-preach & give books or craft kits to the kids, though there’s about 10 kids under 18 at this point, so I think this year it may be all handmade or nature items for this year’s holidays (is home-made mass-production an oxymoron?).

    Dandelion wishes,


  9. Pingback: Holiday Gifts For Children | The Parenting Passageway

  10. Pingback: Some Favorite Holiday Gifts! | The Parenting Passageway

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