Wooden toys are usually a timeless design, are fairly high-quality and tend to hold up well to the wear and tear of the actual play that kids will inflict upon a popular toy. Wooden toys will stand out in a group of plastic toys, so they will attract the children’s attention on special occasions when there will be a lot of toys around. Let’s also remember that wooden toys are sustainable and are not made from fossil fuels, like plastic ones. With all that in mind, here’s AL’s list of the all-time greats, in approximate order of the age of the child recipient:
1. Alphabet blocks – Playing with toys is a child’s job, and the result of that job is reaching an understanding of the physical world. The next stage in the job is learning to speak and then reading and writing, and alphabet blocks are the perfect early learning toy for all those things. They’re non-toxic, and too big to swallow. Available from Amazon.
2. Architectural blocks – Your basic building block teaches children how the man-made world is put together, and of course one of the most fun parts of that is seeing (and hearing) how that world can come crashing down.
They are also good for children who may put them in their mouths, and older children will enjoy making more elaborate structures, and then may be knocking them down, too. Available from Amazon.
Nothing’s more natural than the gradual process of a baby turning into a toddler. The walking part’s easy; the hard part is learning to let go and not fall. The baby walker gives a child the security of something to hold onto and the freedom to go wherever on their own. Available from Amazon (and lots of other places).
4. Croaking Frog – Obviously not the classic piece of Americana that some of the other toys are, the croaking frog is handmade and sold in many developing countries in Asia and Central America.
The handle comes out and is used to make a realistic, rhythmic croak by sliding it along the back and tapping the large hollow volume. In Costa Rica, for example, they are for sale literally everywhere in any size and color you could imagine (or get one carved to order if you’re there and have the time). They are a truly unique gift, made by people who really need the money.
5. Tinker Toys – Get ready for the 100th anniversary of Tinker toys, invented in 1914. Everyone knows the construction toy with the round wooden hubs and colored sticks.
These are for children who are older and more coordinated than the more basic blocks and they could be a choking hazard. Even adults can be intrigued at the complex structures that one can make with these. Not surprisingly, these are now made in plastic as well. Some say the plastic sets are better. The choice is yours. Available from Amazon.
6. Lincoln Logs – Another iconic American building toy, designed in 1916 by John L. Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.The notched logs enable children to make very sturdy wooden structures, while reminding them that houses used to be made directly from trees. It also reminds them of the humble background of our 16th President. Available from Amazon.
7. Walking Bike – These wooden push bikes have become increasingly popular with young children, who love to push them along and coast for longer and longer distances.
They seem to work well as bicycle balance trainers, shortening or eliminating the time needed for training wheels. The German LIKEaBIKE is beautiful and durable, but you can get them much cheaper from other manufacturers. Or accomplish the exact same principle by just removing the pedals from an existing child’s bicycle and letting them practice rolling and balancing on the bike they can pedal later.
8. Xylophone – Do you see a pattern here? Children love to build things and make noise, so many of these toys are about those two activities. But isn’t music a form of noise?
They can just bang away on the xylophone and try the different sounds and eventually they will learn that sound can be organized just like anything else in the world, and after that, who knows? If the child is going to be like Mozart, it’s best to start early. They also learn that words can begin with X. Available from Amazon.
9. Automoblox Toy Cars – These are relatively new on the scene, and not 100% wood, but I liked them so much I gave them their own post.
The combination of great looks, high quality and interchangeability gives them tremendous play value. You can have fun with one, or get more and combine them in custom ways. They keep coming out with new designs, but they still maintain the basic form factor. The standard ones are reasonably priced, and they also make Minis, which are half the size and one-third the price. Available from Amazon, or check out the Automoblox Web site.
10. Marble Runs – OK, more blocks, but these are tons of fun and are one of the best toys to get grownups down on the floor to play.
Kids get the general idea, that marbles run downhill and drop through the holes, but adults can always think of more things to add or a better way to do them, then as soon as you’re done, the marbles go. Lots of companies make these, but I liked Haba, for their high quality and enormous variety of add-ons. Plus, they’re wood, and some runs are made of plastic, and we don’t want that. Available from Amazon.
That’s the top ten, for now. If we left anything out, please let us know in the comments.