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Toys have certainly changed during the last one hundred years but one thing that has not changed is the fascination of both old and young alike with wooden toys. Regardless of the newest gizmo that may be on the market, few can resist the timeless of appeal of wooden trains, rocking horses and even abacuses.
Of course, the allure of wooden toys is nothing new. Children as far back as the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires played with carved wooden horses, dolls and other creations that sought to imitate life around them. Archeological studies as well as examinations of tombs and crypts have revealed that even thousands of years ago children had a veritable wealth of wooden toys with which they could play.
By the 16th century German craftsmen sought to capitalize on the wooden toy allure. Sales representatives were hired to market the toys throughout Europe, often taking special orders to commemorate special occasions, particularly from the royal families in the region. By beginning of the 17th century German toymakers had gained a reputation for producing surprisingly lifelike toy figures of animals and figures.
Throughout the next century and beyond toymakers used their skills to produce toys that were increasingly more elaborate. Wooden trains and train tracks, toy soldiers, ornamental dollhouses and jack-in-the boxes were just a few of the toys to be produced during this time period.
The allure of wooden toys continued well into the 20th century; however, the interest in these toys took a nosedive following the end of World War II. It’s no coincidence that plastic came into being about this time, making it easy to produce more inexpensive toys on a large scale basis.
Still, it would seem that not even plastic could completely dim the appeal of wooden toys. Today, while it is certainly true that most aisles of toy stores are dedicated to plastic toys, there are more than a few toymakers making a go of it by producing high quality crafted wooden toys. With the advent of the Internet it has become even easier for parents to choose from a variety of wooden roleplay toys such as kitchens and tool benches as well as puzzles, pedal cars, train sets, dollhouses, forts, rockers and even outdoor toys.
While some wooden toys can cost significantly more than their plastic counterparts, many parents feel wooden toys still remain the best play options for their children, regardless of cost. In fact, many special needs educators as well as those who follow the Montessori school of though tend to agree. Not only are wooden toys much safer than plastic toys (they do not contain dangerous levels of PVC which could be ingested by children) but they also provide numerous other benefits that plastic toys simply cannot offer.
One of the most important of these benefits is the invitation to touch, feel and explore; an important component of any education program. While children might play with a plastic toy, their interest can quickly wane and few, if any, plastic toys encourage children to actually learn through feel. Wooden toys; however, are much different. Though it certainly cannot be explained by anything scientific, wooden toys just seem to have the ‘magic touch’ when it comes to encouraging imaginative play through exploration and contact.
Even parents who may not necessarily be aware of the link between education and contact with wooden toys seem to feel that these rather simplistic looking toys provide numerous other benefits. In a day and age when video-games and highly complex electronic toys seem to be driving the minds of our children to places where we would perhaps rather they not go, traditional wooden toys offer the opportunity to enjoy a more value-driven type of imaginative play.
In addition, while wooden toys may not have all of the bells and whistles of modern toys they still allow children to engage in meaningful play, developing cognitive and problem-solving skills that will carry throughout the rest of their lives.
Durability is also a strong advantage for many parents and children. While modern plastic toys can frequently and easily be destroyed, wooden toys are designed to withstand damage much easier. Considering the fact that wooden toys tend to last much longer than plastic toys, this makes their cost more negligible than one might at first think.
While many modern toymakers may continue to bedazzle the world with their seemingly endless supply of computerized and electronic toys, there is little doubt that wooden toys will remain beloved favorites for many more generations to come.