They say the old ones are often the best – and when it comes to playtime, traditional toys can have real benefits for your child
Most parents will be familiar with the scenario: you spend hours researching the latest must-have toys and gadgets, frantically search on the high street to locate your top choice, spend ages beautifully wrapping said gift – only for your child to open it and spend the rest of the day playing with the box.
Add to this the stress of undoing fiddly packaging and inserting the batteries before being subjected to 84 different varieties of headache-inducing sounds – and the joy of treating your little one to a thoughtful gift turns into a lot of noisy fuss.
So it might be a relief to hear that there’s a new consumer trend away from the mass-produced toy world, which will not only soothe frazzled parents but have real educational and developmental benefits for your little one.
The Slow Toy Movement was launched in 2011 by toy distributor Thierry Bourett, with the noble aim of increasing the popularity of traditional toys, such as building blocks, doll’s houses and rattles. The focus is on quality, tradition and creativity to inspire the child’s mind and encourage real play.
“Toys don’t need to be over complicated,” says Dr Miriam Stoppard, who has developed a new range of baby and toddler developmental toys for Galt Toys. “We know babies and toddlers learn so much through play, and it’s great when they make their own discoveries – making something move, turning something over, putting something in a slot. It may be simple, but it’s all part of the learning process for a baby.”
Freedom to learn
The ethos is simple: children should never be in a race to talk or walk first. These milestones are not a competition, and their development should be left to occur at a natural pace. So, instead of filling playtime with highly stimulating modern gadgets which proclaim their various educational benefits, the emphasis is for your child to let his imagination run wild and set his own learning agenda. “For example, a rattle teaches a baby about cause and effect – the baby shakes the toy and it makes a noise. If you don’t shake it, it doesn’t make a noise,” explains Dr Miriam. “Even a simple jigsaw will help develop pre-reading skills, as your baby will be learning about shape recognition.”
The strength of this movement away from modern, hi-tech toys was highlighted when retailer Selfridges announced its first Slow Toy Awards in the lead-up to Christmas last year. A vigorous judging panel examined independent toy shops for unique concepts which were seen to encourage traditional play and boost creative thinking, inspiring the development of a child’s imagination.
Lynne Crook, Selfridges’ buying manager for toys, says, “It’s exciting to be able to offer an alternative to the hype around the usual commercial toys – as fun, and as popular, as they are. Confidence in the quality and integrity of a product is incredibly important, especially when shopping for children. These products are beautifully crafted and carefully considered, and indicative of a very touching return to simple values.”
Dr Amanda Gummer, psychologist and founder of play advice website Goodtoyguide.com, is also a firm believer in Slow Toys, thanks to the reduced pressure it put on parents to keep up with the trends, as well as the psychological benefits in the long-run.
Strong and durable, made from traditional materials, the toys are built to stand the test of time. “Traditional toys tend to last longer as they are less ‘faddy’, therefore emotions and memories become associated with them. This helps ground a child and supports healthy emotional development,” says Dr Amanda. “Their flexible nature often makes them accessible to children from a wider range of backgrounds, ages and abilities, which can be an excellent way of promoting social development.”
It seems the concept of ‘too much of a good thing’ isn’t a problem for toys in the slow lane. “Very few toys are ‘bad’ for children, but traditional toys can be especially beneficial when they facilitate inter-generational play,” explains Dr Amanda. “Most grandparents are more than happy to help a child with a jigsaw puzzle or a teddy bears’ picnic, but many feel uncomfortable engaging with some of the hi-tech games and toys that children have. Inter-generational play is good for attachment, development of identity and emotional development.”
Of course, while traditional toys are often less structured and allow for more imaginative play, many hi-tech toys foster creativity and imagination, too. So don’t go giving away the all-singing, all-dancing doll that speaks in four languages, or multi-functional remote-control sports utility vehicle just yet. There’s plenty of room for both – it’s all about getting the right balance, and giving your little one the opportunity to slow down from time to time.
Top Slow Toys
Quality, tradition and creativity collide in these beautiful playthings
A plush Oobicoo, £46.80 (oobicoo.com), is the same size as a 6-month-old baby, so it can be dressed in hand-me-down clothes. Plus, proceeds of each sale go to the Children’s Immunology Fund.
ROLL THE DICE
Let your child’s imagination run wild with Rory’s Story Cubes, £9.99 (storycubes.com). To play, simply roll the nine dice then make up a story connecting the images – the possibilities are endless!
Crafted from sustainable rubberwood, the Wonderworld Eco House, £112 (dkltoys.co.uk), teaches little ones about the environment. Best bit? For every tree used in manufacture, another two are planted in conjunction with Thai farmers.
Inspired by the delight of small children tearing wet wipes out of a packet, the Wondercube, £14.99 (mywondercube.co.uk), helps stimulate your baby
and develops fine motor skills.
Bright and bold, this Triangular Activity Centre, £27.99 (bigjigstoys.co.uk), features painted abacus beads, a spinning alphabet and a blackboard for small hands to chalk all over.
Go ethical with these sensory-rich Stacking Hoops, £40 (playtoz.co.uk). Little hands will love exploring each Fairtrade ring, which has been carefully sourced and holds a fascinating story.
Imaginative and educational, these Multi-solution Puzzles, £14.99 each (ganderkids.co. uk), encourage your child to problem solve and think creatively.
Handmade and humanitarian, these quirky Emma Levine Balinese Dolls, from £15 (emmalevine.net), are produced to raise funds for the island’s Group Home Orphanage.
HARD KNOCK LIFE
Designed to help with key child development milestones, such as hand-eye coordination and dexterity, this Hammer and Pegs, £14.99 (galttoys. com), is a must-have for budding builders.
Originally published in Practical Parenting & Pregnancy magazine, May 2013