No doubt, this topic has been written countless times by many. Do a Google search then we will have a long list of articles on this. So, why should we ditch the cold, hard plastic toys for the warm, beautiful wooden ones? Here is my take on this subject.
Plastic Toys are Harmful to the Environment
Wooden toys are environmentally sustainable. Plastic toys are not because they take so long to break down organically. Do you know that a single plastic cup can take 50 to 80 years to break down? Most are of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) that makes them almost indestructible. Since the cost to
recycle plastic is so high, only a tiny percentage of them get recycled. What then happened to the rest of them? The easiest thing to do is to let someone else worry about this. And that is what rich countries do by shipping them to poorer countries, using them as rubbish dumps. Malaysia is one of those. Remember the news report where tonnes of plastic trash were rejected and sent back to their original country last year?
If we believe we are doing good to the environment every time we dump plastic in a large recycling container, think again. When rich countries have decided that it is more cost-effective to ship them to poorer countries than to recycle them, could a country like ours do any better? Here is a comforting thought though, putting them in the bin at the very least help to keep them in place, instead of on the sidewalks, streets, beaches etc. You get the picture.
Plastic Toys Are Harmful to Children
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published a report that finds 25% of toys contain harmful chemicals. Chemical additives are used in plastic toys to provide specific levels of hardness or elasticity. Professor Peter Fantke of Denmark Technical University (DTU) said of 419 chemicals found in hard, soft and foam plastic materials used in children’s toys, 126 can potentially harm children’s health, causing cancer and infertility. These include 31 plasticizers, 18 flame retardants, and eight fragrances.
The challenge is, most of these are not stated on the labels of the toys and let's be frank, how many of us look at them when buying toys? And how many of us would understand the chemical used and their harm if ever they are listed?
Wood is Beneficial to A Child's Development
Enough with the negative, let's dive into the positives. In 2017, a study was conducted to discover the physiological effects of touching wood with the palm on the brain and autonomic nervous activity. The study revealed that touching wood with the palm calms prefrontal cortex activity and induces parasympathetic nervous activity more than other materials. The conclusion of the study is, touching wood induces physiological relaxation and enhances immune function.
The finding is significant in an age of overstimulation and a constant input. It further emphasizes the importance of wooden toys in promoting a quieter and more sustained play environment that is enormously beneficial to young children and their cognitive development.
Wooden Toys Costs Less
To understand what I meant, we need to look at this from the angles of cost vs price, short-term vs long-term and less is more.
Let's tackle the first one. Sure, compared to plastic toys, wooden ones most of the time appear to be pricier. But if we calculate from the angle of cost. The benefits of wooden toys outweigh the price we pay. I have talked about how plastic toys cost so much more in terms of the potential harm they cause to the environment and children.
Secondly, wooden toys (the good ones, the kind made of solid wood, not plywood) are durable and last for generations. I remembered one of the first wooden toys my 5-year old owned is a small pushcart with wooden blocks. The amazing thing was, we did not pay a single cent for it. The wooden cart was handed down by a friend who has two older children who have played with it before. My daughter still enjoys playing with it now. Even though the pushcart is shaky after years of abuse, it is still usable and the blocks are just fine.
Lastly, less is more. All of us have heard of this concept. As parents, have you ever had a feeling that you need to keep upgrading and buying more toys to keep your child occupy because they got bored of the old ones quickly? When I was new in this parenting thing, that's what I thought. Until I learnt the concept of repurposing toys through imagination. This is most effective with open-ended toys where we have the chance to allow children to use their creative imagination. A rectangular wooden block can be more than what it appears to be. It can be a car, cart or boat. Combined with more blocks and it can be a wall. Children are so, so good at this. It helps them to develop and express their creativity more.
Here's a piece of good news. A study from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests that having fewer toys is better. It means fewer distractions so young children can focus and engage easier in more creative, imaginative play. Aren't you glad that fewer toys result in healthier play, and, ultimately, deeper cognitive development? We no longer need to chase the latest trendy toys! In his book Clutterfree with Kids, Joshua Becker describes too many toys as a distraction from their development.
Are you convinced that wooden toys are much, much better for your child compare to plastic ones? Maybe it's time to invest in few good quality wooden toys. Check some of our collections here when you are ready. If I have done a lousy job, you can read up on more resources listed below. It took me a long time to grasp and appreciate this and are still plastic toys around in my house. Some were gifts, others we bought years ago. So, we are on this journey of learning and growing together as parents.
Harmful Chemicals Found in 25% of Children’s Toys| SDG Knowledge Hub
Potentially Harmful Chemicals Found in Plastic Toys | ScienceDaily
Physiological Effects of Touching Wood |National Institutes of Health
Why Fewer Toys is the Better Option | Psychology Today
The Influence of the Number of Toys in the Environment on Toddlers’ Play | Infant Behaviour & Development
Malaysia sent 4,120 tons of plastic trash back | Business Insider
Why is it so hard to decompose plastics? | Columbia Daily Tribune