Whoever thinks, wants to understand and grasp something. We envisage something and take it into our hands in order to follow through with it or to realise an objective. We determine what the matter is or propose a hypothesis, turn the arguments back and forth or arrange them until we have convinced ourselves. We consider our next move. In all of this, we always make use of our hands. The relationship between thinking and physicality seems to be so close and rooted so firmly in us that even our language cannot avoid being an expression of this control system.
Is that the real reason why, with the advantage of being particularly haptic and often described as pleasant to hold, many parents prefer wooden toys – especially when the next generation begins to grasp the world? Are wooden toys the symbol of our phylogenetic inheritance? Developments in recent years show, in any event, that after a period of full bloom in the nineties, wooden toys are back in fashion and that traditional play themes have not lost any of their attractiveness. Challenging discussions around sustainable product development and a circular economy ought to play into the hands of wooden toy suppliers too. The sector is doing well.
It all starts with building blocks
Amongst the great pedagogues – from Jean Jacques Rousseau to Jean Piaget and Hartmut von Hentig – it was primarily Friedrich Fröbel who emphasized physical work, musical education, play (the work of children!) and celebration as sources for holistic education of the human being. If you consider what is new at the moment in wooden toys, there is indeed a whole lot of working, building and playing going on. Architects, above all, come off well. One example is Haba. The company already claimed many years ago that the building block is the start of everything and, with Clever-Up!, it brings to the market a new building block system that has clear, simple shapes. Higher, more slanted and more daring is the principle of the new Building Block System Clever-Up! 1.0, in which simple mathematical correlations are imparted through play, while skills such as spatial thinking, understanding of statics and fine motor skills are trained. In addition, the system aims to stimulate digital thinking. (HABA, Germany)
The Franconian wood enthusiasts are not the only ones with a passion for building blocks. French company Cloze is also banking on open-end play sets, construction kits and creative sets made from wood. The Basic Box – Wooden Construction Game contains 100 parts in 8 different shapes. (CLOZE, France)
The Uhl Tilestyle from Dusyma offers reduction to the max. The principle is familiar: rather than infinite variety, it is initially limitation that gets the synapses going. The 96 tiles allow you to go where the mood takes you and create whatever springs to mind. The pedagogic intention is clear, though. The building blocks aim to promote abstraction and imagination, shape differentiation and matching, fine motor skills, dexterity and creativity. (Dusyma Kindergartenbedarf GmbH, Germany)
It is unsurprising to find that the mother of all construction games
– the building block – is back in the product range of everybody who's anybody in wooden toy manufacturing. This is also true for Czech manufacturer Woodyland which, under the brand Woody, primarily produces wooden toys, including Toddler Wooden Blocks – Natural/Colored. (Woody, Czech Republic)
I got rhythm
The first educational institution is the child's playroom. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" may not apply absolutely but there is a lot of truth in the proverb. What is also true is that it is not just genes that play a constructive role in our human manifestation – it is also the early cultural environment. If this were not the case, the term "educationally disadvantaged", used to describe lost opportunities for development, would be meaningless and merely serve to stigmatise. Play as education is admittedly no guarantee for a prosperous life or successful career but it does open up space for the new, the unknown, for logic and beauty, for the purposeless and the emotional.
One of the most purposeless and fleeting of human accomplishments is music. We don't work to create music, we play it in the same way that we play to understand, even if it takes work to play like a master. Our love of music is unsurprising; our first toy is our voice. A whole host of recent contributions to early childhood musical education and musical development can be found in the wooden toy manufacturers' product ranges, above all at Hape. The company presents more than ten new instruments, from the My First Musical Walker and the electronic Learning and Fun ukulele to the Pound and Tap Bench xylophone. (Toynamics Europe GmbH / Hape, Germany)
Spanish manufacturer Andreu Toys combines music and the world of building blocks with its 10 Sensory Sound Cubes. Children learn to discern five different tones and to pair up matching sounds. The game improves their sense of hearing and develops fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. (ANDREU-TOYS, Spain)
In the case of Baff, it's all about hitting the right rhythm – the great Gershwin sends his greetings! On the market for a good ten years already with its drum stools, the manufacturer is now heading down the road of customisation. Baff now offers a Cajon Construction Kit for children, following IKEA principles. A screwdriver is all you need – and this percussion instrument will be ready in no time. In addition, kids can paint their drum stool according to taste. (Baff, Germany)
Who plays, learns
The family-owned company JARDesign, founded in 2010, has set itself the goal of raising awareness amongst children and young people about nature, its materials, limited resources and the proper use of technology with its wooden toys. The five editions of its DOMINO MATH tiles aim to teach children the fundamentals of calculation and to reinforce them. The educational material has been awarded several design prizes. (JARDesign d.o.o. - DiDi Toys, Slovenia)
Two educational games by Erzi are also about brain training: Fractions of a Whole and Geometrical Shapes. These didactic games, made from solid beech wood, were designed to introduce children to division and fractions and to basic geometric principles. There is therefore no shortage of teaching, learning and educational resources – or sources of entertainment – this year either. (Erzi GmbH, Germany)