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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Wooden stackers are a staple in any natural playroom!
From infancy, well into childhood, a single stacking toy can provide so much quality, child-lead, imaginative play.

Wooden stacking toys come in a staggering variety or sizes, shapes, colours, woods and finishes.

A wooden stacker is often one of the first natural toy purchases a family makes (along with playsilks, because, well, everyone needs playsilks..  but I may be biased?!).
Or a family with an infant or toddler is trying to encourage family members to consider giving their little one a single open ended toy instead of a bunch of plastic buzzing, beeping, age-restrictive toys... but how to direct them when there are SO many great options?!

I'm not a woodworker, although I have made and finished my share of wooden toys ~ but I have purchased, gifted, stocked in shop, collaborated etc. with many wonderful artisans who do work in wood. A lot of wooden toys have passed through my hands, and this information may help you in choosing just the right toy for your little ones (or at least in clearing up some basics!).

Waldorf and Waldorf-style/ inspired toys connect to the Steiner education pedagogy and will be made simply, with natural materials and nature/ fairy tales/ mythological themes. Many traditional Waldorf toys are faceless, allowing the child to imagine the expression while playing. Waldorf toys generally span a wide age range~ the toddler will play with the rainbow stacker differently than the 7 year old will play... but both will use the same toy. Many are seasonal, helping to build rhythm in daily life and all will easily support story-telling and teaching. Stackers are often natural items like rainbows, mountains, caves and trees.
1. Fox Guardian Tree Dryad, by Rjabinnik
2. Sunshine Stacker, by Simple Gifts Toys
3. Happy Rainbow Stacker, by the MolHole.
4. Bremen Town Musicians, by Ventry Toy
5. Abstract Nesting Blocks, by Freja Toys

Montessori toys certainly share many features with Waldorf toys and are easily crossed over.  They tend to be more focused on promoting specific skills or tasks, and may be more 'puzzle-like' and have less emphasis on natural materials/ simplicity. Stackers may focus on shape discrimination, ordering by size and other developmental tasks.
1. Pyramid Stacker, by Wooden Toy Studio
2. Hungry Caterpillar Puzzle/ Stacker, by Manzanita Kids 
3. Little People Peek-A-Boo, by Kat and Company
4. Shape Stacker, by A Summer Afternoon 
5. Baby's First Stacking Toy, by House Mountain Natural

Not all wooden toys belong to these educational philosophies... there are lots of developmental toys made of wood that can easily substitute for the classics like the Fisher Price Ring Stacker.  In this case, you will want to be particularly mindful if the safety/ durability of the wood finish is important to you.
1. Wooden Ring Stacker, HC Woodcraft.
2. Springtime Blocks, by Fidoodle

Personally, when looking at wooden toys I prefer to see local wood species being used, and some reference to sustainable harvest.  This means that no one wood is the 'best'. Pine is very popular and a great affordable choice, but keep in mind its light weight makes it a little easier to damage and with stackers featuring long curves or thinner pieces, these tend to snap under much less pressure than a hardwood. I like pine best for smaller, more compact toys (animals etc.) that are a solid 'chunk'. Whichever wood you choose, keep in mind that wider bases and thicker pieces will be heavier (which is not always preferable with wildly swinging toddlers!), but more durable.
BTRT Wooden Stacker c. 2010
There is a dazzling array of colourings and finishes for wooden stackers and toys.

Soy. Milk paint. Watercolour (be sure they are AP certified). Food colouring. Natural dyes.
All of these and more will show up on natural toys. Each has its merits. All may come off under extensive baby chewing (on baby and on clothing and furniture). So a safe colouring method is a good place to start, and one within your own comfort level. Honestly, I prefer watercolours over food colouring as they are intended for surface finishing and food colouring can be pretty nasty stuff! Of course, natural wood is gorgeous and if colour safety or transfer is a concern for you, natural is a wonderful way to go!
BTRT Castle Blocks c. 2009 w/ Beeswax Polish
An acrylic painted stacker with an acrylic clear coat finish will stand up to tons of play. Nothing wrong with that! But if you are determined to have natural, or more-natural-than-not toys, probably skip the latex and acrylic treatments.

If your chosen stacker is unpainted, you could opt for no finish.
But there is nothing quite like the warm gleam of beeswax polished wooded toys (and that lovely smell!). We have a beeswax polish recipe right here so you can re-apply your own over time!
Beeswax, linseed oil and flax oil (or a combo) are common finishes~ safe and each has its merits. Shellac is actually bug-derived and it lasts forever as a finish!  The wax and oil finishes are absorbed into the wood, but do not provide a 'seal' closing in colours, so these are more likely to bleed a little, but truly they are so lovely, safe and worth it!
Loch Ness Monster, BTRT (makes me hanker to make some wooden toys again!)
All of the wooden toys pictured and linked here are freely chosen by me (these are not paid spots, promos or other sponsor type ads) and in most cases, I am featuring them based on information provided by the artisan about their product in their listing. If you are shopping, please let them know how you found out about them, and be sure to ask your own questions!

Enjoy! ♥♥


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for including Simple Gifts Sunshine Stacker! What a lovely article!

Jo's Daughter said...

Love the rainbow !

Unknown said...

You're welcome!

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