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The amount of plastic toddler toys on the market can be pretty overwhelming. When you want low-tech, classic wood toys for your toddler they can be hard to find! That’s why I put together this list of the best wood toys for toddlers while shopping for our girl.
This guide is broken into five sections to help you discover why wood toys are the best choice for toddlers (especially young toddlers who still mouth!), how to avoid toxic toys, and age-appropriate wood toys for younger and older toddlers. Lastly, there’s an FAQ about wood toys and low-tech toys, in general. You can jump to each section using the table of contents below for easy navigation, or just scroll down to take it all in!
Why it’s important to buy wood toys for toddlers
I recently had a little bout of doubting myself and how strict I am about toys. I’ve always preferred to provide natural material toys for LG and have a deep aversion to anything that lights up, makes noise, or generally plays with itself. (Basically anything with batteries!) After LG was gifted some battery-containing plastic toys, I decided to do a little research. I thought maybe I was being too paranoid abbot plastic/electronic toys. Instead, I ended up becoming even more passionate about wood toys! Wood toys are best for babies and toddlers for several reasons.
Since electronic toys are a relatively new creation, their long term impacts haven’t really been studied yet. However, one study suggested that talking toys may hinder language development! This happens because both children and caregivers interact less while using electronic toys. Obviously a few minutes a day isn’t a huge concern, but so many toys on the market today talk that it can be hard to avoid electronic toy overload!
Many plastic toys today contain at least some recycled content, which sounds great. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the majority of toy plastic is at risk for contamination from flame retardants, chemicals from metalworking, and other hazardous chemicals. Some pediatricians have even gone so far as to recommend against giving any plastic toys to babies and toddlers who might place things in their mouths! Yikes!
Wood toys are more environmentally friendly than their plastic counterparts. Wood is a renewable resource, and many of the major wood toy companies use responsibly sourced woods. For example, PlanToys uses old rubber trees that no longer produce latex and make sure not to apply fertilizer to the soil for at least three years before harvesting the trees. How cool is that?Additionally, wood will decompose if a toy eventually makes its way to the trash. (Unlike most plastic toys which will, presumably, be there for approximately forever.)
Wood toys are more durable than plastic toys. While they are not completely indestructible, wood toys do tend to last longer. Unlike old plastic toys that become brittle and leak toxins, wood toys can stay usable and in great condition for decades.
How to avoid toxic toys
Unfortunately, not all wood toys are created equal. Some natural material toys can have toxins. Eeek! Here are some general guidelines to help you avoid toxic wood toys:
Try to only purchase painted wood toys made in the US, Canada, or Europe. Tests have shown that approximately 1/3 of Chinese made toys contain dangerous levels of heavy metals. (source) Many Chinese toys contain excessive amounts of lead, which can be in paint if you chose a painted wood toy.
- If you do buy wood toys manufactured in Asia, make sure they’re from a reputable brand like Hape or PlanToys that maintain high standards and accountability.
- Unfortunately, Mellissa & Doug toys may not be safe, which is why I haven’t included any in this post. They’ve had some recall issues in the past, and one of their dolls made the top 10 toys to avoid list in 2017 due to safety concerns.
The best non-toxic wood toys for young toddlers or “tabies”
Tabies are a challenging age group to shop for! I know because that’s what my girl is at the time of writing. Young toddlers from about 12 months until 18 months definitely are not infants any more. They desperately want to be toddlers, but they don’t have things quite figured out yet. They may or may not be walking and you have to be very careful not to give them choking hazards because they still like to mouth.
These toys are based on what our young toddler loves and uses most and what I know to be beneficial based on my childhood development education. (If you’re new here, I have a Master’s of the Arts in Teaching!)
Toddlers love making noise! There are sound blocks, drums, xylophones, and more from nontoxic toy manufacturers. Unlike their electronic counterparts, wood instruments and sound toys promote interaction and are good for development. Here are a few of our favorites!
Wood blocks are always a great toy! A high quality set of wood blocks can be a favorite for years to come.
Uncle Goose blocks are a fantastic choice if you want something with a ‘classic’ appearance but lots of options. They have traditional alphabet blocks, sign language blocks, Spanish blocks, and even periodic table blocks!
For more colorful wood blocks and whimsical sets, look at Haba or Hape blocks. We own toys from both companies and are very satisfied with their quality!
We’ve had a Manhattan Skwish since LG was an infant and she still loves it. It can be shaken, flattened, tossed, rolled, you name it! It even makes a good travel toy because it’s easy to clip on with a toy leash like this beautiful wood clip from Haba.
- Classic, multi-sensory clutching rattle encourages grasping and reaching which are important for gross motor skills
- Skwish is easy for little hands to grab and hold on to while rattling the beads that slide back and forth on dowels
- Wood construction with elastic ties allow rattle and teether to flatten, or Skwish, and always return to its original shape
Ball drop and pounding toys are favorites with our LG. They’re fantastic for promoting fine motor skills and learning cause & effect. This toy from Hape combines a ball drop with pounding and a removable xylophone! (For the record, she also has a wood xylophone and it’s quite popular both with LG and her Papa.)
- MULTIFUNCTIONAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT: This kids xylophone can be played in variety of ways. The kids can fetch balls as pounding sends the balls...
- FINE MOTOR SKILLS DEVELOPMENT: Promotes dexterity, hand eye coordination, manipulation, arm movement, cause and effect
- ESTABLISH MUSICALITY: This pounding toys for toddlers encourages musical development and exploration, audio recognition and play
Wood peg pounding benches are also a great choice. This one from Plan Toys is my top choice because it has a sturdy base and Plan is an ecologically friendly company that’s committed to using safe materials.
- Eurocontemporary look
- Pound The Pegs Into The Board Then Flip The Toy Over And The Pegs Are Ready To Be Pound In Again
- A Great Way To Burn Off Energy
LG loves her ball drop toy so much that we’ve decided to get her this marble race track, too. After debating several different options with cars that flip and zig-zag down the track, we decided on this version because of how the ball moves from side to side. It gives her more opportunities to interact with the ball and place it at different points along the track.
Update: She loves this toy! She practices placing the marble at different places along the track, plays with the balls separately, and loves hitting the bell at the end with her hand.
- DOUBLE SIDED FUN: Colorful wooden balls, peek-a-boo holes and fast tracks create a dual-sided mountain of fun that helps learn about momentum and...
- BELL CHIMES INSTRUMENT: When the colorful wooden marble balls reach the finish line a bell chimes to celebrate the end of the race
- DEVELOPMENTAL SKILLS: Encourages parents to talk with their children about the different concepts (fast, slow, back and forth) as the balls roll down...
Shape sorters are fun and great for development, but you need to make sure to select a comparatively simple one for young toddlers. If you go with a complex one your child may become frustrated and give up! If you’d like a more difficult shape shorter, I’ve linked up my top picks in the section for older toddlers below. This sorter from Plan has basic shapes that are easiest for young toddlers. (Your little one may amaze you – our girl was able to place the circles, squares, and hexagons on a shape sorter recently!)
- Ideal for recognition of colors and shapes
- Development Of HandEye Coordination
- Great Size For Little Hands
Stacker toys are also popular with toddlers. There are so many options available today! You can go for nesting/stacking cups or pieces that slide onto a dowel.
Depending on your tabie’s fine motor skills, she may enjoy something like these Hape Twist & Turnables. Our LG loves unscrewing larger lids and pet food containers, so we just purchased her one of these for Christmas (sshhh! Don’t tell her please!). They say they’re for 24+ months, but the pieces are large enough to be safe for mouthing.
Update: LG loves these! They’re definitely large enough to be safe. Screwing them back in is a challenge for her, but she started un-screwing them immediately.
- Mix and match creating endless possible combinations
- Includes 9 basic nuts and bolts in 4 bright colors and shape
- Develops motor skills, color recognition, and stimulates imagination
If you’re looking for something larger, a wood toddler activity center is just the thing! This one from Hape comes with a built-in shape sorter and ball pounder!
- HUB OF ACTIVITY: This sort and discover activity play cube consists of five sides. Watch them enjoy the beaded adventure land, a shape sorter, a...
- COUNTRYSIDE INSPIRED: This activity cube is an animal inspired play cube includes ten pieces featuring wooden balls, shapes, wooden pounder, and more
- ENCOURAGE MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT: This learning puzzle toy for toddlers assists in motor skills, logic skills and perseverance
And, of course, I can’t write about the best wood toddler toys without including the perennial favorite Grimm’s wood rainbow! (There is also a smaller, six piece Grimm’s rainbow.)
- This truly beautiful natural toy, made by hand in Germany, will stimulate children visually, mentally and creatively
- Grimm's largest Rainbow is Giant! Cut from a single, solid piece of linden wood: Measures (in inches) 14.4" Long, 7.1" High, 2.9" Deep (compatible...
- Versatile open-ended toy has many uses & inspires joyful imagination: It's a stacker & puzzle, plus pieces can be used as bridges, tunnels, fences,...
The best wood toys for older toddlers
There are so many fantastic wood toys for older toddlers! They still enjoy staples like blocks and instruments, but are ready to move on to more complex toys.
More complex shape sorters are perfect for older toddlers:
Puzzle sorters that encourage classification improve dexterity, spatial relations, and hand-eye coordination. This one from Hape is on our list once LG’s ready for it!
- Make learning powerful and fun, through every stage of life
- Includes 9 different pegs with 3 distinct basic shapes
- Promotes dexterity, hand-eye coordination, matching, and spatial relationships
Older toddlers are also ready for more challenging stackers and geometric sorting boards!
They also appreciate more complex puzzles. LG has been rocking her single shape puzzles – I know she’ll be ready for one of these before we know it!
Haba has a delightful line of marble runs. Since this is a post about wood toys, I feel compelled to mention there are a few plastic parts in this one, but it’s predominantly wood!)
- This adaptable and expandable ball track is a great introduction to the Kullerbu Play World with crazy curves for Paul the ball to speed around and...
- Nothing can easily shake the Kullerbu tracks. The ramps, straight tracks, and curves have a hole on their lower side, into which the pins of the...
- Kullerbu is the perfect combination of wood and plastic parts and highlights the advantages of each material making this sturdy play system one that...
The older toddler on your list would love zooming around on her own set of wheels!
- RUBBERIZED WHEELS: The push bike's four wheels are rubberized to protect your floors and ensure that the wheels last longer while your little one...
- MOTOR SKILLS DEVELOPMENT: Perfect for kids beginning to test their mobility and develop active motor skills
- IMPROVES STRENGTH: Short rides develop muscle strength as well as balance. Main Materials : Wood, Metal, PP, EVA, ABS, Water based paint
Plastic and vinyl fake food is at particularly high risk for toxins. Luckily, there are many lovely wood play food options available! Fake food that “cuts” apart with a wood knife is helpful for developing practical life skills, fine motor skills, and imaginative play.
A magnetic maze/game is another great way for older toddlers to practice fine motor skills.
Toddlers are very into gross motor skills. They literally need to keep moving! A rocking toy can be a great way to channel this energy and promote motor development while providing vestibular input.
- Classic wood minimalist design
- Bright red and nautical blue make this ship in tip top condition
- Promotes dexterity, creativity, construction, and storytelling
FAQ’s about wood toys
But all these modern/electronic toys say they’re educational! Are wood toys educational, too?
First, a lot of the “educational” lingo on toy packaging is just marketing! This marketing plays to our parental fears that our children will be missing out without the latest electronic doo-dad. These educational claims are just marketing claims, not regulated or proven. As mentioned above, research indicates that toys that talk may actually hinder language development instead of promote it.
Second, developmental psychologist say that basic, low-tech toys are actually better for development than ‘fancy’ electronic toys. Children are naturally creative explorers. More basic toys allow for children to explore, create, and direct play. It’s also easier for children to share low-tech toys, which can lead to better social skill development. (source)
Third, low-tech, wood toddler toys give children something incredibly valuable: the opportunity to concentrate. As I’ve written in other posts, we have a Montessori-inspired parenting philosophy. Dr. Maria Montessori believed strongly in protected a child’s concentration by not interrupting her while she plays (or “works” with materials in Montessori lingo). We’ve practiced this from birth with LG and it is amazing to watch her play on her own for ages!
Are blocks actually that good for development?
aYes! Blocks improve motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, creativity, language skills, math abilities, and more! (source)
Are wood toys eco friendly?
With talk of deforestation, it’s understandable to be concerned about how sustainable and eco friendly wood toys are. Luckily, there are many reputable wood toy manufacturers that use renewable resources and eco friendly practices. For example, Plan Toys even uses solar energy and participates in a reforestation program! (source)
I truly hope you have enjoyed this guide to the best wood toys for toddlers!
I had such delightful time putting it together and sharing my passion as an educator and a parent for wood toys.
If you have a toddler at home, you may also enjoy this list of 17+ gross motor toys for young toddlers with all the energy!