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Sustainability In The Toy Industry – How Do Children Benefit From Experiencing Natural Materials?

Written by: Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Angela Mischkulnig

In the pursuit of finding toys for children, consumers are increasingly looking for eco-friendly options. The 'International Sustainability & Toys Consumer Study' revealed that sustainable materials matter more and more to parents and caregivers.

hands of a child playing wooden toy

The Spanish AIJU ‘'Technological Institute for Children's Products and Leisure' surveyed 2,800 households with children aged 0-11 years. The result was that 60% of respondents consider toys, besides clothing and food, to be the most essential category concerning sustainability. The study was conducted in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, China, the UK and the US and revealed that the material in toys is a crucial factor in how they are perceived and experienced. Predictably wood ranked as the top choice. Besides environmental aspects, durability and safety were also contributing factors.

The fact that the toy industry relies heavily on plastic has massive environmental consequences. According to a UNEP Report the toy industry uses 40 tons of plastic for every $1 million in revenues, making it the most plastic-intensive industry in the world.

Experiencing natural materials in childhood stimulates the senses. It encourages exploration, inspires imagination and facilitates learning. Materials like sand, leaves, pine cones, stones and water teach children about texture, smell, size, volume and colour and can be used in multiple ways. Exploring noises, created with different materials, is another part of the sensory experience. By running through a pile of leaves or filling a bucket with water, children can explore natural sounds through play. This multisensory experience supports the development of neurological connections within the young mind.

When children engage in playing with wooden toys or other natural materials, they explore, create, sort, stack and arrange these in a variety of ways. During these activities, skill development like improving fine motor and problem-solving skills is intertwined with imaginative play.

Wooden toys, like wooden blocks or train sets, can be played with in unstructured ways and grow with the child and their stages of play without losing their educational value. Stages of play develop as children develop and their play becomes more complex, here imagination expands and make-believe stories get enthusiastically acted out.

Research suggests that wood appeals to children's sense of touch and has a calming effect so children can slow down and play at their pace in a quiet environment. In contrast, noisy, battery- operated, bright-coloured plastic toys can cause feelings of overstimulation in a child. Although these toys are marketed as educational, they often serve the function of entertainment. This leaves the child in a passive state as the noise created by these toys becomes the only purpose, limiting engagement and communication.

Toys made out of natural materials promote connection and exploration, they are also often open-ended, allowing a child to determine how they want to play. The more children immerse themselves in play, the more they foster concentration, cognitive growth and creativity.

Parents can stimulate children’s environmental awareness by including natural materials in their play, creating a connection with nature. They learn to be resourceful, find ways to reuse objects and enhance their creativity and problem-solving skills.

It is worth noting that plastic and metal toys can contain harmful substances. Plastic toys may also break, leaving sharp edges and small swallowable pieces.

We can attribute conserving our environment by simply embracing quality over quantity. In choosing toys made out of sustainable, natural or recycled materials, we not only nurture our children's development but support reducing plastic waste that is harmful to our environment.

For more information about how to support your child' development and for compact open-ended travel toys, visit our webiste or follow us on Instagram.

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Angela Mischkulnig Brainz Magazine

Angela Mischkulnig, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Angela, Co-founder of 'The Wonderful Little Suitcase Company' is a skilled Australian-based designer with a background in pediatric speech therapy focusing on children with developmental disorders. Combining her knowledge of child development and parenting, she creates imaginative and sustainable toys that promote playful learning. In recognising the growing impact of digital technology on very young children, she is committed to offering engaging alternatives for busy caregivers. With a German B.A. in Design, an Austrian Speech Pathology degree with over a decade of experience working in Austria and Liechtenstein and additional studies at Stanford Center for Health Education, she applies her expertise to nurture children's natural curiosity.



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