Even before the recent alarming news about toxic toys from China, more and more families have been turning to Waldorf toys as a safe and wholesome alternative to mass-produced plastic toys.
Waldorf toys are playthings that complement the educational philosophies of the early twentieth century innovator, Rudolf Steiner. Steiner’s fresh approach to educating young children was first implemented in 1919, in Stuttgart, Germany, at a school for children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory — thus the name, “Waldorf.” Based on Steiner’s theories of Anthroposophy, some of the underlying ideas of Waldorf education can seem rather esoteric. Even so, the fundamental goal — developing the innate talents and abilities of each child –, is easy to embrace.
So then, what exactly are Waldorf toys?
In keeping with the emphasis on nurturing the child’s spiritual nature, Waldorf toys are preferably hand made rather than mass-produced. In addition, they must be made of natural materials, like wood, wool, cotton and silk, without any harmful chemicals such as toxic paints or varnishes. Simple in design and construction, Waldorf toys encourage creative play.
Certain specific items have become identified as Waldorf toys, including Waldorf play stands and silks. The play stands are versatile, bench-like furniture made of splinter-free, natural wood. Combined with play silks, lengths of pure silk dyed in rainbow colors, playstands are ideal for creating tents for all sorts of imaginative purposes. However, they tend to be quite expensive. Wood quilt racks from the local unfinished furniture store can be found for typically less than half the price. Children will just as readily build their forts and caves with a cotton sheet draped over the wooden dining room table, or a length of cotton fabric suspended between two wooden chairs. Instead of the “play clips” available for about $ 7 per pair (and made of plastic, besides), why not use wooden clothes pins to secure the fabric?
All children love to play dress-up, and there are also Waldorf toys marketed especially for this purpose. The play silks, of course, are very versatile for dress-up play. They can be skirts, shawls, capes, tunics, veils or turbans … and probably quite a few other things your children will invent.
You can buy all sorts of ready-made silk dress-up items, but it’s easy, and much less expensive, to make your own. While silk is ideal, less costly 100% cotton fabric is available in a variety of soft and drape-able forms, including plain wovens, flannels, and jersey knits. Lots of different costumes can be made from rectangles of various sizes. Tie a ribbon around your little girl’s waist, and tuck one corner of several squares of fabric into it to make a swirly fairy skirt. Two napkin-sized squares, sewn or safety-pinned together at the shoulders, make a knight’s tunic for your little boy.
Besides the considerable cost savings, there’s another important advantage to making your own Waldorf toys: you will find your own creativity expanding as you share imaginative play with your child.