I have spent a lot of time discussing open ended toys in a few of my blog posts. But why are open ended, battery free toys so important?
Walk down any toy store aisle, particularly those containing baby and toddler toys, what do you see? Lots of colorful, plastic, and flashy toys with buttons to push that play songs and words. It’s not so bad, right? They seem educational because they recite the names of colors or count to five. Or at the very least, they seem to delight kids. So what’s wrong with these toys?
Child development aside, these toys are not safe for our health nor are they environmentally friendly. They take a ton of resources to produce, including petroleum products and water. The plastics that make up the most of these toys is linked to hormone disruption, neurological issues, cancer, and many others. And once they are discarded, they take centuries to decompose, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. The circuit boards and batteries inside also release toxic chemicals, chemicals like lead and mercury which are highly dangerous to our health and ecologically damaging.
Battery operated toys also do not do anything to benefit the development of young children. A typical electronic toy can only be played with a few ways. The child is limited in their play to pushing buttons and flipping switches. These are called toy-directed toys because the toy itself is designating its purpose and use, rather than the child. Creativity, imagination, problem solving, and even motor development are prevented when playing with these types of toys.
So what kind of toys are beneficial? Open ended toys. They are basically simple toys and objects that are child-directed, meaning they become what the child wants them to become. Things like blocks can become cities and castles, sticks can become swords and wands, or a doll can become a baby or a best friend. They require the child’s imagination and creativity and need to be physically manipulated in order to be played with. They inspire problem solving and improve physical dexterity as well as hand-eye coordination. Plus, many are made with materials like wood, which are safer for growing bodies.
There are many companies that make simple and beautiful toys that are open ended and composed of materials that are safe. Companies like Grimm’s and Maple Landmark are great places to start. It also helps to make family and friends aware of any battery free toys requests. If we can’t return gifts of these types of toys, we usually take the batteries out or leave them off.
Simple, open ended toys aren’t very flashy and it’s more cost effective to make lots of plastic toys that can be shipped to every major toy retailer. Plus, they seem like they are better because they are easy to find, colorful, and seem like they do more. After all, most of us are all about getting more for our money. But the “boring” toys, the plain wooden blocks and simple truck, end up being more interesting and inspire more creativity and play than the battery powered alternatives.