Ironically, a complex industry has arisen around simple Waldorf toys. I remember when my oldest started attending a Waldorf kindergarten I saw on one of the toy shelves a basket full of 20-30 simple wooden figures. I immediately went home and searched online to find them. I found that these beautifully simple figures were made by a company called Ostheimer and they cost about $20 each! I ordered just one and felt bad that my son’s new toy didn’t have a friend. It felt like I would need to scrimp and save to ensure my children had the right kind of toys.
I’ve since liberated myself from this very fixed way of thinking and realized that there is more than one way to find toys that support the imaginations of young children. As you probably already know, a visit to one of the big box toy stores will inevitably end in disappointment. I went to one recently and was stunned to find that almost everything on the shelves was related to a movie or television show. So, it will take a bit of hunting, but here are my top five Waldorf toy recommendations.
- A doll. — Boy or girl, all children should have a doll. And by doll I mean a baby-sized one with arms and legs and clothes that can come off and on. Check out one of the links in my sidebar for beautiful dolls made by real people who give them life. Also, read my post about Waldorf dolls to see why they are so important. As it turns out, Waldorf dolls are not so hard to find. I just did a quick search on Amazon and found this sweet little doll for just $40!
- Playcloths. — I’ll confess that when I first started my Waldorf journey I was convinced that the only things that were good enough were beautiful silk cloths like these. It didn’t take long, though, before I was at Goodwill buying up sheets of various sizes, cutting them down when necessary. Though they weren’t as beautiful, they were much more servicable. I also realized that the silks were just too beautiful for playing and if I let my children play freely, the silks just saw too much abuse. So, we saved the silks for story time and creating puppet plays, leaving the sheets and other cotton cloths for playtime. I have seen playcloths used for so many different things — capes, walls of houses, dolls, hammocks, swings, rivers, ropes, blankets . . . the possibilities are endless.
- Playframes — This is another area where my financial reality collided with the Waldorf ideal. For a long time I coveted a set of Waldorf playstands. But, they were so expensive, and my children were young so we were in the “mom stays home with the kids so we’re poor” phase of our lives. I finally saved up enough money to buy just one, quickly realizing that one playstand on its own is pretty useless. It stood in the corner, taking up too much room, holding two or three baskets of toys, but mostly gathering dust. Now, maybe some of my readers’ children have found a purpose for one playstand, but my children did not and I always wished I’d had a second. Until I discovered the playframe, that is. A playframe is made of two large frames (imagine just the wooden part of a picture frame, but larger and with thicker wood) screwed together with hinges. Children open them up and stand them up and throw cloths over them. We found them superior to playstands when it comes to building structures and the best part for my small living room — when they’re not being used they fold up and lie flat against a wall. All my google searching for an image has proven fruitless — I’ll have to dig ours out of the garage and post a pic so you can visualize them — and it appears that no one out there is making them to sell. Hmmm, any enterprising woodworkers out there? My husband made ours and he put double hinges on them so they could bend either way.
- Blocks, sticks, branches, pinecones, acorns, nuts and treeblocks. — Most of these things you can find while out on a nature walk. It is a good idea to purchase a set of wooden blocks (Waldorf purists would tell you to avoid regular rectangular blocks, but I think they’re great and a pretty minor compromise.) I also purchased a set of treeblocks like these, that I just loved and they got a lot of use around our house. Someone handy could probably make them pretty easily, but we bought ours. These blocks are great for building little houses and even the rectangular blocks can become any number of things. I’ve seen them become an iron, a notepad for taking orders in a restaurant, ice skates, and skyscrapers. Pinecones, nuts and acorns are great for when they need little things in their play — food at the table, money, buttons.
- Small human figures. — This is where those Ostheimer figures that I so coveted were great. Children don’t always play on a large scale and sometimes need the level of detachment that recreating their world with small figures allows. If you can afford to buy a collection of figures like these, great, but if not there are other solutions. The best thing is to learn to make the simple standing puppets that Waldorf teachers often use in their puppet plays. I found a book that gives instructions at Amazon titled Making Magical Fairy Tale Puppets and I made them myself using the instructions found in The Nature Corner by M v Leeuwen and J Moeskops. This is a great book that I found so inspiring! It definitely earned its $16 worth with me. Again, it doesn’t appear that there is anyone out there making these great little dolls — any enterprising sewers out there?
So, these are the basics as I see them. Beyond these five things I would add a dollhouse, a play kitchen and a collection of crates and boxes — but a lot of fun can still be had without these big ticket items. And contrary to what the industry might have you think, it doesn’t take much money to get started creating a magical Waldorf playroom.
What toys do you find get the most action in your playroom? Post in the comments!