There are countless advertising campaigns that would like you to believe that your child needs the latest new thingamabob in order to grow into an intelligent little person. But when it comes to toys, your grandparents probably had the advantage. natural wooden toys

Traditionally, all over the world toys have been made of natural materials like wood, lovingly built by craftsmen and artisans. Natural wood is beautiful, non-toxic, and durable, making it a wonderfully suitable material to make natural toys for babies and children.

Tune Out to Tune In

Many parents buy into the hype of flashy new toys with battery operated components that produce sounds and movement. Parents are told that these high-tech toys will stimulate their children and enhance brain activity.

While stimulation is good and important for brain development, children are becoming overstimulated by the high tech society that we live in. Bombarded with lights, sounds, television, advertisements, and animated objects everywhere we go, children today are exposed to more external stimuli than during any other time in our history. All this external stimuli is precisely why the home should be a haven for creative and imaginative play, inspired by natural wooden toys.

The All Natural Argument for Wooden Toys

Wooden Dollhouses for KidsWooden toys allow children to develop cognitive and problem solving skills while engaging in play. The simplicity of wooden toys requires children to use their imagination and creativity, much more so than flashy, battery-generated toys allow.

Modern toys are designed to distract or amuse children, similar to the way television is used to distract. Rather than pushing a button and sitting back to watch the toy animate itself, the child has to be an active participant to engage in play with wooden toys, requiring them to actively push, pull, turn or connect parts. When paired with a fresh young imagination, the possibilities of solid wooden toys are endless.

Developmental Benefits of Natural Wooden Toys

There are several notable developmental benefits of playing with wooden toys. Apart from developing imagination and creativity, these include the development of: Wooden Toys

  • hand-eye coordination
  • problem solving and puzzle skills
  • spatial awareness
  • shape and color recognition
  • finger dexterity
  • movement and motor skills
  • increasing attention span and patience

The natural textures of wood against little hands and fingers also invites children to touch, feel and explore, stimulating the senses. The benefits of natural wooden toys for kids are virtually endless.

Make the Switch to Natural Wooden Toys

wooden toys for kidsIt is only within the last several decades that we have seen a switch from natural toys to toys made from chemicals in toxic plastic factories. These plastic toys do not stand the test of time, they are cheap, toxic and unsustainable.

More and more research is concluding that plastic leaches out toxic chemicals, even the so called safe plastics that are BPA free have been proven to leach estrogenic chemicals. Babies and toddlers love to put things in their mouth! Plastic is not suitable for anyone to be putting in their mouths, especially children in their vital developmental years.

All natural wooden toys are safe, non toxic and durable enough to inspire creativity and imaginative play for generations to come.


Having fun

Don’t parents and childcare providers have enough to worry about these days? Chemicals in our food and water, chemicals in our homes and yards, and chemicals in children’s toys, gear, and clothes! Just when I think manufacturers are coming to their senses, a report comes out stating otherwise. This month the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States found that makers of kids’ products reported using a total of 41 chemicals identified by Washington State Department of Ecology as a concern for children’s health.

The chemical reports are required under Washington State’s Children’s Safe Products Act of 2008, which requires major companies making children’s products to report the presence of toxic chemicals in their products. The reports cover certain children’s products sold in Washington State from June 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013.

Major findings from the reports include:

  • More than 5,000 products have been reported to date as containing a chemical on Washington State’s list of 66 Chemicals of High Concern to Children.
  • Products reported so far include children’s clothing and footwear, personal care products, baby products, toys, car seats, and arts and craft supplies.
  • Toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium, cobalt, antimony, and molybdenum were reported, with cobalt being the metal most often reported.
  • Manufacturers reported using phthalates in clothing, toys, bedding, and baby products.
  • Other chemicals reported include solvents like ethylene glycol and methyl ethyl ketone, and a compound used in silicone known as octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane.

Here’s a list of the most common chemicals that may be found in varying levels in today’s conventional, plastic or painted children’s toys (and their yucky implications – which, of course, depend on the level of exposure in each case):

  • Lead
    • A heavy metal that can be used for pigmentation in paints and plastics as well as a stabilizer in PVC products (which we’ll get to later).  It also is used often in the casting of metal, namely in inexpensive toy jewelry.
    • There really is no safe level of lead for children.  It impacts brain development, which can cause delays in learning and shorter attention spans.  Even worse, these effects are irreversible.
  • Bromine
    • Used primarily as a flame-retardant in textiles and furniture.
    • These flame-retardants build up in humans and can cause reproductive problems for exposed women as well as possible birth defects.  They contaminate breastmilk and umbilical cord blood and are classified as “possible human carcinogens.”
  • PVC & Phthalates
    • PVC is a widely used plastic, very common in children’s toys.  It is not easily recycled and extremely toxic when produced and disposed of.  It is also extremely brittle, requiring additives to make it flexible (most commonly phthalates, pronounced “thal-ates”).
    • Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are most commonly used to add flexibility and resilience to plastic products.  They are easily leached and exposed to humans via ingestion, inhalation, or simply through exposure to the skin.  Phthalates are most often found in household products from toys to plastic raincoats to that inflatable pool in the backyard.  They can also be found in non-plastic items such as personal care products (by way of “fragrance”).
    • Phthalates are carcinogenic and they may cause kidney and thyroid problems.  They are also linked to increased instances of asthma and allergies.  Most notably, they can have detrimental effects on the endocrine system, altering normal levels of hormones in young boys.
  • Cadmium
    • Another heavy metal used in pigments and as a stabilizer in PVC.
    • At high levels of exposure, cadmium can be linked to cancer and can cause adverse effects on the kidneys, lungs, and intestines.
  • Arsenic (inorganic)
    • May be used as a coloring agent in plastics and textiles.
    • Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic and may cause cardiovascular problems, skin irritations, and hormonal issues.
  • Mercury
    • Most commonly used in inks, adhesives, and coatings and most toxic during production and when disposed of.
    • Mercury can build up in the body and young children are more sensitive to it.  It affects kidney function and is detrimental to the nervous system and brain.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
    • Used mainly to make rigid polycarbonate plastic (that #7 plastic with PC underneath the triangular symbol).  It’s also found in epoxy resins, which are used in the inner coatings of food cans.
    • BPA is an endocrine-disruptor; a synthetic estrogen that can cause problems in neurological development, behavior, and fertility.  It can trigger hyperactivity and attention deficit and may also lead to cancer and obesity.

So… after all of that shockingly bad news, what can we do as parents and caregivers to ensure that the children around us are not exposed to such harmful substances?  The first step has been taken care of just by reading this post!  Being aware of what chemicals are harmful and then going beyond that to avoid such nasty substances is a great start.  Then, get rid of all of the “perpetrators” in the home and choose wooden and organic toys.  Ensure any coatings are completely non-toxic.  Do your homework and purchase toys from reputable companies who have proven that toy safety is their top concern.

Visit www.HealthyStuff.org for more valuable information, then be sure to stop by www.HazelnutKids.com to get that toy box restocked!


There’s some recent news from the capitol and it’s going to help parents (especially ones with children in school and daycare) get one step closer to breathing a little easier when it comes to knowing what their children are playing with.

In early November, over 13,000 public health professionals from across the U.S. came together at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual public meeting.  One of the key results of this meeting was the passing of a major policy resolution: Reducing PVC in Facilities with Vulnerable Populations.” In short, this resolution urges governments to take the necessary steps to stop the use of flexible PVC in consumer products (ie: toys, school supplies, lunch-box items, etc) that may be used in schools, daycares and other places with young children.  (The resolution extends to cover all vulnerable groups including the elderly and those with medical illnesses as well as the facilities in which they occupy.) This is important because it shows that one of the largest health organizations in the country now officially recognizes the ill effects that PVC and phthalates can have on a child’s health.

PVC is the world’s most hazardous (and widely-used) plastic.  It releases phthalates, dioxins and vinyl chloride.  (Check out our previous blog on the Most Common Chemicals Found in Children’s Toys. Yet it continues to be used in children’s toys and other items commonly found in your child’s classroom or daycare center.  This resolution will hopefully put additional pressure on all levels of government to look more closely at the serious dangers these chemicals present to our children and work to eventually, by law, eliminate the use of PVC altogether.

This is a huge step forward.  Although it’s not yet law, it brings some significant weight towards making it so.  In the meantime we, as parents, can ensure that any toys in our homes are PVC-free.  We can also encourage our schools and daycare centers to adopt a similar goal.  Take a few minutes to clean out that toy box or backpack, and then visit www.HazelnutKids.com to check out our vast selection of entirely PVC-free toys and children’s items!

Shannon Beery – Hazelnut Kids Customer Service, Contributing Blogger, and Mother to Holden and Quinn


Waldorf toys are becoming more and more popular lately and Waldorf schools seem to be popping up in communities across the country.  We thought we’d take a minute to explain just what is behind everything “Waldorf” and focus specifically on those infamous little Waldorf dolls that are always big hits with children.

A little history…

The “Waldorf” term originates from a school that was founded at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919.  The structure of this school’s curriculum was based upon the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.  He advocated practical and artistic learning with an emphasis on open-ended activities and imagination, imagination, imagination!  Almost 100 years later, the Waldorf/Steiner approach to education has stuck and the term “Waldorf” remains widely used to describe a variety of high quality children’s toys and learning materials.

Waldorf Dolls

Waldorf dolls are used extensively in Waldorf education and they’ve been making their way out of the classroom and into the homes of children around the world.  They are handcrafted and made of natural materials, including cotton stockinette and sheep’s wool.  These little wonders are easily recognizable with their beautifully simple design and neutral features, which stimulate a child’s creativity and imagination.  Their arms and legs are flexible and they typically have a full head of long hair (usually made of mohair or boucle).

The cream of the crop – Kathe Kruse Waldorf Dolls


Kathe Kruse is the exclusive producer of official Waldorf dolls.  This German company has been making Waldorf dolls since the very beginning and it shows…  These dolls are individually handmade and absolutely beautiful.  They are warm and cuddly and have a realistic feel and weight to them (the natural materials contribute to this), making it nearly impossible to resist giving one a close snuggle.  A Kathe Kruse Waldorf doll is a true gift to any child and certainly one that can be passed on to future generations (which only adds to its richness).  We are very proud to carry a large selection of Kathe Kruse Waldorf dolls and clothing.  Bring a little of the Waldorf experience into your home and watch your child grow!

Shannon Beery – Hazelnut Kids Customer Service, Contributing Blogger, and Mother to Holden and Quinn


For most parents, last week’s announcement on limiting television by the American Academy of Pediatrics, wasn’t anything new. Our children’s physicians, magazines, and yes, television news have told us all that children under 2 should not be allowed to watch television or take in media on computers and phones. Many of us took this warning to heart and found other ways to entertain our children when were trying to get dinner on the table, fit in a daily shower, or accomplish any number of daily household tasks. For many parents I know, this recommendation is trumped by the daily reality of parenting small children. However, there is valuable information that comes with the recommendation.

The New York Times reported:

The new report from the pediatrics association estimates that for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play.

From the AAP release:

Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves.

This second point is what now, as the parent of a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old, I can see as the most valuable benefit to my kids being television-free as toddlers, and existing now on a very slim media diet. They have become very good at entertaining themselves. Every day after school we have some time together to read and talk about their days before I go to the kitchen to get dinner ready. They will play independently or together, take on new craft or art projects, or come help me with food preparation in the kitchen.

My kids, on average, take in about 2-3 hours of television time a week. They are old enough now to understand what they are experiencing as television viewers. I know that they learn best through playing and interaction with adults and other children, but through carefully selected programming, they see glimpses of other worlds and realities that people of all ages find entertaining, humorous, or emotionally gripping.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendation is less strict than it has been in the past , at the core the recommendation is the same: urging parents to protect their children from electronic media in order to give kids the best start.

Katherine DeGood – Contributing Writer for Hazelnut Kids and Mother of Willem and Adeline


As parents, we know too well that at a certain stage of our children’s lives (namely that of my 8-month old daughter!) EVERYTHING goes into their mouths.  It’s just part of life for these little ones, so it’s our job to make sure that whatever does go inside there is safe and not going to leave any trace of chemical or other harmful substance.

Here’s a list of the most common chemicals that may be found in varying levels in today’s conventional, plastic or painted children’s toys (and their yucky implications – which, of course, depend on the level of exposure in each case):

  • Lead
    • A heavy metal that can be used for pigmentation in paints and plastics as well as a stabilizer in PVC products (which we’ll get to later).  It also is used often in the casting of metal, namely in inexpensive toy jewelry.
    • There really is no safe level of lead for children.  It impacts brain development, which can cause delays in learning and shorter attention spans.  Even worse, these effects are irreversible.
  • Bromine
    • Used primarily as a flame-retardant in textiles and furniture.
    • These flame-retardants build up in humans and can cause reproductive problems for exposed women as well as possible birth defects.  They contaminate breastmilk and umbilical cord blood and are classified as “possible human carcinogens.”
  • PVC & Phthalates
    • PVC is a widely used plastic, very common in children’s toys.  It is not easily recycled and extremely toxic when produced and disposed of.  It is also extremely brittle, requiring additives to make it flexible (most commonly phthalates, pronounced “thal-ates”).
    • Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are most commonly used to add flexibility and resilience to plastic products.  They are easily leached and exposed to humans via ingestion, inhalation, or simply through exposure to the skin.  Phthalates are most often found in household products from toys to plastic raincoats to that inflatable pool in the backyard.  They can also be found in non-plastic items such as personal care products (by way of “fragrance”).
    • Phthalates are carcinogenic and they may cause kidney and thyroid problems.  They are also linked to increased instances of asthma and allergies.  Most notably, they can have detrimental effects on the endocrine system, altering normal levels of hormones in young boys.
  • Cadmium
    • Another heavy metal used in pigments and as a stabilizer in PVC.
    • At high levels of exposure, cadmium can be linked to cancer and can cause adverse effects on the kidneys, lungs, and intestines.
  • Arsenic (inorganic)
    • May be used as a coloring agent in plastics and textiles.
    • Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic and may cause cardiovascular problems, skin irritations, and hormonal issues.
  • Mercury
    • Most commonly used in inks, adhesives, and coatings and most toxic during production and when disposed of.
    • Mercury can build up in the body and young children are more sensitive to it.  It affects kidney function and is detrimental to the nervous system and brain.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
    • Used mainly to make rigid polycarbonate plastic (that #7 plastic with PC underneath the triangular symbol).  It’s also found in epoxy resins, which are used in the inner coatings of food cans.
    • BPA is an endocrine-disruptor; a synthetic estrogen that can cause problems in neurological development, behavior, and fertility.  It can trigger hyperactivity and attention deficit and may also lead to cancer and obesity.

So… after all of that shockingly bad news, what can we do as parents and caregivers to ensure that the children around us are not exposed to such harmful substances?  The first step has been taken care of just by reading this post!  Being aware of what chemicals are harmful and then going beyond that to avoid such nasty substances is a great start.  Then, get rid of all of the “toy perpetrators” in the toy box and choose wooden and organic toys.  Ensure any coatings are completely non-toxic.  Do your homework and purchase toys from reputable companies who have proven that toy safety is their top concern.

Visit www.HealthyStuff.org for more valuable information, then be sure to stop by www.HazelnutKids.com to get that toy box restocked!

Shannon – Research Specialist


The Original Tree Swing - Old Time Sling Shot

For most of us, our remembrances of childhood consist of hours spent with interconnecting blocks, dolls, action figures, fantastical worlds created in our backyards, and more. Slowly over time, free and imaginary play has become more rare and difficult to come by.  I have read about free-range kids, nature deficits, and more, making me examine my parenting choices, as well as my choices in toys and activities for my children.

This article from The New York Times can provide an awakening for parents to examine how their kids play and the atmosphere provided for play in the home and outdoors. Since reading this article, I am less likely to be concerned about the use of certain toys and games, messes made, and activities engaged in. The biggest Christmas gift to my children this year was a large box full of arts and crafts supplies. I made these materials available to them on a lower shelf than they were previously. The shelf is raided every day for something different. My two-year-old daughter recently told me that she was going to use her pencil and notebook and write a story. My five-year-old son is frequently utilizing stickers, pencils, watercolors, and more to create colorful freighters, trains, and cars. Although freighters on the Great Lakes do not sport variegated colors, I refrain from correcting his color choices.

Wizard Hat, Cape, and Wand

As an employee of a children’s museum, I have read a great deal of research on the science of play and believe that young children have one job: to play. Play develops far more skills in their children than parents realize. Social skills come from controlling their own impulses, negotiating with siblings and friends; verbal skills are developed; gross and fine motor skills are developed; mathematical, science, and reading interests are heightened when discoveries are made; and much more. For my children, I know that there will be time for sports, fine arts training, and other organized activities. But right now, I just want them to play, discover, run, and explore.

So, where to start?  Here are some resources:

http://www.ultimateblockparty.com/resources.html

http://kaboom.org/help_save_play/playful_city_usa/best_practices_play

Katherine DeGood – Contributing Writer for Hazelnut Kids and Mother of Willem and Adeline


As parents in the 21st century, we may take the existence of Children’s Museums for granted. The Association of Children’s Museums reported recently that 44% of their over 300 member museums opened in the 1990’s. Children’s Museums exist in cities and in suburban areas across the country to provide playful and interactive learning experiences. More than 30 million people visited Children’s Museums in 2006. 1

Hazelnut Kids’ operations are located in Northwest Michigan and we are lucky to enjoy the existence of a Museum of our own. We are long time supporters of the Great Lakes Children’s Museum’s fundraising efforts and their play-based learning environment. We are happy to have provided new Plan Toys and Haba play food and a Plan Toys Wooden Market Stall for use in the Museum’s exhibits and programs.

Aren’t sure where your closest Children’s Museum is? Visit http://www.childrensmuseums.org/visit/us_members.htm.


Buying toys for your loved ones used to be a simple endeavor. However, we are all now, unfortunately, familiar with the recall notices and other alerts for toys and children’s items in the news that appear almost constantly. Illinois’ Attorney General Lisa Madigan is known for producing an annual guide (http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2010_11/Play_It_Safe2010RecallGuide.pdf) to toys and children’s products that are unsafe due to a number of factors. This guide is useful but it does not address other chemicals, such as BPA, that have given parents reason to pause and evaluate every purchase for their children.

I started shopping at Hazelnut Kids for my children for my son’s first Christmas. While I had taken great care to take care of myself when I was pregnant and change the type of food I ate, cosmetics and cleaning products I used, and clothing and diapers I purchased, I did not realize the complexities of buying toys for my son until his first Christmas and birthday approached.

Instead of toxic pull toys mentioned in the Illinois report, my son has these, which my daughter now loves. I have not had to be concerned about lead recalls years later or worry about small plastic parts falling off that could be ingested.

Plan Toys - Dancing Alligator Wooden Pull Toy

Plan Toys - Dancing Alligator Wooden Pull Toy

Plan Toys - Snail Wooden Pull Along Toy

Plan Toys - Snail Wooden Pull Along Toy

Parents of children 4 and older will remember the 2007 wooden train recall from RC2 that manufactures Thomas & Friends™. My son was beginning to be interested in trains that year and we made a choice to purchase a Plan Toys Rail and Road set like this one. I have never had concerns about these pieces and have found the paint and moving parts to work without fail for nearly three years of constant use.

Plan Toys - Road and Rail Play Set - City Transportation

Plan Toys - Road and Rail Play Set - City Transportation

Now that my daughter is older and interested in dolls, we will be purchasing a dollhouse for her and thought of no other retailer than Hazelnut to get one for her. The colors and design of this house are as exciting and interesting as other Plan Toys products are but I have no concerns about lead or other toxic materials in the paint. It is guaranteed to see a lot of use in the years to come.

Plan Toys - Chalet Wooden Dollhouse with Furniture

Plan Toys - Chalet Wooden Dollhouse with Furniture

Katherine DeGood – Contributing Writer for Hazelnut Kids and Mother of Willem and Adeline


Thanks to advances in technology, researchers at N.Y.U. are currently studying how young and crawling infants interact with their world and move through it. Children were recently outfitted with lightweight cameras that tracked their eye movements as well as gave a child’s eye view. In early findings, researchers were surprised to see that children were able to make quick decisions about their environment and the people around them without having to stop and focus on a particular item to determine how they were going to react to it. From the New York Times:

“Quick gazes at obstacles in front of them or at their mothers’ faces may be all they need to get the information they want. They seem to be surprisingly efficient,” said John Franchak, a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at New York University.

When thinking about toys and the role that they play with very young children, this study reinforces the idea that toys for young children need to immediately appeal to their every sense.

This rattle from Haba is a favorite of young children. It is colorful, easy to hold, and makes sounds that they love to hear.

The simplicity of a natural wooden ring rattle has been appealing to children throughout the years. The varying shapes, sounds, and smooth texture of this rattle is enjoyable for little ones and will quickly become a favorite toy that they will choose again and again.

Bright and interesting blocks are a universally recommended toy for infants and children. Haba makes the simplest toy even better with the addition of small unexpected surprises inside the blocks and inviting colors on the outside.

You can read more about this amazing research here.

Katherine Degood – Contributing Writer for Hazelnut Kids