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Controversy Corner: The Toy Debate

Are modern toys any better than traditional toys? Or are they worse?

By Laura Wingfield


Laura Wingfield is a mother of two and is passionate about natural parenting, good food and all things creative.


Playing with traditional wooden blocksIf you step into any toy shop today you are likely to be met with a plethora of choices to entertain your growing child with. From brightly flashing, moving mobiles to snuggly lullaby playing teddies, the shelves are well stocked with products vying for your attention. Sometimes it can be hard to choose what to buy for your little ones, and with Christmas looming on the horizon it won’t be long before toy companies start bringing out ‘the next big thing’ and competing for your hard earned cash.

It hasn’t always been this way. Your parents, grandparents and ancestors before them would have been amused as children by far simpler toys. You probably played with them when you were growing up too: building blocks, skipping ropes, wooden train sets, spinning tops... you remember? And there are a growing number of people who believe that these more traditional toys are far better for our children than their modern counterparts.

But are traditional toys really all they are cracked up to be? Is there really anything wrong with modern toys?

For Modern Toys


Modern Toys Can Introduce New Concepts

Many modern toys come with a whole new world of language to accompany them and can introduce children to new concepts. Children frequently become passionate about a certain toy or range of toys and this filters into their day to day discussions and ideas. It is always good to support our children’s passions and often during conversations about their favourite play things we can hear their take on the world and observe the learning that is taking place.

Modern Toys Teach Cause and Effect

Many children’s toys come with lights and sounds which can be turned on by the push of a button, or lever. Children soon learn that if they play with a toy they can make things happen: an early learning experience of cause and effect. This teaches them that they can have an influence on their surroundings, which also ultimately boosts their self esteem.

Modern Toys Promote Development of Motor Skills

Many moving toys for young children encourage their owner to crawl or walk to chase after them. It is very exciting for a newly mobile baby to follow a toy across the room and we all know that it’s good for babies and children to be active. Modern toys can aid baby’s first forays into mobility by providing something to aim for and could be just the challenge needed to inspire a little one to take their first few steps.

Modern Toys Encourage Independence

Many modern toys are designed to be played with solo. This means that the child is amused and can play with the toy independently, allowing Mum or Dad a bit more freedom to get on with cooking the dinner or any of the million other jobs that need doing in a day. This can be really useful for today’s busy families and reduce some of the pre-dinner battles that can occur at that fraught time of the day.

Modern Toys are Fun

Let’s face it, modern toys often look exciting and interesting. As a society we love our gadgets - our mp3 players, phones and games consoles - and many people think children are no different. Things that light up and move and make funny noises appear thrilling to little children. Whether you like the ‘lights, sounds, action!’ approach or not, these toys certainly get their attention!

Modern Toys are... Modern!

The world these days is a changed place, even from when we were children, and technology is developing rapidly. Why should we not take advantage of these new advances? Many people believe that introducing children to technology when they are young will prepare them for the world they are growing up in and give them a good early start helping them make the most of opportunities in later life without being left behind by their peers.

Charlie likes playing

For Traditional Toys


Traditional Toys Stimulate the Imagination

"A good toy is 10% toy and 90% child," said Joan Almon, director of the US Alliance for Childhood and many parents agree with her. Traditional toys are simple, and simple things are often the best. They allow for open-ended play and encourage children to use their imaginations. The work is not done for them and in this way they encourage problem solving and creative play. This is a skill that will, in time, help children to become more independent and be able to entertain themselves, as well as encouraging them to be active learners and not just sit waiting for the next bit of stimulation to appear.

Traditional Toys Are Flexible and Sociable

A lot of traditional toys can be played just as easily in a group of children, encouraging sharing and cooperation, as they can on their own. Wooden building blocks or train sets are just as much fun to play with, either on your own or with a friend. The imaginative games created using dollies or a few wooden animals can be enjoyed in limitless ways. They are very flexible. They also encourage movement, as anyone who has seen a child building the world’s hugest tower knows!

Traditional Toys are Durable and Timeless

Although some traditional toys can appear expensive at first glance, they are actually far more durable than today’s plastic toys. They are less likely to break, don’t have batteries which will run out or motors or circuitry which can fail, and are generally expected to last a lifetime, or more. Many can actually be heirloom quality and will be handed down through the generations. There is something appealing about the idea of much loved blocks or wooden figures being handed down to our children’s children. Also, due to their simple nature, there are endless play possibilities with many traditional toys and therefore you need less and you really do get your money’s worth.

Traditional Toys are Safer

Traditional toys are usually made out of natural materials such as wood and natural fabrics. They are far less likely to contain toxic chemicals or sharp edges which is far more common in mass produced modern toys. There are many product recalls each year over safety.

Traditional Toys are often Hand Crafted and Ethical

In a world where big business rules the roost, it is nice to support the smaller companies or the individuals. You can buy toys made in fairtrade projects, or in small ethically run factories. It is possible to buy unique and beautiful toys that are handmade with care and in doing so support other families like yourselves. There are Mums, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas out there who are making truly wonderful toys (and a whole range of other things) and it feels great to be giving money direct to them rather than to a big corporation.

You can find lovely handmade toys at www.etsy.com, www.folksy.com, and www.misi.co.uk.

Traditional Toys are Visually Appealing

Many modern toys are simply irritating! There are only so many times a parent can look at the flashy light pattern or hear the same song or noise before wanting to accidentally ‘lose’ the batteries to certain toys. Some of them end up causing frustration and are embarrassing to take with you in public or on a busy bus. Traditional toys are quieter and more pleasing to look at. Many are beautiful and you can be sure they won’t cause irritation. A growing number of people believe being surrounded by beautiful things is the best way to nurture children.



This article presents a fairly black and white argument for and against modern and traditional toys. But in reality there are many shades of grey. There is space in any home for both traditional wooden blocks and modern lego, for traditional wooden farm animals and modern playmobil. There is no need to choose between the two. However, it is good to be aware that you can buy all the traditional toys that you might want for your child. There are many independent toy shops and a whole range of choices exist online, with toys that may tickle your imagination as much as your child’s. So why not explore some different toy shops before choosing what to buy this holiday season? Happy shopping!



Topic: Your comments on traditional vs modern toys

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11th Sep 2014 armij
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