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How Slow Toys make for better child development

posted on May 25 2014

What in the world is the Slow Toy movement? Like the Slow Food and the Slow Fashion movements, we now have a Slow Toy movement and thank goodness for that. 

Along with their darling baby there are two things that arrive at the house of every new parent 1. noise and 2. plastic. Toy trends of the recent past insist the louder and more plastic the better. Walk up and down the aisles of the biggest toy stores and you notice most toys today need batteries because they do something. Sometimes they even masquerade as educational, think of the loud A's, K's, P's resounding through your living room --but the tide is changing.

A new movement is gaining momentum. It's called the Slow Toy movement and it celebrates old fashioned ideas of play because children don't actually need all the bells and whistles. The theory is that children can be taught and encouraged to explore their own ideas, through listening and by giving them creatively designed toys. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to take the time to get down on your knees and play with your kids, this will help them slow down long enough to ignite their imaginations.

Thierry Bourret, a French toy distributor in the UK coined the term in 2011. Bourret also founded the Slow Toy Awards, held annually in London, they award toys that are well made and nicely designed. There is an element of educating children on taste, the way you would teach a child to enjoy the flavour of a tomato, but most importantly-- the toys must allow children to make a world of their own.

Another important goal of the the Slow Toy movement is to buy ethically and it's no coincidence that many of the manufacturers of slow toys are small family companies. The inspiration often stemming from their own genuine parenting values and not from the board rooms interested in licensing TV characters. Your purchase helps to support a way of life for villagers, crafts people, families and artists.

There are similarities to the Slow Food movement as well, like the desire to draw attention to the drawbacks to the globalization of toy brands. Why should ever little girl in the world want to be a Disney princess? There is a risk of homogeneity and not celebrating individual differences.

The reason it's so important to wake up to this new trend is because there is sound science backing up its benefits for our children. Studies, including one recently published by the Mid Continent Research for Early Learning, an important learning think tank in the US, have shown that when children have time to engage in unstructured play and make believe they develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function.

Executive function helps kids to self-regulate, which means controlling their emotions and behaviours. The study concluded that, “today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago". The study explains that self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with drug use and crime. It goes so far as to say that a good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ, which is really quite revolutionary.

Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, publishes on the subject a history of play. He has studied the radical changes that occurred in the second half of the 20th century. He says, “Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber.” Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child's play.

In other words those loud plastic toys may be doing our kids a disservice. Let kids do what they do best, use their imagination to explore the world. And then hope that you can keep that spirit alive well into adulthood.




1. Wooden Garage, £28, €31, $42

There are no batteries in this toy, nor is there any need for it. The design is so ingenious that it keeps kids entertained as they like to carry it around the house and then flip it open to play. 


2. Stackable Panda Puzzle, £9, €11, $13.50

A lateral way of thinking about a puzzle. The various layers makes this puzzle really fun and the play shelf life longer than your average toy. I've seen kids as young as 18 months enjoy this one all the way up to age 

3. Cash Cat Till, £11, €12.50, $15.50

In the preschool years, children want to soak up information about the world their parents live in. They love cash tills and this one is adorable with fake money, making it easy for kids to pretend and role play.

4. My Picnic Basket, £36, €41, $54

A gorgeous accessory for those very important role plays with dolls. One of my favourite things in the world is overhearing my daughter's play conversations, just tells me the things she is picking up along the way. 


5. Topanimo Farm, £22, €25, $33

Stacking is an essential skill that babies get as they turn into toddlers. This is hugely successful stacking tower as it works also as little houses for the farm animals and can be played with in many ways. The peekaboo factor is so exciting for toddlers as they learn about depth of field and start to distinguish three dimensional space. 


*** all prices in euros and dollars should be used as a guide and will depend on exact exchange rate on day of purchase. 


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