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Choosing the Best Toys for Babies & Toddlers June 27, 2009

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 8:14 pm
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If you are pregnant with your first child, be warned that a mass of toys are soon to invade your life.  It starts off as a trickle, but by your child’s first birthday (let alone Christmas), you may be seeing stars (and flashing lights and garish colors and more plastic than you’ve ever owned).  Before you start investigating elaborate storage and rotation schemes… STOP!

The truth is children do not need a playroom full of toys.  In fact, a shopping spree at Toys R’ Us is not even in your child’s best interests.  Why does the average American house overflow with toys?  Because (a) Parents/Grandparents enjoy buying them (b) Stores profit by selling them and (c) Our culture insists that MORE is always better!  The toys we give our children create their world.  They send quite tangible messages regarding value, possessions, beauty, and possibility.  Is the point to be entertained?  To have the best?  To know the most?  Or, is it for the child to grow by creating, imagining and discovering?

Last fall my family underwent a A Waldorf Toy Revolution – a process that both simplified and enriched our play life.  If you’re looking to simplify your child’s playthings or hoping to choose the best toys for your baby or toddler the first time around, here are some general suggestions organized by age.  The idea is to avoid going overboard (you don’t need 5 rattles) and to have a wide variety of toys that gently stimulate all of your child’s senses.  The more simple and open-ended the toy, the greater possibility for creative use now and when he or she is older!

 Babies Newborn to 6 Months

  • 1-2 Cloth teethers (organic cotton would be ideal; definitely washable)
  • 1-2 Wooden teethers (one very simple, one with manipulative parts such as rings)
  • A bell (enclosed in a ball or teether)
  • A rattle
  • A crinkle toy (something with crinkle foil in it – could be a soft teether, book, or other toy)
  • 1-2 Cloth baby books with simple pictures or textures

Babies 6 Months to 12 Months

  • A few balls for rolling
  • A simple soft doll (small, without detachable clothes, gentle expression)
  • A stacking ring
  • A nesting toy
  • A wobbling toy
  • A squeaking toy (push button or squeeze)
  • A set of rainbow silks
  • 5 or so of your favorite board books.  For more variety, start visiting the library!

Toddlers 12 Months to 18 Months

  • A simple musical instrument such as maracas or a jingle bell stick (not battery operated)
  • A push toy that encourages a walker or helps a child that’s still learning
  • 2-3 wooden cars, trucks, buses and such
  • A wooden boat for the bath
  • A small set of wooden blocks with interesting shapes and surfaces

Toddlers 18 Months to 24 Months

  • Block crayons or crayon rocks
  • Eco-dough or homemade modeling play dough
  • A pull toy
  • A ride-on toy
  • A new musical instrument, such as a drum or tambourine
  • 5 or so beautiful picture books.  For more variety, keep visiting the library!

2 Years Old

  • Tempera paint, quality paper & a painting smock
  • Play food, pots and utensils
  • A child-sized broom and dust pan
  • A soft baby doll with more details
  • A large set of blocks (consider irregular shapes, such as tree blocks or extra large cardboard blocks)
  • Animal or people figures (natural brands such as Animalz, Plan dollhouse, etc)
  • A new musical instrument such as a harmonica or banjo
  • 2 or so manipulative toys such as Lacing beads and Plan’s Nuts & Bolts
  • A sturdy scooter (trikes are actually more challenging for most children)

In many cases, a child will still enjoy toys for younger children, if their playthings are carefully chosen.  The rainbow playsilks that baby simply loved to touch become rivers and meadows for the toddler’s toy animals.  The nesting blocks become homes and caves.  Granted, the infant teethers and such have a very limited use.  But, do NOT get a lot of those.  Infants are more comforted by familiarity than anything else.  Find something that works and stick with it.

Please notice what’s NOT suggested

  • Avoid electronic toys that flash, play canned music (that you will grow to hate), move by themselves, etc.  These toys encourage passive, entertainment-oriented play.  They also require batteries which are dangerous and expensive.  Think that plastic flashing toy is cheaper than the wooden alternative?  In some cases, it’s the batteries that cost the most!
  • Avoid buying lots of options for the 0-12 months stage.  At this age, your child needs so little in the way of stimulation over and above interaction with YOU and daily living.  If you wear your child while you cook, shop, etc. her mind will be fed with the stuff of real life. 
  • Avoid educational toys.  Your toddler does not desperately need to learn colors, numbers and letters from his toys.  These abstract concepts are simply not developmentally meaningful to a toddler.  And, they WILL come naturally without any special toys that can only be played in one correct way.  Your own words are more powerful than any Leapfrog Learning Toy.  The experience of painting is a truer introduction to color than a push-button teaching toy.  Educational toys limit play possibilities and set up standards of “correct” play that don’t encourage creativity or imagination.
  • Avoid toys you find unnattractive. Seriously.  A child’s toys do not (and should not) remain stuffed away in a playroom.  They become part of your home and your life.  Beautiful toys can actually add to your home environment.  Selecting toys made with natural materials, such as wood and cloth, brings the natural beauty and textures of the world right into your home.

The Waldorf Doll January 8, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:10 pm
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redhead-dollChloe has arrived!  No, I didn’t have a baby… Aria’s handmade Waldorf doll arrived!  She’s the sweetest doll, and Aria is just thrilled.  She named this little redhead and has been sleeping with and toting her around ever since.  Now, I know she’s just a doll, but I’m getting attached to her too.  Her woolen hair is incredibly soft and she’s so pleasantly huggable and sweet all over.  Yesterday I crocheted her a shoe.  Let’s hope that tonight I can recreate my pattern to make a matching one!

What constitutes a “Waldorf” doll?  Waldorf theory recommends that we surround a child with open-ended, beautiful and natural playthings.  As this pertains to a doll, they suggest that he or she be made of natural fibers like cotton and wool.  Unlike hard plastic or clammy synthetic fabrics, a doll made like this will be soft, cuddly and warm to the touch.  Another key feature of the Waldorf doll is a fairly neutral facial expression.  Why not a big smile?  We want the child’s imagination to be free to impart the doll with  many emotions, from happy to sad to angry.  This type of play can help a child work through current issues and try out a multitude of behaviors in an appropriate way. 

Rainbow Baby Teether

I don’t remember becoming attached to a doll as child.  In fact, I used an incredibly tame and patient cat in the place of a doll.  My cat, Speckles, would let me dress her in clothes, lay her on her back in a crib and even give her an empty bottle – I know, crazy!  But, I digress…   The point is, I can see why a child is so much more likely to fall in love with a soft, natural doll in the Waldorf style.  They’re so much more cuddly than mainstream hard plastic (vinyl!), blank-staring versions.  Plus, they look more like a child.   While it’s wonderful for a child to practice nurturing play with a baby doll, a childlike Waldorf doll is more like a friend.  For a little girl of 4, she’s a safe, ever present companion with whom she can share her adventures, feelings and even her bed.  

Now, I should point out, that Waldorf would recommend that a child’s doll match the child’s developmental stage.  For example, a baby will relate to only the face of a doll.  They will be best served by something as simple as the Rainbow Baby teether.  A toddler, who is beginning to recognize his or her body as separate from others, is suited to a very simple, soft doll shape like the Nicki Baby. 

Rainbow Baby

Nicki Baby

After two, the child may be ready for a more traditionally shaped baby doll, and only in the later preschool years on through 6-7 would a child doll like Chloe be appropriate.  In general, the shape and detail-level of the doll reflects back to the child his understanding of himself.  At ever stage, we want to affirm the child with a beautiful toy, full of natural beauty and made with love.

P.S.  Waldorf dolls can be quite expensive.  You can buy the materials and instructions to make your own doll here or contact Amy of BabyRobots, who made our Chloe at a very reasonable price.


Save Handmade Toys from Ridiculous Legislation! December 23, 2008

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 4:34 pm

In August I posted with celebration about the passing of the Safe Toy Bill – a bill which legislates high standards and mandatory testing for lead and phthalate contamination in products (like clothes and toys) designed for children.  Late this fall the sad fact has emerged that, unless amended, the Safe Toy Bill will cause handmade toys and many European toys to disappear from the US market. 

Why?  The bill mandates testing that may cost upwards of $3000 per toy design.  There are no exceptions made for toy artisans who only make a few hundred toys a year and no exceptions in place for toy makers who already follow stringent European standards for testing and safety.  The cost of the testing will price out of the market those people, like the talents artisans at Etsy,  already providing safe toys to our children.  Obviously, crafters who sell a few handmade dolls each year, at a small profit, cannot afford to have their design independently tested according to the law.  And, European companies like Haba and Selecta, who already put so much money into passing European toy tests cannot afford to add a second round of tests without significantly increasing the price on their toys. 

Some European toy companies have stated that the price of their toys in the US may double, while others (like Selecta) have announced that unless the Safe Toy Bill is changed, they will not be exporting to the US at all.  Any crafters who continue to sell their toys without certification will do so illegally and at their own risk.  The removal of handmade and European toys from the US market will be a big blow to natural toy boutiques (like our family business at, to millions of individual toy artisans and to parents who have enjoyed providing these high-quality toys for their children.

What can you do?

Let’s get the law changed to address these frustrating and unintended consequences!  As of this time, I have not come across any action one can take to protect European toy makers.  But, there are at least three things you can do now to protect handmade American toys:

  1. Sign the Petition at Save Handmade Toys in the USA from the CPSIA
  2. Vote for Save Handmade Toys From the CPSIA at “Ideas for Change in America.”  The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration.
  3. Share this blog post with your friends to help build support

For more information on the organization sponsoring the petition and proposal on, see the Handmade Toy Alliance.


Essentials for Baby’s First 6 Months December 9, 2008

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 5:10 pm
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That first pregnancy, there’s so much to do!  Research about pregnancy, birth, and baby care basics.  Plan the nursery.  Prepare for breastfeeding.  Think about your parenting style, caregiver arrangements, vaccinations, and more.  Phew! 

And, then there’s the work of aquiring all that baby stuff.  I think registering lists found in most magazines and baby super-stores are overwhelming and designed to make you spend, spend, spend.  What do you really need for those first 6 months with baby?  Here’s my list:

  1. A Carseat.  An infant carseat, like Graco’s snugride, makes errands possible without disturbing baby’s sleep.  Priceless.
  2. A Baby Carrier.  What’s easier to store than a stroller, more soothing to baby and easier to use in crowded public spaces?  Answer: a baby carrier.   Experience the freedom and bonding experience that this centuries-old tradition creates.  If money is tight, skip the stroller, at least for now. 
  3. A Sleep Space.  This may be your own bed.  But do purchase or choose (so you’re ready to purchase) an additional place for baby to sleep alone and unattended.  A moses basket on a rocking stand (available at is absolutely ideal for the first few months.  A crib will be used until baby is 2-3 years old.  Be sure to buy a non-toxic mattress and mattress protectors.  Conventional mattresses filled with polyurethane foam and conventional vinyl mattress pads are completely unsafe and should be banned.
  4. Clothing.  Everyone loves to gift baby clothes.  See what you get for your baby shower before stocking up.  Choose simple, unfussy options so baby is comfortable and happy.  Stick to only natural fibers (cotton, wool, silk), which are soft and breathable.  Buy at most one pair of soft leather baby shoes for 3-6 months , but realize that these are just for looks, as baby is not likely to be crawling yet.
  5. Diapers.  Save money, save the environment and avoid chemical exposure by cloth diapering your baby.  I suggest starting with 18 diapers for a newborn.  It’s possible you may need more, but better to start with 18 and add as needed, than buy more than you  need.  18 One-Size BumGenius diapers will last most children from newborn to potty training.   
  6. Feeding Supplies:  If you plan to breastfeed, buy 3 nursing bras: one to wear, one in the wash and one that’s clean should you spring a leak.  Also needed: nursing cream, nursing pads, 3 or so bottles for occasional use (Adiri’s are a great choice for breastfeeding moms), and a breast pump (an affordable, non-electric pump will do fine for the occasional, weekly bottle).   Add non-toxic bowls, spoons and natural fiber bibs later, when baby is ready for food. 
  7. Pacifiers.  Start with 2 pacifiers.  Even if you plan to discourage pacifier use, you’ll want them handy for difficult situations in the middle of the night or when you’re unable to pick-up your crying child (such as in the car).  If your child takes the to pacifier (which I think is a very helpful tool), you’ll want more than 2, but wait until you’re certain what kind baby likes.  Be sure to buy BPA-free choices, like our natural rubber pacifiers at  You’ll also want a sturdy pacifier clip, if your child likes the pacifier. 
  8. A few Toys.  Keep them simple and natural.  2-3 wood and cloth teethers and rattles from reputable companies such as Haba and Selecta.  2-3 soft baby toys such as cloth blocks, balls, and manipulatives.  2-3 wooden baby toys that make clacking sounds or squeak or spin.  Avoid plastic.  Avoid overstimulating products that have a million things for baby to do.  Avoid electronic toys with lights and recorded sounds.  Natural sounds created by your own voice or a real bell are more nurturing and don’t require dangerous and wasteful batteries.  Above all, avoid excess!  Your baby does not need a new toy to discover every week.  Young children learn from repetition, are soothed by familiarity and are learning from your example about how many things they should want/need.  Excess ruins the magic of play, while creating more work for you in cleaning and storing.

What about baby swings, bouncer seats, play mats, exersaucers, crib toys, and the list goes on and on?  Generally, Americans buy babies too many toys and gadgets designed to engage the baby so the caregiver can do something else.  Marketers tell you that you must have these things to survive with baby, or failing that, they tell you that these things will improve baby’s life.  Don’t believe that last line, one second.  You are your baby’s best source of stimulation, education and brain-boosting interaction any day!

Little ones are awake and ready to engage for short periods of time each day.  Be with your child during those times.  Carry her.  Lay on the floor with her.  Talk to her.  You will never get this time back, and you will never regret these moments.  When you must get something done, put her in the carrier so that she can be stimulated by watching your tasks, all the while able to go to sleep when she’s ready.  Then, when she sleeps, put her down and do that something else, which required your baby-free energy.


Creative Play for Your Baby November 6, 2008

Filed under: Baby & Toddler — Rachel @ 7:07 pm
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One of my favorite discoveries this fall was a set of books by Christopher Clouder and Janni Nicol. Creative Play for Your Baby and it’s companion, Creative Play for Your Toddler, are thin little volumes packed with gorgeous photographs of toys you can make for your children!

If that sounds like a stretch for you, trust me – it isn’t. Party because the books are Waldorf-inspired, they utilize a limited amount of natural materials such as found wood, felt, cloth, string, etc. and are fairly simplistic. The directions are good enough for this crafting newbie. But, it’s really the photographs that make it a fabulous book. They are very clear and so inspiring!

Added to the toy-making instructions are concise explanations of the why’s and how’s behind creative play, from a Waldorf perspective. It’s a great way to introduce yourself or a friend to the richness and beauty of the Waldorf traditions.

In fact, it’s a great way to introduce your child as well! Aria and Liam have LOVED making toys together. After emptying their room of many plastic and battery-operated toys, it’s refreshing and beautiful to set some homemade, natural toys on our shelves.

After requesting both books from my library, only to have to return them soon because my dear friend Bethany requested them as well… I am ordering the toddler one for myself and the baby one as a Christmas gift for a sweet new mommy I love.


A Waldorf Toy Revolution October 14, 2008

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 8:54 pm
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In my house we’re having a Toy Revolution.  Mmm-hmm, that’s right.  Last year it was a diaper revolution (welcome cloth diapers).  Closely followed by a plastic revolution (goodbye BPA and pthalates).  Now, we’re rounding out our lifestyle with a Waldorf Revolution… which can be simplified (overly so) as a Toy Revolution.  Just in time for Christmas!

My little ones are almost 4 and 20 months.  Now is the time for change!  It’s little noticed.  In fact, I think that the growing mountain of reject toys is a bit more painful for me (I hate money wasted).  Anyhow, I am completely inspired by Waldorf’s standards of beautiful, natural and open-ended toys that allow room for the imagination and create a peaceful, nurturing play space. 

Sound wonderful?  Start small: take out all battery operated toys and those ugly plastic ones that your children play with rarely.  Think simple.  If the toy talks, moves for the child or is only able to be played with in one “correct” way (like, umm.. Leapfrog), it doesn’t allow the child to interact creatively.  The time for learning facts is not now.  Early childhood is the time to explore, imagine and dream.  Afterall, creativity is at the root of real genius and creating makes a family come alive. 

As I take toys out of the room, my children play more attentively with their favorites like legos, dolls and our wooden train set.  In fact, we’ve noticed that they are arguing less too, but that’s just pure luck, right?  Less toys means clean up is easy.  And, now we have room to add some good ones!  Next time I’ll share some wonderful new additions from quality art supplies to imaginative play.  Many of them I’m putting away for Christmas gifts.  It’s been a lot of fun!


Don’t Let it Happen to You August 30, 2008

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 12:03 am
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Tonight my almost 4-year-old daughter interrupted my youngest one’s bedtime routine by bursting into the room with a frightened, panicky look on her face.  “Mommy, her head came off!”  Sure enough, she was holding her baby doll whose head was dangling disturbingly from a bit of plastic tubing.  Once we determined that the tragedy was totally unfix-able, she immediately asked the BIG QUESTION: “Then, do we have to throw her away?”  I gave her the honest truth.  To my surprise and dismay, she stood up and took the doll to the trash at once, sadly wailing “Then I will throw her away”.  The doll now in the trash, she returned to me in tears for comfort. 

Well, that was just too awful!  She had been rocking, carrying and even nursing that doll today.  I can only imagine how it makes her feel to have the doll loose it’s head.  My daughter is very verbal and very logical.  She expressed concern that the rest of her toys might break, which led to a discussion of the virtues of wood and cloth toys as compared to the “cheapness” and fragility of her plastic ones.  Yes, the doll that broke was a cheap Toys R’Us doll, made entirely of hard plastic.  It split unevenly at the neck, when she was only playing with it in her room, pretending to be a mommy (there were no falling incidents or foul play involved). 

I suppose the moral of the story is, “Don’t let cheap toys happen to you.”  It’s nearly impossible to avoid the avalanche of cheap plastic toys that push their way into your playroom, but be sure you’re not the guilty party.  There are multitudes of high-quality, even eco-friendly toys available online.  And, while they do cost more, they don’t lead to doll-death tragedies and mountains of non-biodegradable landfill. 

Fortunately, for us, now stocks quality wooden and cloth toys from eco-genius Plan Toys and Haba of Germany.  I’m making plans for birthdays and Christmas now.  Dolls from Kathe Kruze are next on our list…