12 best wooden toys
They're charming and they never run out of batteries
Who doesn’t love a traditional wooden toy? Not only do wooden toys look gorgeous compared to the lurid bits of play gear that clutter up our homes once kids come along, but they’re sturdier and more environmentally-friendly than plastic toys.
Yes, wooden toys tend can be expensive. But, as the famous saying goes, you gets what you pays for. A wooden toy, handled well, can be passed down for generations, adding to its charm and value. The same cannot be said for the cheap, popular toys that end up topping the average Christmas wish list, so factor in ‘price per play’ rather than just the cost.
Don’t settle for any old wooden toy though – choose ones made from sustainable materials and free from chemicals. And, as many wooden toys have to be assembled, make sure you know where the screwdriver is. Little ones might be underwhelmed to discover that they’ll have to wait before they can actually start playing with their new wooden toy.
The best thing about wooden toys, apart from their character and eco-credentials, is the fact that they never run out of batteries. With no flashy gadgetry or noisy features, wooden toys encourage children to use their imagination during play. So get down on the floor alongside your child and enjoy some classic, plastic-free play together. You’ll be glad you did.
Play Barbecue: £32, JoJo Maman Bébé
This gorgeous wooden barbecue play set was a runaway hit with our five-year-old tester, who instantly started grilling us some play grub. The cuttable wooden food items are beautifully designed and the whole thing kickstarted imaginative play at a new level. We love how all the food and utensils fit neatly inside the barbecue for easy storage, too. Not that we can ever see this being put away.
Star Beans Coffee Shop: £68, Great little Trading Company
You don’t need lots of space for this stylish wooden cafe set – it fits well on any table top. The attention to detail is fantastic – the coffee machine has moving parts, and it comes with coffee cups, spoons, sandwiches and cakes all included. It’s compatible with the Devon Market Stall, which we’ll be having a word with Santa about, and you buy a wooden till separately.
BRIO Smart Tech Engine Set With Action Tunnels: £89.95
Wow, wooden train sets have moved on since we were kids. This snazzy Smart Tech engine can start and stop, change direction and speed, honk its horn and even flash its lights. You control what it does and when by choosing where to place the Action Tunnels, which tell it what to do. Our tester is keen to add more track to this already but we love the idea of building up our collection between Christmas and birthdays presents over the years.
Chad Valley Mud Kitchen: £100, Argos
The merits of messy play are well documented and this outdoor mud pie kitchen is a fabulous way to facilitate hours of it – without having to clean up afterwards. It’s quick and easy to assemble and features a hob, two play sinks, an oven and utensils. We love the chalk board menu, and the fact that this looks so good in the garden – even when covered in mud, leaves and water.
Kids Concept Toolbox in Pink: £24.95, Scandiborn
Oh, how we love this pale pink wooden toolbox. Aside from smashing through the usual gender stereotypes when it comes to toys aimed at boys or girls, this set really works. Our tester learned to use a screwdriver, spanner and angle hook, how to attach and remove screws and nuts, and why hitting your brother with a wooden hammer is a bad idea.
Pirate Ship Scene Craft It Kit: £12.95, Cotton Twist
There’s more to wooden toys than pricey play sets. This crafty creative kit includes wooden ship cut outs which you can paint and decorate with the supplies included, and then assemble to form a 3D structure, complete with sail and mast. It comes with two adorable pirate peg dolls. This kept our five-year-old tester well entertained on a rainy afternoon, and the finished item looks lovely on display in her bedroom. You can personalise the box, so it makes the perfect plastic-free pressie for an arty type.
Grimm's Rainbow: £22.96, Babipur
This wooden rainbow is strangely simple yet irresistibly tactile – no-one can avoid picking it up whenever they walk past it. It’s been used in play as everything from tunnels for trains to bowls in our toy cafe. Dad’s the biggest fan though – he seems to have appropriated this as a chic bit of office decor. It’s cut from a single piece of lime wood and has been naturally stained using non-toxic, water-based colour.
Tidlo Fire Engine Set: £49, Mulberry Bush
This wooden fire engine is a thing of beauty. Don’t be put off by the price – it’s a good size and so well made that it’s good value in the long term. A real heirloom toy. There’s so much detail to encourage social and imaginative play, including an extendable ladder, side hatches and a moving steering wheel. A set of four wooden fire fighters are sold separately (£25), but they’re well worth adding to your basket.
Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Cleaning Set: £30, thetoyshop.com
For that stage where kids want to copy everything they see you doing, this six-piece set of cleaning tools is a lovely wooden toy. We love that it’s easy to store neatly – everything hangs tidily on the stand, and the dustpan snaps into place. Play your cards right, and you might get away with turning playtime into chore-time without the kids even realising.
Petit Collage Modern Elephant Wood Xylophone: £20, Beyond the Stork
Introduce budding musicians to harmony and rhythm with this cute musical instrument. The elephant trunk doubles as a handle – our little testers loved carrying this around like a suitcase – and there’s a handy elastic hoop for the wooden mallet so you don’t need to worry about it getting lost. Best of all, this makes a cheerful tinkly sound that won’t give you a headache.
Personalised Twist and Turn Puzzle, £18.99, All By Mama
We love this educational wooden toy. It’s a real twist (pun intended) on conventional shape sorter toys, as you have to twist and turn the shapes to slide them down the three pegs until they reach the base. Although it’s technically a baby toy, kids as old as five kept coming back to this and couldn’t resist putting their dexterity to the test. You can add your own message to the base for a lovely personal touch so it’s another ideal gift.
Le Toy Van Blender Set ‘Fruit & Smooth’: £40, Kidly
Wooden toys don’t get more beautiful than this. Everything about this toy blender and smoothie set is enticing. Our little tester loved taking our orders (hold the kiwi), ’cutting’ the wooden fruit in half with the toy knife supplied, popping it all in the blender and then serving us delicious fruit smoothies. Literally hours of fun, plus it looks beautiful – even when it’s scattered all over the living room floor.
The Verdict: Best wooden toys
Tough call. We loved every item on this list but the play barbecue from Jojo Maman Bebe wins because nothing else lit up our tester’s face quite like this. She hasn’t stopped playing with it since it arrived.
The item which most wowed the parents was the Star Beans Coffee Shop because it looks so stylish yet takes up minimal play space. And perhaps because it’s about as close as some of us can get to enjoying a quiet cappuccino at a chic little cafe any time soon.
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