The 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

Here it is!!! The moment you’ve been waiting for all year … when you recycle the traditional toy guides and let your child peruse a toy guide full of educational, quality, and sustainable toys.

Send the link to your parents, to your friends, to your school. Video reviews are coming, but this massive pdf should keep you busy. Plus, I didn’t realize how long it would take to write the pdf guide, only 30 hours!

Included are many small businesses, Modern Rascals, The Natural Baby Co, Bella Luna Toys, Danny & Luca, Wren & Mae Creations, Zooble Toys, Fagus, Grimm’s Wooden Toys, Grapat, Ostheimer, Fairyshadow Dolls, Poppy Baby Co, Jen’s Pretty Pegs, Magic Cabin, German Mommy, and Mirus Toys.

Click here for the Gift Guide PDF

I hope you enjoy this first ever eco friendly toy catalog! Print, or better yet, look on the computer together at all the great toys you can buy without the batteries and noise.

Last, here are my video reviews going over my favorite retailers. (I still have to upload a few, so hang tight). In the videos, I go through the site and pick out my favorite items in stock.

Favorite toys and kids apparel at Natural Baby Co

If you think I forgot something (well, I probably forgot about many great toys!) and must include it, please drop me a line on instagram!

Halloween Scavenger Hunt for Kids {Free pdf}

Happy Halloween!!!

Since we won’t be officially trick-or-treating this year, I created a scavenger hunt for young children. Pumpkins, bats, acorns, and the witch of course.

You walk around the neighborhood and as your child encounters each item, cross them off and give them a prize (well, candy). For each row, column, and diagonal, they can get an extra treat.

Feel free to share with friends but do credit the blog. <3

Hope you enjoy and stay safe!

Ostheimer versus Holztiger Toys: What Should I Buy?

When it comes to choosing play animals, there are many choices. Realistic and water friendly animals, Safari Ltd and Schleich are popular. For eco-friendly wooden animals, the two largest brands are Ostheimer and Holztiger.

The question that always arise is: should I buy Ostheimer or Holztiger? Which is better?

I love and hate this question. Each brand has positives and negatives. Which is the best wooden animal? Ostheimer? Holztiger? Or, another brand? And what brand do kids like the best?

Read on to know more about each of the two German brands and which one my kids liked the best.

Ostheimer is often considered creme de la creme – it is the oldest wooden toy maker still in existence today. Their styles and practices have not changed much over the years which many consider an achievement. Both Ostheimer and Holztiger animals are aligned to Waldorf style, though Ostheimer has more neutral expressions on the faces.

When it comes to and feel, Ostheimer have an unfinished raw smoothness. Writing this makes almost no sense, but if you feel one and then feel another brand, you will sense the difference. This touch feeling is 100% subjective. Some may like this unfinished feeling, while Holztiger has a smooth glossiness to the touch. Personally, I like the touch to both.

The paint style between the two brands is very different. Holztiger animals have more details on the animals: spots, lines, speckles, patterns, eyes and mouth, while Ostheimer is more simplistic. Ostheimer animals are stained (a type of water diluted painting) while Holztiger is painted on. Holztiger colors tend to be brighter as well. Ostheimer colors are more muted, while Holztiger use a thicker coat of paint and more vibrant colors.

Size-wise, it is hilarious to compare the two brands. Holztiger overall makes larger animals. If you ever looked at the Holztiger chick and Ostheimer chick, there’s a huge difference! Holztiger chick is the size of a silver dollar, while the Ostheimer chick would be nickel sized. The Holztiger moose is enormous – the size of my face! It’s extra fun having a massive moose among the trees. Overall the Holztiger animals are larger, which one can say is more bang for the buck.

From the numerous posts I read, Holztiger is a more “throw friendly” toy than Ostheimer. Holztiger seem to be made of harder woods (still researching exactly which ones). If you have a thrower or a child who is more aggressive with toys, Holztiger would be a better option. Bear in mind, Holztigers break too, especially horns. Breaks are easy to fix than chips – it’s difficult to find a tiny piece that chipped off versus gluing on a large horn.

Just this week, my toddler threw one of the older Ostheimer horses. A small piece chipped off the ear. I was ready to cry. Now, all the Ostheimer has been put away until the youngest is out of the “I’m gonna throw everything” schema…so in 10 years?

2020 is the year of crazy. As with everything pandemic related, availability has been scarce. In the past month, Holztiger supplies to North America are normalizing again. Ostheimer on the other hand is facing extreme shortages. The major restock of October (which is happening these coming weeks) means low stock to each shop. Honestly, it is not a good situation to be in if your collection is set on Ostheimer.

In another year, I would tell you to buy either brand. Right now, 9 weeks before Christmas, I recommend Holztiger.

Where to Buy
Ostheimer – $$$
With extreme limited stock, my best and only suggestion is The Natural Baby Co as they have not had their restock. Make sure to sign up on several items to get the restock email notification. Modern Rascals, a small online shop in Canada has an Ostheimer rabbit, blackbird, and hen in stock at the time of this writing.

Holztiger – $$
Danny and Luca – use ALIFEOFTOYS10 for 10% off your order*
Modern Rascals – use ALIFEOFTOYS for 10% off your order*

And, if you want a quick pros and cons list to reference:

  • Waldorf style with minimal facial expressions
  • Minimalism style to painting
  • More ‘delicate’ feeling
  • Very difficult to find in stores in 2020
  • Made in Germany
  • Unfinished/soft feel to touch


  • Reasonably priced
  • Easy to find at stores
  • Large sized animals
  • ‘Cheery’ faces
  • Made in Europe, mostly Romania
  • More ‘durable’
  • Smooth feel to touch


What’s the secret Preeti? Who’s the winner? Should I buy Holztiger? Or Ostheimer? What will my kid like?

Here’s what you’ve been waiting for! The answer is: IT DEPENDS! Hahahaha! Don’t throw your toys at the screen yet, hear me out!

Your style and preferences, your budget, and the availability in shops is what matters. Kids, more often than not, will love whatever animals you choose when it comes to wooden toys. The big difference really lies between realistic style animals (Schleich and Safari Ltd) versus Waldorf imaginative style of Holztiger and Ostheimer.

After asking my kids 30+ times which animals their favorites, EVERY brand was chosen! One kid preferred the Holztiger giraffe because the spots were better, the other preferred the Izvetvey bear because he was huge. It didn’t matter to them.

The point is, brand name matters to US as parents, not the kids.

More Brands
Want more inspiration or need help finding a particular wooden animal? There are many other lovely brands out there. I’m listing a few with a dollar sign to represent expensiveness.

Brin d’Ours $$ – Stylistically sweet and simple. Faces narrow to give a definitive “Brin d’Ours” style. Not to be confused with Brin de Bois. Made in France. Available at

Dada Craft $$ – These sweet Ukraine made animals and trees come in a diverse collection from Africa to farm to Australian animals. You can purchase direct from the maker on Etsy (be aware of COVID shipping delays!) and through presale at Danny & Luca (free shipping, US webshop,. With Danny and Luca you can also use code ALIFEOFTOYS10 for 10% off! (Disclosure, I am a rep for D&L)

Eric and Albert – $$ UK online available

Izvetvey – $$$ available on Etsy direct from shop

Predan -$$$ – minimalistic carved wood toys. Their style is very different from the other brands. Limited shops in Netherlands, UK, and Germany carry them. NOT available for direct purchase in North America.

Tender Leaf Toys – $ These rubber wood toys are brightly colored and adorable. They are price friendly and durable. Available at Danny & Luca (use coupon code ALIFEOFTOYS10), Amazon.

Schleich – $ realistic animals with textured skin.. Not wood but well designed and durable. Buy at Amazon.

Safari Ltd – $ realistic animals. Similar to Schleich but with smooth animal bodies. Buy at Amazon.

There are also several US etsy toymakers making wooden animals and that’s in a separate post.

Whatever you do, Ostheimer and Holztiger make beautiful animals and people. Choose what you think your child will love through the years.

*conditions and limitations apply

Disclosure – this post contains affiliate. By clicking them and purchasing (at no cost to you), I may make a commission. This supports my ability to write, film, edit and create content for you. Thank you for the support!

Resources for Indigenous People Day

Today is Columbus Day. As a child you probably remember it as a day that Columbus “discovered America” after getting lost on his way to India. The Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria ships set sail in 1492. They arrived in Haiti. After meeting natives, “Indians”, he collected gold and spices, and was celebrated by Queen Isabella.

Illustration – Kimmy Gudino

And in school, we colored in large ship cutouts, sang songs, and made little feather headpieces. It was fun!

We learned about the history of the US. Indians became friends with the explorers and celebrated the first “thanksgiving”. We learned for years that while there were “wars”, we were here to help the natives by civilizing them, giving modern medicine and gun powder.

It was a sham. White washed history covering injustice, genocide, slavery, and theft. The destruction of peoples was rallied by the perpetrators as “civilizing” them for the crown. Education in the country celebrated the genocide and destruction for 200 years. We dismissed teaching history, we extolled the virtues of Manifest Destiny, and, we even condoned misrepresenting another group of people, the Indians of India. (There’s nothing like growing up in America and being asked – “are you the red dot Indian or the feather Indian?”)

Today my kiddo is in kindergarten. A lot has changed. Our school does not celebrate it as Columbus Day. Work has given the day off for reflection. And many Americans know we didn’t “get” the land, we stole the land.

Living in California, I researched northern California native tribes so we could learn a little more about the ancestral land. I didn’t find resources for the youngest school children (kindergarten/1st grade) as I felt doing random coloring activities was inappropriate.

Instead I’ve included resources of native Americans on Instagram (a lot of amazing people), tribal councils websites and videos. Not all of it is for little kids, so please read around and pull what is age appropriate. If you have suggestions, please let me know and I would be glad to update.

Do’s and Don’ts for teaching Native history in Kindergarten. – Rebecca Gineapp.

International Indigenous Youth Council on Instagram.

Deonoveigh Mitchell (Deon) – artist on Instagram.

Melanin Mvskoke – activist, Instagram.

Juniper Dine Designs – design shop, Instagram link.

Native Land – Whose Land do You live On? website.


Northern California Indian Development Council – site

California Tribal Groups + Indigenous languages

No Grimms? No Problem, 5 Alternative Block Sets to Buy

2020 will certainly go down in the books as the year that set the world on fire. In every way possible. For a while, we even thought the toy world would be left unscathed. That’s not happening either.

Between Covid-19, raw material supply issues, and extreme demand, Grimm’s Wooden Toys (Spiel und Holz) is under immense pressure to try to keep up with demand. Unfortunately, it’s not working out. Restock alerts for Grimms often sell out within a day, and popular items like the Large Stepped Pyramid and the 1001 Nights set sell out within minutes. It’s crazy!

And here you are lovely reader, gearing up for holiday shopping. But Grimm’s sells out in minutes and you’re left to wonder which block sets to buy.

I picked 5 block sets alternatives to purchase. These blocks are just as fabulous as Grimm’s, and just as versatile in open ended play.

Bauspiel Grid Blocks – I call these the waffle blocks. And these waffle blocks are SO MUCH FUN. I haven’t seen any other brand on the market remotely as neat as these blocks. Modern Rascals has them for $237 (with a 10% coupon, you can get them for $213.70 USD.

Bauspiel Color Street – Glitter Glitter. Right, need I say more? These blocks are a lot of fun to build with, AND they glitter! Made of alder wood (used for wand making in Harry Potter too), the Color Street blocks have a lovely smell and rich color. Available: pre-sale Modern Rascals for $226.

Gluckskafer Rainbow Building Slats – If you want “flat” pieces that range in short to long lengths, the slats provide variety in color and sizing.

Skandico Castle Blocks – Bright and cheery, this Russia based company makes block sets in a variety of styles and tray sizes. One of my favorite is the castle blocks set. Coming in a set of organic shapes and classic rectangles, you can get a little bit of everything with it. Available: Danny & Luca $176.

Uncle Goose Blocks – Any blocks you choose from UG will be a winner. Made in the USA, Uncle Goose makes blocks in many languages (from English to Hebrew to French) and interests (bugs, moon phases, women, and more). Fun to build with and learn. Available: Modern Rascals, prices vary.

For more inspiration on building with these blocks, check out my Instagram. And if you have a favorite block set that I haven’t listed, drop a comment below.

Getting Started with Open Ended Toys

If you are new to open ended play and open ended toys, the possibilities of what to buy are overwhelming. Googling and reading, and reading some more what to buy, what not to buy, and oh my it’s just a lot!

It’s alright! I got your back. I wrote this article to help succinctly pare down those massive lists into something you can digest. And purchase. For several of the options I list, I also have toys that are more affordable.

First, two questions for you:

Are you buying open ended toys to replace the toys you have?
Are you buying open ended toys to complement what you already own?

Let’s talk about question 1. Are you buying open ended toys to replace what you have?
Answering this question involves knowing what your children already own. Let’s start with an inventory. Go and inventory all the toys that your kids own.
I’ll give you a moment (or a few days) to make an inventory. A written list is best.
Now, besides each toy, mark the following:
– Is it plastic?
– Does it have batteries and make lots of sounds?
– Is it a push button toy (I.e. you press a button and the toy does the playing)?
– Does the toy annoy you?
– Does your kid like the toy (do they play with it)?
– Do you think the toy has play value for your child?

Now, you want to decide what you want to keep from this list. I recommend keeping toys that your kid loves AND do not annoy you. Some of the toys you keep maybe closed ended, like a puzzle, and that is OKAY!

Other toys you may choose to keep are plastic. There is nothing wrong with plastic stacking bowls. They offer the same function and play value as a set of wooden stacking bowls. You don’t need to replace them. Repeat with me, it’s OKAY THAT I HAVE TOYS THAT ARE NOT WOOD.

Once you have inventoried and questioned the play value of all the toys you have, place the giveaway toys in a pile. Sell them, donate them, put them in a Buy Nothing group – I encourage you to avoid the landfill. You can use the lists below to help you finalize whether to keep or giveaway toys.

I divided the lists below by age groups. This is not meant to be orthodox but loose guidelines. Some children may not use a toy for months, while others start using immediately. Some children may have development delays which means the toys may not be used by them for some time. And that’s okay too! Give them time.

The list offers a few different brands at different price points. I encourage to buy what you think your children will love along with a price point best suited to you. The options are left to right most expensive to least expensive.

Last thing, this article took 10 hours to write and pull the links. Some of the links below are affiliate – I may a little money should you choose to purchase through that link (any product). It comes at no cost to you, so please consider buying through the links. And consider following me on Instagram. My eternal appreciation to you.

The Open Ended Toy Guide

Open Ended Toys for 1-2 Years old
Stacking cups – Grimms (US/Canada) | Green Toys | Mushie (Denmark origin)
Cube Blocks – Grimms (US/Canada) | Uncle Goose | Melissa and Doug
Large Balls – Grimms (US/Canada) | Grapat | Hobby Stores
Rings/Coins – Grapat (US/Canada) |
Basic puzzles – Melissa and Doug (fish and pets puzzles, farm animals, ) | Tender Leaf Toys
Animals – Ostheimer (US/Canada) | Holztiger (US/Canada) | Predan | Dadakacraft | Schleich | Safari Ltd
Carrying Doll – Dinkum Dolls | Minikane | Corolle
Small cars/trucks – Grimms (US/Canada) | Mama Made Them | Green Toys | Melissa and Doug
Push toys – stroller/pram – Moover (found many times at Home Goods) | Plan Toys | Melissa & Doug
Pull toys – Hape | Plan Toys Puppy |
Bucket and shovel – Green Toys | Leftover food containers (Free!)
Art supplies – large crayons – Stockmar 8 crayons, Stockmar 24 crayons, Stockmark 16 crayons, , paper (here and here), paint, stamps (here, here, and here), wow water books , colored pencils – Lyra 12 pack,
Large block set – Grimms Basic Block Set 1 (US/Canada)| Haba Basic block set | Wooden Story

Open Ended Toys for 2-3 Years Old
Connectix Tiles | Magnatiles | Picassa Tiles
More advanced puzzles – Melissa and Doug |
Small dolls + few furniture pieces – Plan Toys (here, here, here, and here)| Hape (here, and here) | Tender Leaf Toys (here, and here)
Trains – Brio | Haba
Animals and trees – Ostheimer (US/Canada) | Holztiger (US/Canada) | Predan | Dadakacraft | Schleich | Safari Ltd
Push Toys
Bucket and shovel – Green Toys | Fiskars at Amazon | Home Depot
Nesting boxes – Grimm’s | Plan Toys | Melissa and Doug
Art supplies – crayons, paper, stickers, scissors (supervised! For the older ones), play dough
Peg dolls – Grimms (US/Canada), Grapat (US/Canada), Dixie and Bee, Jen’s Pretty Pegs
Music toys – Plan Toys | Natural Baby Company selection

10 Cylinders (more Montessori but can last years)
100 board (Montessori but a basic counting device that lasts years)
Extra block sets Grimms (US/Canada) | Bauspiel | Raduga Grez | Ocamora
Indoor climbing – Large Pikler and ramp | Wobbel board
Build your own fort – Nugget

Open Ended Toys 3-5 Years Old
Advanced block sets – Grimms (US/Canada) | Bauspiel X-blocks, Lucent Cubes, Waffles | Lego- Duplo
Advanced puzzles (okay, technically not open ended,but great to have) – Djeco Aero Airplanes | Mudpuppy double sided black/white and colorful puzzle (at amazon)
More dollhouse pieces – Plan Toys (here, here, here, and here)| Hape (here, and here) | Tender Leaf Toys (here, and here)
More animals and trees – Ostheimer (US/Canada) | Holztiger (US/Canada) | Predan | Dadakakraft | Schleich | Safari Ltd
Tracing board for letters – Mirus Toys | From Jennifer| Kid-O Magnetic
Alphabet blocks – Uncle Goose (uppercase and lowercase on amazon), Uncle Goose,
World mat – Urban Outfitters
Loose Parts (mandala pieces, coins, rings)- Grapat (US/Canada)
Trucks/cars – Fagus | Bruder | Plan Toys | Melissa and Doug
Bucket and shovel – Green Toys | Target | Home Depot
Doll – Dinkum Dolls | Minikane dolls | Corolle
Small dolls – Maileg | Calico Cats | Zooble
Lacing cards – Wee Gallery | Wren & Mae Creations | Melissa and Doug |

Art supplies
Peg dolls – Grimms (US/Canada), Grapat (US/Canada), Dixie and Bee, Jen’s Pretty Pegs

100 board – Mirus Toys
Measuring weights set – Erzi
More block sets – Grimms (US/Canada) | Gluckskafer (US/Canada) – Rainbow Building Slats, Rainbow Bridge, Yellow Sunray Stacker| Uncle Goose – Constellation (amazon or Modern Rascals) | Uncle Goose Bugs (amazon or Modern Rascals) | Bauspiel Color Street (US/Canada)|
Indoor climbing – Large Pikler and ramp | Wobbel board
Build your own fort – Nugget
Loose Letters (for creating words) | CVC word groups collection.

Balance Bike/bike – balance bike – Banwood or Strider

Open Ended Toys for 5 Years old and Up
Legos or Magnatiles/Connectix Tiles
World Mat
More animals and trees
Small dolls
Circuit board
Basic tool set (real tools) – Home Depot | Lowes

Bonus: Sumblox math blocks , wobbel board , balance bike – Banwood or Strider … and more of everything

I hope this list helps you get started with open ended toys. Please check out my other posts on the world of open ended play, Montessori, and wooden toys.

Grimm’s Wooden Toys Retired Collection

Are you a Grimm’s nerd? Looking for the collection, old and older to find? You are in luck. Here is my amassed collection of all the Grimms Spiel und Holz retired products in one post. It is not every product, but all the well known ones.

Be prepared, the out of production Grimm’s wooden toys are spectacular. Truly works of art. By the sheer nature of being retired, they are almost impossible to find. I have had some luck finding pieces but it takes a lot of hard word, a dash of luck, and maybe a friend. Please don’t get into searching for them unless you are prepared to do a LOT of searching. And pay over retail.

Retail prices for the small puzzles (like the Iris, Seasons, or Green/Blue and Red sparkling mandalas) were 50-70 euros. The super Grimm’s puzzles (Sun mandala, Circle Flower mandala, Kreis Fantasy, Kreis Auris) were 200 euros. And mandalas like the Lara and Fokus were around 150 euros.

I am putting this photo list here in the hopes that we can convince Grimm’s to bring back some of these beauties. For the current collection, I recommend The Natural Baby Company (for US shoppers) and Modern Rascals (Canada shoppers).

Grimms Circle Auris mandala
Grimms Circle Sun mandala
Grimms Circle Rainbow mandala

Grimms Circle Flower mandala
Grimms Circle Conical Tower 1 mandala
Grimms Circle Conical Tower 2 mandala
Grimms Black White Chess Board
Grimms Large Staircase
Grimms Trapezoid
Grimm’s Lara Mandala
Grimm’s Waterlily pentagon
Grimm’s Pentagon
Grimm’s Crop Circles
Grimms Large Sparkling Natural Mandala
Grimms Large Sparkling Pink Mandala
Grimm’s Grimms Sparkling Red/Yellow Mandala
Grimms Sparkling Green Mandala
Grimm’s Iris Mandala
Grimms Summer Mandala

Grimms Itten Mandala
Grimm’s Chameleon puzzle
Grimm’s 2cm Conical tower (smaller version than the large conical tower)
Grimm’s Fish puzzle
Grimm’s snake puzzle
Grimm’s Roofs and Pillars

I have a few retired mandala puzzles missing.When I find good photos, I will add them here.

What is Open Ended Play & Why It Is Important

This post contains affiliate links. By purchasing through them I make a commission (at no cost to you). This helps support my blog and writing. Eternal thanks for the kindness.

You have little kids. Life is dominated by toys, snacks (why do they need so many?!), and naps. When it comes to toys, a $22 billion dollar industry in the US, the shelves are plentiful of options.

Overwhelming options.

Where do you even start? The bright blocks that light up? The action figure that talks? The education toys where you press a button and something happens? It’s impossible to know for new parents, veteran parents, and doting family members.

If you researched on the internet, you may have come across the term “open ended play” and “open ended toys”. In the groups, I often see questions about open ended play. This inspired me to write about the importance of open play and the need to return to our roots as children.

Open ended play is play for children. In our modern, complex society, we have forgotten the classics of what play means. We as adults want to compartmentalize their day, optimize their time, and advance their play. We want kids to be busy all day so they do not get bored.

What kids really need is unstructured play. Not throwing things and screaming (unless I suppose they are princesses fighting dragons), but play where they can do anything they want.

Play is the activity children do to interpret and create their world. Every encounter they have, TV show they watch, book they read is absorbed and processed in their growing brains. But to understand what they saw, children need to play. They need the ability to process the thousands of nuances happening everyday.

Here is a great summary from Michigan State University:
“Open-ended play materials allow children to make choices, express their creativity and support their independence. Open-ended materials by definition do not have a pre-determined use. A block can be a car, phone, doll’s chair, ice-cream bar or any number of other things in play. It is through these experiences that children are able to learn best.”

These “materials” do not need to be toys themselves. They can be anything. Pillows become lava. Stones become food. PVC pipes become talking devices.

Play is endless. Imagination is endless. By giving children the tools to do whatever play they, they can freely and safely express their ideas.

Now play leads to toys. What toys are good for open play? Do I need to throw away all the toys I have? Is it expensive? Your mind is swirling with questions!

What are open ended toys?
Open ended toys are any toys that can be used in an imaginative way. Blocks are a classic example of open ended toys. Legos, Magnatiles (Picasso Tiles), Tegu, dolls (and doll furniture) are also examples of open ended toys.

Want more ideas? Cars, train sets, art supplies of paper and crayons are also open ended. As is nature. Dirt, sticks, rocks, leaves, acorns are all open ended. Have you ever gone on a walk with a small child and they collected all sorts of leaves and sticks? This is the power of their imagination.

playing with sand and toys

Most of the time, battery operated light up toys are not open ended. You press the button and the toy makes sounds, thus doing the work of play.

What about wooden toys? Are they open ended?
Have you noticed that I made very few references to wooden toys? I mention “toys” and “materials”. This is because wooden toys does not equate to open ended and open end does not mean wooden toys.

Most wooden toys are open ended because we have been making things from wood for thousands of years. Plastic toys are 40 years old – and easy to mass produce, wire up, and put lights in. In the United States (and many countries), we love things fast and cheap, and that includes toys.

Toys that light up, toys that play sounds, toys that do the work of playing are popular. You know them because you hear children press the button a thousand times, but not do anything else with the toy.

electronic toy – do you know what it’s supposed to do? I sure don’t!

Wooden toys by default are not wired or have lights on them. They are cut by saws (hand or commercial CNC machine), sanded, and painted. Electronics tend not to be part of wooden toys. Wooden toys can be blocks, vehicles, loose parts, puzzles, ships, and more.

Don’t go dumping out all the toys from your children’s collection just yet. First inventory what you have. Then ask the question, “how can my child play with this?” And last, “should i keep it? If not, can i donate and find another home?” Sometimes, the answer is the trash bin, and while I don’t encourage throwing them out, there are only so many broken toys you can give away.

What open ended toys should I buy?

I have several wooden toy lists (here, here, and here) that can help you with identifying what to purchase. And some of my lists have open ended toys, plastic or not. I’ll tell you a secret. My kids favorite toys when they were babies (under 15 months old) were: tupperware, silicon spatulas, silicon spoons, wallet, metal canisters, and stones.

It’s important to remember to buy within your budget and pick quality, known brands. We all (including myself) have been swayed away by the beauty of toys, especially wooden toys. Start with a few classics like blocks and bowls, and work your way from there.

A word of warning. Society has conflated open ended play with open ended toys. We have commercialized the open ended play to mean that “you need x,y, z toys for open ended play.” That’s not true. You don’t need certain brands to be open ended. Your children will amaze you what with they consider open ended play, and many times, they are not toys.

What about closed ended toys? Are they bad?
Not all closed ended toys are created equal. A puzzle has an ending, it is finite. Once all the pieces are put together, the puzzle is complete. But puzzles foster visual thinking, color recognition, pattern sorting, and patience – many very important traits for children to learn.

For example, Montessori teaching focuses on closed ended, self correcting materials. This allows a child to explore and work out the solution. It is a different style of learning, and a qualified respected form of teaching. Even within Montessori there is plenty of open play. My children play with mops. They don’t use them as swords but rather house play and real cleaning – developing both imaginary and real work play. (They own real mops that I shortened for them – Bona mops are great and cheap).

On the other hand, a battery toy house is not open ended. You press the button for the doorbell and the toy makes a sound. You press the food button, and the toy says, “dinner is served!”. Each button you press leads to an action, “the sound”, and a conclusion, “no more sound means no more play”.

We can talk forever about the importance of open ended play. What we know is that free play helps brain development. Free play gives children the ability to critically think and process information. It allows them to be bored and learn to entertain themselves. Free play even enables children to understand and process their emotions (NPR).

Whatever you do, don’t dump out the toy box. Reflect upon how the toys you own can be more open ended. Remove those that cannot. And gently add to your child’s collection.

If you enjoyed this article, please follow me on Instagram at @alifeoftoys.


Bauspiel Color Streets Blocks {Review}

Glitter glitter, bling bling!

Have you seen such pretty blocks with enormous gems?!

I am thrilled to review the Bauspiel Color Street wooden blocks (Fabenstrasse, item number 0150). Bauspiel is from a small German company, Deckelmann. Deckelmann also works with Papoose Toys from Australia to sell their wool felted products.

The Color Street set consists of 45 blocks. 20 blocks are matching pair and 5 blocks are blanks. The colors range in ruby red to purple with many shades representing the rainbow.

The best part of the gem blocks are…the gems! Faced the right way, they reflect that oh so pretty dispersed light. You can compliment them with the Bauspiel windows too. It’s magic.

Should you get the Bauspiel? It depends. If your children like the bling in blocks, these sets are something special. But they come at a hefty price at $210 USD. I bought mine from Modern Rascals in Canada; they have free shipping over $100, totally worth it.

In addition, the sizes are also different from other companies. Bauspiel are in multiples of 2.5cm. That makes their blocks 10 x 5 x 2,5 cm. You cannot stack the blocks in the exactly same way. when mixed with other brands. Your kids’ brains on their toes as they work with blocks of different measurement systems.

Video review of the Bauspiel Blocks

Grimms Wooden Toys Imperfections & Issues

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Did your first order of Grimms arrive? Were you giddy with excitement to share this wonderful open ended toy with a child? Or yourself?

And then you opened the package and …

The nesting bowls smell! The rainbow is asymmetric. The blocks are moldy. Someone DREW with a black crayon!

Simultaneously you are in tears and a state of rage. Your hard earned money from the “highly recommended” toy company sent you a reject.

How could Grimms Spiel und Holz have so many mistakes in their wooden toys? You own other wooden toys and none of them have marks and kinks in them. What are all these blemishes and issues on the rainbow?

The Grimms rainbow are different from other brands because they hand make all their toys. And their style of work is a bit more on the rougher edge than perfectly sanded and smooth.

For example, the Grimms rainbows they are carved from a single piece of wood. And that piece of wood is 7cm thick. For comparison, Myers rainbows are comprised of three of wood glued together, and Raduga Grez rainbows are thinner. Ocamora rainbows are most similar to Grimms, but as they are a much smaller company (who also have had supply issues and have plenty of imperfections), I cannot make a educated guess as to their line of wooden toys.

The type of wood used for the Grimms rainbow is lime wood or also known as linden. This wood is soft and easy to work with – it’s perfect for carving, instrument making, and shields (if you lived back in the Middle Ages). Lime woods alsogets plenty of knots, occasional dents, and a bit of over/under enthusiastic sanding.

Before firing off an email to the shop you purchased from, read these seven reasons why the Grimms wooden toys might be alright after all.

Rainbow is asymmetric – If you bought a rainbow of any size, you will immediately notice that the arches do not look even. In fact, the rainbow may not even stand flat on a table. Don’t fear yet, this is because of tight plastic wrapping around the rainbow (we’ll save the plastic lecture for Grimms to another day). Once you remove the plastic, the wood will expand slightly as well as settle into place.

Uneven looking arches because of plastic wrap. Photo credit: Michelle

Knots in the wood – Totally natural and common. Some knots are a few inches large and others are tiny.

Knots in wood. Photo: Patty Hoffman.
Knots and spots are very visible on the natural rainbow. Photo: Ashley R.
  1. Black spots – Black spots are not uncommon on wood, they are imperfections in the wood caused by mineral deposits. It is not mold.
Black stripes and a small spot. Photo: Harley
  1. Natural wood pieces smell funny – The natural building boards, rainbows, nesting bowls, and bridges are oiled. The strongest smell is linseed oil. To diminish the smell, you can unwrap the toys and leave outside and air them out. Over time the smell will decrease – it can take a couple months.
  2. Rainbow stacks in one direction – The rainbows are cut by hand and slight variations in the thickness of the arch occurs. Sometimes this means the rainbow stacks “one way” and not both. If you see gaps between the arches, flip one around and then it will fit snugly.
Stacking the rainbow the wrong way (bottom) and right way (top). Photo: Lauren
  1. Black stripes – Does it look like someone took a black crayon and drew across the toy. This black stripe is known as the pith tube. It’s natural and nothing to be alarmed about. Admittedly, it can look annoying but it’s another beauty of the type wood used.
Faint black stripes with black dots visible on all pieces. Photo: Colleen.

  1. Sanding is wonky – At Grimms, they hand sand all the toys and puzzles. The rainbows are all sanded on the edges. This is one way to know you have a genuine rainbow, but it also makes it easier for children to hold. Unfortunately, the sanding on the arches can be uneven, sometimes wonky. And this imperfect sanding can drive you crazy. It’s driven me crazy too; and sometimes it’s terrible to the point that you might need it replaced – it’s very much a personal decision.

Over sanded arch section. Photo: C Wong.
Roughness, an indication of incomplete sanding, little color absorption. Could consider a discussion with the seller. Photo: Nicole Wolfe
  1. Color transfer – Color transfers happens during play – it’s inevitable. But when your toys arrive with lots of color transfer, is this normal? Yes and no. Grimms products that arrive in mesh bags (geo blocks, tree blocks, roofs and pillars) can have transfer. A few dings are to be expected. A lot of color transfer, where maybe half or more of the pieces have color marks are a cause for concern.

  1. Paint is incomplete – Some of the pieces may look like it wasn’t painted. There are some instances where the painting was forgotten (a big oops) or it was a shoddy job (the roofs and pillars were notorious for a poor paint job in the corners). Most of the time however, the paint, didn’t stick because of the wood itself. Different types woods and different parts of the wood absorb dye differently. Even on a same piece it may look like the paint isn’t even. See the image for an example.

Now that we have seen some examples of imperfections, what are issues that warrant a return?

Consider the following:

  1. Is that damage significant enough that play will be impaired? Cracks can causes issues down the line. A deep crack for example, can become worse and can even break the rainbow. However, a small dent is a cosmetic flaw. It could be caused in transit or while still manufactured. A large dent would warrant you contacting the seller.
  2. Is it worth exchanging ? Knowing that Grimms rainbows are imperfect, do you want to exchange the rainbow knowing another could have imperfections? If you return, do you have a game plan for which other rainbow to purchase? Ocamora (Spain), Raduga Grez (Russia), Myers (US)?
  3. Does the imperfection bother you needlessly? If yes, then contact the seller and return. If you think that imperfections will drive you crazy considering the price paid, then return. There is nothing worse than being upset over something. Kindly remember that most of the shops selling Grimms are small businesses – they work tirelessly to keep their businesses alive, a little kindness during the return process can go a long way.
  4. Is a piece not painted? On very rare occasions, a piece isn’t stained correctly. This should be returned.
  5. Do you see chips and splinters? This isn’t normal. Contact your seller.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether the rainbow is perfect or not. But I do hope you consider the above before making a return and decide if what you have is an imperfection or an issue. There’s a small business owner on the other end of your email

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