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

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

Montessori + Holztiger Animal 3 Part Card Series – Printable

Do you have wooden animals? A bunch of Holztiger perhaps? And looking for new ways to help your children learn about animals?

I created this Montessori type three part card series for the Holztiger animals (don’t worry Ostheimer and Schleich lovers, I’m making sets for you too).

The Montessori three part card series is much more than a flashcard – it helps children learn words through sight, assign them to a visual representation (a photo), and match.

To make a three part series you will need to make 2 (TWO) copies of the pdf. Then the first page you cut along the lines with each animal and their name. On the second copy you have, cut the animals AND the words.

For longevity, I recommend laminating the papers. The Scotch Thermal laminator is $21.99 on sale and is a work horse.

To play:

Place a small group of animal cards out on a table. I recommend 4-6 cards. For younger children, use the animal+name card. You can group the animals by type (reptile, mammal, bird) or location (Africa, wildlife, Australia, woodland, farm), or something else (what you have on hand).

Then, place the animal cards (without name) and name only cards in another pile. Now show your children how this works if they have never done this before.

Once you model how to match, let them try!

Other ways to play:

Match the card to the wooden toy animal.

Match the animal card (without name) to the name card.

How to get the Holztiger animal printables for FREE. Sign-up below using the link and you’ll get cards delivered to you. Currently the Africa set is available but I’m working hard to get the rest done!

Signup for the Holztiger Animal 3 Part Card Series

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Grimms 1001 Nights Puzzle: Know Which Pieces Fit

If you own more than one Grimms Spiel und Holz block set, chances are you have come across the problem of knowing WHICH blocks go in WHICH sets.

Even I don’t remember, and neither do the kids. If you do want to put the set together with the original pieces, here’s my quick guide on the 1001 Nights Building Set.

There are 50 blocks in the set. Here are the types of blocks:

If you’re on the fence of purchasing a 1001, check out my video reviewing it.

5 Etsy Products of the Week – American Women Owned Businesses

This week I am featuring five products from female small business owners. They are all based in the US. They are all awesome.

Custom Peg doll – Need a peg doll to match your kid’s room? Or their favorite character? Jen is your gal. Her peg dolls are exquisite and the details are mind blowing.

Stacking hearts set by Sensory Play – $40 – This set of 6 wooden hearts are made from cherry and rainbow poplar. You don’t see many woodworkers using rainbow poplar so I find it to be real treat. Also, owner Magda is wonderful and based in the US. She also has a great Montessori and Waldorf wood toys.

Unicorns from Cranberry Creek Forest – If there is one wooden toy Cranberry Creek Forest is known for is its unicorn collection. Choose from a varieties of manes, these unicorns are more feminine looking than the well known Ostheimer Unicorn.

Narwhal from Cranberry Creek Forest – I’ve not seen anyone else making narwhals. And what’s not to love about the unicorn of the sea? Watch the BBC documentary (the one on the Arctic and Antarctic) and have your narwhals break the ice too!

Hundred Board from Mirus Toys – A gold standard in Montessori math and beyond, the hundred board is your go to for all things math. Order the wooden balls or wool balls with it (add-on in the menu) and help your children visualize AND love numbers. Plus you are supporting a brown woman business based in Washington state!

Custom Birthday Ring from Moth and Moonstone- Can’t find the birthday ring you want? Ask Katy and she will paint you an exquisite custom piece.

Hope you discovered some new businesses and get sucked into their gorgeous collections like I have!

As always, there are referral links above. I earn a small commission if you purchase something through that link. I appreciate your support from the bottom of my heart.