Waldorf families know Pure Play Kids has one of the best selections of Waldorf toys and Waldorf dolls in America, but we also frequently answer the question, “What IS a Waldorf toy or doll?” As we introduce a number of new Waldorf dolls today, we thought we should answer that question.
The Waldorf movement was started in Germany by Rudolf Steiner. For a more in-depth view of a Waldorf education, this is an excellent link: WhyWaldorfWorks. In its shortest form, a Waldorf education is more holistic than traditional education, focusing not just on the the brain, but on the hands and heart too. Through experiencing, making and better visualizing, a child may learn more deeply – and the thirst for knowledge is also deepened. Color, art, theater and creativity receive more emphasis in Waldorf programs than they do in traditional schooling. Achievement and goals are set at the individual level rather than classroom level, and competitive testing is de-emphasized.
So how does that philosophy relate to toys? The words PLAY and SENSES are important. Toys are the tools of PLAY, and we engage in our world through our senses. Beautiful, colorful, quieter, simpler and softer toys engage the senses, enhance play and enhance the learning through play.
Materials: Natural materials are very important to Waldorf Toys. Wood, cloth, wool, silk – materials are important. To focus on wood, wood has wonderful properties. Aside from being environmentally preferable, wood has a reassuring weight and it feels pleasant and warm to the touch. Wood has natural grain – a wonderful reminder of the importance of nature as the origin of toys and life. For Waldorf dolls, natural materials are also paramount: would you rather your child snuggle a cold, hard, vinyl baby doll or a doll made of organic cotton and virgin wool?
Colors and Design: Color and design are very important to Waldorf toys. Toys should be beautiful and add joy! The colors of the rainbow are the colors of the natural world: wonderful, happy and engaging. Black is not used on Waldorf toys; black is not even included in Waldorf crayon sets! Designs should be simple and “organic.”
Simplicity: By leaving Waldorf toys and dolls simple and open-ended, more is left to a child’s imagination. Through a simple face on a doll, you let him decide if his doll is happy or sad, awake or sleepy. Let her decide how to stack her organically shaped blocks. At the earliest age, choose natural wooden rattles and teethers where the shapes (and materials) found in nature. If the toy does less of the work itself, there is more work left for the imagination! From an experiential standpoint, kids learn by doing (not just observing), so skip the batteries and technology and let your toys be kid-powered.
Timeless: We don’t consider Waldorf toys and dolls old-fashioned. They’re not. Children are children, whether the year is 1914 or 2014. Children thrive on the same paths of nurture, love, experimentation and imagination.
Where Pure Play Kids may depart from some in the Waldorf world relates to country of origin. We value the hand work and the workers that make the toys, so we assiduously avoid products made in nations where labor is poorly compensated and/or mistreated. Germany is the cradle of the Waldorf movement, and many of the great, traditional Waldorf toys do come from Germany; we sell many of them, but we are not exclusively German. We think that made-in-America toys have a place in the American Waldorf movement, as Pure Play Kids uses local, sustainable woods in making our toys at our own facility in Tennessee. We also do not view ourselves as strictly Waldorf (though the values that underlie the Waldorf movement as highly evident in our toys).