Promote imaginative play by giving your children handmade gifts that don’t require batteries. In Erin Freuchtel-Dearing’s book Natural Wooden Toys, she offers plans and instructions for 75 projects that you can make in a day that will stand the test of time. Creatures from the forest, the ocean, the farm and elsewhere dwell within the 184 pages of this softcover edition merely awaiting your decision to create them.
ENCOURAGING CREATIVE PLAY
When a toy has no set purpose, children can use it over and over throughout childhood. This type of toy, featured in Natural Wooden Toys, is called an open-ended toy. For instance, a board game has rules and a sequence of events. An open-ended toy like a wooden animal creates endless play opportunities: the animal can traipse through the woods, or be a princess’s pet in a faraway land, or whatever the child envisions.
Plastic and store-bought toys have increasingly been found to contain toxic components—another reason Erin chose to create safer options for her children. And no batteries to replace!
A SIMPLE PROCESS
Creating the toys from Erin’s patterns requires a few simple steps: trace the pattern, cut the lines, sand, add color and details, sand again, and apply wood polish. The number of tools required is minimum as well: a scroll saw, palm sander and, in a few cases, a drill. “You don’t need a garage full of specialty tools to make creative and fun wooden toys,” Erin said.
Most of the book’s projects are made from 3/4" stock with a maximum width of 6". Erin gives tips for selecting the best pieces of wood free from warping, gouges, cracks, moisture damage or too many knots. “Think of your wood as an artist’s canvas; you want your canvas to be smooth and defect-free.”
She also delves into the ideal species for painting and staining, naming her top choices as basswood, poplar, clear pine and aspen. “They’re light in color, inexpensive, easy to work with, and provide vibrant colors when painted,” she said. Darker wood lends itself well for use in for wagon wheels, certain animals and wand toppers.
The most important part of selecting a finish for toys is to make sure it is safe and nontoxic. Besides acrylic and watercolor paint, the book explores kid-safe finishes, including those you can create from food, spices and leaves. Though not as colorfast as paint, natural dyes can create a variety of beautiful hues. Erin provides recipes for colors made from beets, spinach, red cabbage and a rainbow of other natural substances. These dyes are better for solid colors, not details.
To protect the colors, Erin also recommends her child-safe wood polish which uses only two ingredients: oil and wax. She shows you exactly how to make it, how to apply and how to properly care for the toys you create.
A PLETHORA OF PATTERNS
As the mother of two, Erin knows the kinds of toys that appeal to little ones. She has included several themes like fairytale, forest and farm with patterns for characters, animals, backdrops and more. For instance, the enchanted forest collection features bunnies, hedgehogs, bears, squirrels and foxes, plus a tree house. She also includes “stackers” with each theme. Stackers, like the volcano, fountain and cave, can act like a puzzle when all elements are arranged on top of each other. But they can also be taken apart and used separately to allow for open-ended play to make whatever the children’s minds can imagine.
The forest collection offers several woodland animals.
Stackers can be used together or separately as shown.
About the Author
Erin is a longtime crafter who purchased her first scroll saw from Craigslist on a whim. With no prior experience, but a lot of gumption, Erin soon filled her home with colorful toys. She credits her years of experience using a sewing machine for her ability to pick up scrolling so quickly – using the two machines is surprisingly similar. “I am evidence that your typical mom with very little familiarity with power tools can learn to make simple, safe, creative, open-ended wooden toys for their children,” she said.
Husband Nick works closely with Erin on each project. “Each of our wooden toys are crafted by our collective four hands from start to finish. Every toy starts on a blank wood canvas where the design is carefully laid out. From there the toys are cut, sanded, and then painted by the two of us,” she said.
To learn more about Erin and Nick’s mission, visit their site at imaginationkidstoys.com.
Get your copy of Natural Wooden Toys at your local Woodcraft store today or shop online at woodcraft.com. While you’re browsing, you’ll also find all the wood, tools and supplies to get started creating memories for the little ones in your life.
We hope you’ll be inspired!