Imagination and empathy | The magic of wooden animal toys

Imagination and empathy | The magic of wooden animal toys

Imagination and empathy | The magic of wooden animal toys

Think of a word to describe wooden animal toys.

What did you come up with?

Simple? Unexciting? Boring?

You probably didn’t say essential. But why not?

If you’ve ever visited an archaeological museum, you’ll know that animal figurines go back a long way.

For as long as a humans have engaged in symbolic thinking, we have used whatever was to hand to represent animals, people and objects.

This stick is a crocodile. That stone is a boy. And the path is a river.

This is a the game played by children in prehistory. Your child plays it too. Who is this monstrous beast? they wonder. Where has he come from? Is he hungry? Who will he eat next?

This is why play with animal figures has stood the test of time. It helps children to ponder eternal questions.

Small world play

When you think of wooden animals, you probably think of small world play.

You can buy a readymade set or mix and match your own.

Whether it’s a wooden ark or a farm, a prehistoric land or a coral reef what unites all these different settings is that there is a setting. There is a world that your child is trying to understand.

What are the rules of life on a farm? What can you - and what can’t you - do in the jungle?

By encapsulating the play in a ‘world’, you give it a focus. The play isn’t entirely dependent on your child’s imagination.

Have you ever given your child a new toy, full of hope and expectation that it will lead to hours of fun, only for it to be abandoned after a few short minutes?

What happened? Did you buy a dud?

It may be that there wasn’t anything wrong with the toy. Your child simply didn’t know what to do with it.

And that’s where small world play wins - it provides a structure. You child can get straight down to play.

What can you do with a wooden toy fox? For a preschooler not used to playing creatively the answer is probably ‘not much’. But combine a fox with a toy farm with a chicken coop… Now you have a story.

Variety is the spice of life - and play

So a small world setting helps children to tell a story with their figures. But how interesting can it be if all the pieces are the same? If all you have is a set of T-Rexes, the play won’t get very far. Roaaaaaar! Roaaaaaar!

Or if your farm is all sheep and no wolf?

The key, then, is to offer a variety of animals. It’s not how many you have but how many combinations you can make.

Once you have a wolf and a sheep, how about a farmer? But who will protect the animals at night, when the farmer is asleep? Perhaps you need a bull. And who could race to call the other animals for help? A rabbit? A bird?

Co-operative play

For the youngest children, play is a solitary endeavor. There is so much to figure out. Adding more players simply adds to the confusion.

But as they approach the preschool years, children start to notice others playing alongside them. And, soon enough, they are talking, sharing and negotiating.

You are the leopard and I am the lion. Let’s hide in the long grass and wait for the gazelles.

No, leopards hide in trees. I’m climbing that tree so I can jump on an elephant.

No, elephants are too big. You can’t eat them. We have to get the gazelles.

OK, but I’m jumping from my tree.

This kind of discussion is play at its apex. And all you needed was a handful of wooden animals.

Final word

With wooden animal toys, your child is limited only by their imagination. These captivating toys serve as a springboard for countless adventures, while also fostering vital skills like language development, co-operative play and imaginative thinking. You don’t need lots to get started. Choose pieces that work well together and you will maximise the play potential.

Dive into the magical world of wooden animal toys and watch your child's imagination and empathy soar to new heights.