What makes wood the better choice when we talk about sustainable toy? Firstly we have to understand what wood is.
Wood is a natural, organic matter that is not free from imperfections and most importantly, is not homogeneous in its structure. Contrary to common materials such as plastics and metal, wood can alter its shape, its look and its finish even after it has been cut, dried, shaped and finalised as ready to use product.
Wood is a hygroscopic material, which put simply, means it easily absorbs moisture. Wood cells fit together like groups of straws or thin pipes. The cell wall naturally contains a small amount of moisture, and the “hollow” part of the cell also has room to hold and release moisture. While a tree is growing, this cell interior conducts water and nutrients from the roots to the various parts of the tree. Once a tree has been cut, the “green” lumber is kiln-dried to remove the bulk of that mobile moisture before the lumber is manufactured into various wood products.
The structure of the cell however remains the same, with room to absorb and release moisture from its surroundings. That moisture very often comes from water in the atmosphere (relative humidity), and it is crucial to note that there is a continuous interaction between wood and its environment.
The structure of the cells of the wood combined with accidental or constant exposure to levels of high or low humidity in the air can cause two very common cases:
- expansion and shrinkage of the wood
- raising the grain of the wood
Expansion and Shrinkage
Fluctuation in air humidity is very common when seasons change - dry/wet, or in our case when wood is transported from one part of the world to another. Moisture being released from or absorbed by the wood is what may create the change in the shape or size.
Wood may feel rough as a result of exposure to high levels of humidity. The term is commonly known as Grain Raising. Grain Raising is the outcome of the interaction of the cell structure of the wood with the air humidity.
To avoid grain raising, and to "seal" the wood, many crafters apply organic finishes such as beeswax, olive oil, etc on untreated wood.
Why Are They A Better Choice?
Wooden toys support imaginative play since they are more open-ended in the way they are designed. By giving children objects that are not highly formed and detailed, they can easily become more than one thing, and give children’s imaginations free reign. It is especially important that we nourish and bring balance to our children's sense of touch, by providing the most natural toys because sight is as important as touch .By surrounding children with beauty, we are not only contributing to their sense of wellbeing, but also developing their aesthetic awareness and appreciation.
So many toys are loud and made of plastic, and are not as safe as wood. Children often mouth and sometimes ingest residue or parts of what they are playing with, so care should be taken with this, no matter how safe the materials are reported to be. Plastic materials have their place in our world, but when it comes to children’s playthings we should be very conscious and careful.
Play is a Child’s Work and Toys Are Her Tools.