In the fast-paced society we live in, slow toys are an antidote to the instant. They inspire our children
to slow down, to appreciate the moment, to make sense of their world and to connect with stories that tell of human ingenuity.
Beautiful handmade Romantique French doll by L’Oiseau Bateau
Slow toys have been around for a long time. The first slow toy was probably two carved sticks and a round stone crafted carefully by a doting cave granddad. It was most likely treasured by the cave kids, and possibly handed down – considered a family heirloom because it reminded them of happy memories of the kids playing … of their granddad’s ingenuity … and of their heritage. But in the age of fast consumerism and digital entertainment are we forgetting the value of traditional and slow toys?
Why slow toys?
I came up with the concept of slow toys (without realising it had already done by Frenchman Thierry Bourret … I was too slow) because I absolutely love the values that handmade and traditional toys promote. The idea for me was seeded when I received my first batch of traditional wooden toy sailing boats from a small family of artisan boatmakers in Brittany, France. The company began in 1946 when late grandfather Francis Tirot began making the boats in his spare time when paid holidays were first introduced to the country. Now it’s run by grandson Nicolas Tirot and it’s one of the last manufacturers of seaworthy sailing boats made by hand using only French products. Sadly, this pedigree is becoming rare across the globe as traditional craftspeople are pushed out of the market by mass producers.
Crafted by toy boat makers Bateaux Tirot, the skills used to make this lovely boat have been handed down for three generations.
Slow toys bring balance
Slow toys in their simplest form help children to slow down a little, to use their imagination and to play. Countless research articles document the value of physical or active play. It helps with physical, emotional, cognitive and intellectual development. When children play with slow toys, they naturally draw on the external world around them as part of the story. Their imagination is stimulated, they practice, mimic and play out what they have observed or learnt from family and friends. This role playing helps children to make sense and connect with the world around them, creating stories and memories as they go, and constructing knowledge to build upon.
Digital games – for all their wonderful attributes – are internalised. They rely on artificial worlds for their entertainment. The work of conjuring the imagination is done for the child so at times, all that is left is the thrill of the game. While digital games help with creative problem solving skills, kinesthetic senses such as touch become spare parts, communication with the outside world is vapid, a void is created between what is real and what is simply pixels. As for fast toys, paid for one minute, chucked the next, again they have their place. They entertain, they can be knocked around, they stimulate play and role playing as do slow toys but their value has an early use-by date.
Handmade Le Tambour French mobile by L’Oiseau Bateau.
Slow toys have a face
Slow toys go one step further in their connective qualities. Like slow food, where there is knowledge of a meal’s origin, its purity and a respect for the creative process of making it, slow toys can help children and adults to appreciate toys that are crafted by someone – a person, not a machine. Slow toys have a face. They support artisans who draw on traditional values and mastery skills and, if the toy’s origin or story is shared with them, children have an opportunity to appreciate and learn about traditions that are quickly disappearing as the demand for mass production increases. Slow toys support local economies and celebrate mastery of skill and passion.
Hand-painted French music box … Princess Kimiko connects children to the beauty of different world cultures.
Slow toys breed contentment
Slow toys draw on nostalgia and on a sense that there are constants in the world. As our society continues to move at a faster pace with a greater focus on homogeneity (sameness) and the quick and disposable, slow toys give children a moment to stop and breathe, to contemplate, and to consider that individuality and creativity are important traits to develop in themselves. Slow toys are loved for their quality and enchantment, their art and imagination. They inspire children to dream, they bring a sense of familiarity and contentment to their lives and they gently nudge all of us to value the time and skill dedicated to producing beautiful things.
Rosebud French mobile … hand painted to inspire children to dream.
Finally, slow toys last. They can be handed down for generations. Like rituals in our lives such as Christmas or other family traditions, slow toys can be shared among family members to remind them of what’s important to them. To stimulate fond memories, conversation, family histories and a warm sense of connection. Slow toys form part of children’s narratives, their memories, and remind them of the magic of childhood they can pass down to their own children.
Do you see the value of slow toys? What slow toys do your kids play with?