Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 1)

I recently purchased two sets of barn and jungle animals from a mom-and-pop store in Tsuen Wan. From the outside, they looked like the plastic toys used in zoo/farm/safari “pretend play” activities that I’ve been seeing all over Instagram, so I was pretty excited to open them when I got home. The moment I ripped off the packaging, however, I was overcame by a terrible chemical odor. Luckily I was able to toss everything out before the Dumpling knew of their existence. (I normally buy toys behind her back and always examine everything behind closed doors before letting her to play.)

After this debacle, I decided to phase out most of our plastic toys because I’m tired of researching whether something is BPA, PVC, or [insert whatever chemical name]-free. Even if the Dumpling is past the phase of putting everything in her mouth, anything that’s radiating a chemical odor cannot be good.

My goal is to slowly replace the Dumpling’s toy box with quality wooden toys. Although the market is smaller and more expensive compared to its plastic counterpart, I’m only looking to purchase a few sets—specifically those that are multi-functional, offer replay value, and, if possible, have resale value as well. (I purchased two used sets that are in great condition; one of the sellers disclosed that she bought it used from someone else!)

Our household has always enforced a strict toy rotation system where the Dumpling is only allowed two boxes of toys—I cannot stand the clutter, so it forces me to be more thoughtful of my purchases and makes the Dumpling’s responsibility of cleaning up more manageable (and therefore, she’s more likely to do it). Most importantly, it challenges both of us to think of playing with existing toys in new, creative ways. This ensures that everything in our toy box gets play time; those that don’t get replaced with “new” ones until they find their way back in rotation or get stored away once she outgrows them.

These are the wooden toys currently in our collection and the creative ways we play with them to ensure that we get the most mileage!

Wooden Threading Beads

The Dumpling currently has zero interest in learning to lace, so we have been using the beads as stacking blocks and puzzles.

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Play Idea 1: Use the beads as building blocks. I like the design of this set because of the flat surfaces (some beads are curved all around).
Play Idea 2: Create a pattern matching puzzle. I printed various pattern arrangements and tasked the Dumpling with finding the pieces to match. While I used Photoshop to create the puzzle cards, you can just take pictures of your own arrangements and print them out as 4″ x 6″ photographs (they’re perfect flashcard size for little hands).
Play Idea 3: Create a block puzzle. I cut a picture into squares to the size of the block and taped them on.  (Warning: The tape could ruin the paint!) The level of difficulty can be adjusted by customizing the number of blocks used—we started with four. Technically, I can also create up to six puzzles with a different picture on each face, but I kept it to one since we’re still on easy-mode. (Picture of animals from Freekpik.)

Wooden Animal Shape Sorter Pull Along Truck

This is the Dumpling’s favorite at the moment because the animal pieces are so cute!

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Play Idea 1: Set up a “farm” and “safari” pretend play with other toy sets. (Yay, I finally did one!).
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Play Idea 2: Create [more] shape puzzles by tracing the animal outlines onto a piece of paper.
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Play Idea 3: Form an animal tower. Stacking the pieces is actually very hard because of their shape and weight! The Dumpling could only get to second row before knocking everything down in aggravation.

Wooden Magnetic Animal Puzzles

This was my first impulse wooden toy purchase, and in hindsight, probably my least favorite because there’s not much to do beyond solving the puzzle. It took the Dumpling a full afternoon to learn that she needed to flip all the pieces to face the same side, but she can now assemble everything in minutes. I guess that’s the problem with puzzles: they cease to be fun once the challenge is gone.

Play Idea 1: Create Frankenstein animals. While I like the silliness of the game, the Dumpling isn’t amused and “fixes” it every time.

Thats it for now, but I’m still looking to add two or three more sets. In the meantime, I will continue sharing new ways we play with our old toys…including the plastic ones I tend to keep in my next post!

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