Had enough of those beeping video games and flashing phone screens? Looking for a more wholesome way to keep your little one stimulated and entertained? It turns out that kids toys don’t have to be full of bells and whistles in order to be a lot of fun.
The best wooden toys for kids offer hours of entertainment without the negative side effects of too much screen time or violent video games. In many cases, they also display impressive craftsmanship that can’t usually be found in today’s toys. Beyond that, they are also non-toxic and sustainable.
And the real kicker? They don’t break nearly as often as plastic toys do.
We’re taking a look at some of the best wooden toys for your infant or toddler, and if that isn’t enough, we’re going to follow it up with an in-depth buyer’s guide so you know exactly what to look for when shopping around.
FAO Schwarz Medieval Knights & Princesses Wooden Castle Building Blocks
They sure didn’t have this kind of building blocks when I was a kid. Back then, most of them were just simple cubes and rectangles. The Knights & Princesses block set from FAO Schwarz completely re-defines the game of building blocks by making super-detailed pieces that can go together in countless ways. There are 75 blocks in total, so it’s pretty much a guarantee that every castle your kid makes is going to be completely original. And unlike those plastic castle kits that some people make, these aren’t going to break when your kid decides to play Godzilla and knock the whole thing down.
KidKraft Waterfall Mountain Train Set & Table
Remember those awesome playsets that used to be in every dentist office? Now you can have an even more expansive wooden pretend world with the Waterfall Mountain Train set. The whole thing comes on four legs, making it the perfect height for your average youngster’s playtime, while adults can comfortably kneel and join in on the fun. With an open world like this one, your child’s imagination is free to run in whatever direction that it wants, and encouraging imagination is what toys do best. After all, there are no rules when you’re playing pretend!
Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Solid-Wood Building Blocks
Here we have one of the most long-lasting & classic toys in the history of the world. Wooden blocks have been around for so long because of their ability to truly spark imagination, creativity, and problem solving skills of even the youngest kids. As the child grows, so does their relationship with the blocks. They begin to create more and more complex shapes and towers, learning balance and hand-eye coordination in the process. This collection includes a handy wooden storage crate, which is made out of the same high-density wood that the blocks are. And the best part? You’ll never have to change the batteries.
Classic Kids Play Kitchen
This one sure takes us back. The classic, near-retro design of this play kitchen is almost exactly like the one that us old folks used to have when we were little, with a few important (and appreciated) upgrades. For one, this unit is made almost entirely of wood as opposed to the cheap oil-based plastic that has been used in the vast majority of play houses over the years. That makes it durable and paintable to a degree that plastic toys simply can’t match. If you’ve got a little budding gourmand in the family, this might be the perfect play set for them.
Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Center
For the emerging toddlers in your life, a simple play station like this one is a great way to hold their interest and develop a healthy curiosity. They’ll be running their fingers across the many colors, shapes, and textures of what may be the most adventure-stuffed tree that imagination has to offer. It’s the perfect height for any young adventurer, and remarkably light for when it comes time for mom to lug it into another room or into the back of the car for a trip to Grandma’s place.
ALEX Toys Wooden Dough Tools Set
If there is one thing that toddlers can’t seem to get enough of, it is things that are squishy and/or slimy. Perhaps that’s why Play Dough has been such a constant force in kids’ entertainment over the years. But it hasn’t changed much through the decades, has it? After all, what could you even do to change it if you could? The answer lies in this set of specialty dough tools that are specifically designed to enhance your little one’s dough time. Made of wood with brightly colored handles and exciting shapes, these hammers, rollers, pins & pens are sure to bring a whole new level of excitement to your kids’ Play Dough.
Hape Pound & Tap Bench with Slide Out Xylophone
There’s really no wrong way to play the Hape Pound & Tap Bench. As far as musical instruments go, it is the perfect fit for the young infant or toddler who is just starting to develop their musical chops. The bell-laden play balls can either be tapped for a light jingle or pounded through to make a rolling melody across the colorful xylophone. Toys like these not only introduce musical concepts at a very young age, but they’re also quite good at promoting dexterity, coordination, and other fine motor skills that your kid is going to need if they’re going to live up to your expectations of becoming the next global rock star.
12-Piece Wooden Train Set
All aboard! Your child’s next cross country journey is going to be one of the imagination, and what better rail line to run than the one made by Play22. These wooden trains are modeled after the same classic toys of yesteryear, the same ones that we are now seeing popping up in antique shops all over the place. Simple magnet connectors will help your kid develop motor skills while the brightly colored train cars can teach strong color and shape recognition. If that’s not all, the whole set comes in beautiful wooden carry / display case, making it the perfect gift for anyone who has a new child in their lives.
Melissa & Doug Wooden Play Food
I don’t know how they did it, but somehow these little brightly-painted picnic items look quite appetizing. Fortunately it’s all made of wood, so if a toddler happens to think the same thing they aren’t going to get very far, and chances are they’ll learn a valuable lesson in the process. Beyond stimulating the appetite, these blocks also represent all of the food groups, so you can use them to teach about healthy eating and balanced meals. If that’s not all, they’re made my Melissa & Doug, a company that offers a 100% happiness guarantee on all their products, but you can trust us that you aren’t going to have to worry about that.
24 Piece Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Set
We’ve already spent a decent amount of time looking at wooden block sets. Some are classic, and some have some new features, but none provide the kind of much-needed technological upgrade than Tegu blocks do. These are magnetic, which brings the creative possibilities to an entirely new level. Now, you can build things that actually move around, everything from cars to spaceships to toy poodles. Sure, you still have to use your imagination a bit, but it seems to be like that’s exactly what the “fungineers” over at Tegu were doing when they thought of these clever little blocks.
Original Lincoln Logs
For those who don’t remember, the classic toy Lincoln Logs were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While this isn’t likely going to be of any significance to your child, it does say a little something about the staying power of this wonderfully simple and creative set of building logs. This particular kit is based off of one of the original sets that was released over 100 years ago. Kids will have the option of building either one tall house or two smaller ones, or, they can let their imaginations run wild as they build whatever it is that they please.
Melissa & Doug Wooden Building Blocks
If the classic look of the Melissa & Doug Solid Wood building blocks is just a little too bland for you and your child, then you’re in luck. This set features the same hard-wood shapes with a bright and exciting paint job. This is a set of blocks that is sure to help with color association as well as motor skills and coordination. 9 geometric shaped in four primary colors means that there is a near endless stream of possibilities available, and the solid wood construction means that it’s likely that these will be in the family for some time.
Chomp & Clack Alligator Wooden Push Toy
First they crawl, then they stand, then they stumble. What comes next? With the Chomp & Clack Alligator push toy, even very small children can enjoy the added stability of a walker. But unlike your nanna’s walker, this one happens to have three jolly clacking alligators on the front, whose jaws move delightfully up and down as the wheels roll forward. The gentle clacking sound that it emits is sure to act as a reward to babies on the go, and the adorable butterfly circles spin easily on their axis, providing an additional level of motion and excitement.
Hape Scoot Around Ride On Wood Bike
You might be wondering whether it is a good idea to give your toddler access to even more movement, considering how curious and full of energy they can be. But with this wooden scoot bike by the folks at Hape, you can keep the fun indoors in a stylish way on a bike that is sure to las. The wheels have a soft rubber rim designed to protect your floors and carpet from scuffing. This kind of scoot-bike is the perfect way to encourage the development of motor skills in young kids. If that’s not enough, this bike was the winner of the 2013 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award.
Wooden Fold & Go Barn
Another great product from Melissa & Doug, one of the premier wooden toy makers in the United States. Over the last few years they have really developed a reputation for making wholesome, built-to-last toys that encourage the development of your child’s imagination. The Fold & Go Barn is the perfect mobile companion, breaking down into a small carrying case so the farm fun can go along wherever your child goes. Miniature farm figurines add to the experience, but as usual the real winning feature is the Melissa & Doug 100% happiness guarantee. We doubt you’ll have to use it.
Master Wooden Workbench
The best way to keep your kid out of Dad’s tools is to give them a set of their very own. This fully-loaded play workbench has everything you child needs to start their own make-believe construction company. Brightly colored moving parts, gears, and clamps provide an active way for your child to work on their motor skills, and a spacious lower bench provides convenient storage for any other toys or tools that happen to be lying around. 35 pieces in all make this one of the most complete toy workbenches anywhere, and that fact that it’s made by Hape is a testament to how long it will likely stay in your family.
Alphabet Blocks Learning Puzzle
Sometimes, the best and most engaging wooden toys are by far the simplest. This Alphabet Blocks Puzzle by Hape is exactly what it looks like: the entire alphabet make into colorful wooden blocks, with corresponding slots on a wooden puzzle board. Arranging the letters into the slots is a good way to practice motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial relationships. And when your kid starts learning the alphabet, what better way to help than to spell out words before them in big, bright wooden letters? This puzzle is recommended for ages three and up, but the wooden letters are not too small for infants to play with as long as there is some supervision.
Melissa & Doug Abacus Classic Wooden Toy
This traditional bead-counting frame, the Abacus, is one of the most delightful educational gifts that you can give to your child. While it was once used as a primitive yet effective calculator, your kid can use it any way they want and still be able to increase their fine motor skills. In addition, the Melissa & Doug Abacus comes with a set of eight activities that you can use with the Abacus that are designed to directly improve early math skills like counting and logical thinking. Thick wires and hard wooden beads sit inside a sturdy frame; you can bet that this toy isn’t going to break very easily.
Why Is It Better To Buy Toys Made Of Wood?
If we haven’t already convinced you and you are still wondering what exactly is so cool about wooden toys, then give us another chance to make our case.
Wooden toys have been around for probably as long as us humans have, and they’re still around today. In fact, they seem to be more popular than ever, even in a world where digital screens and flashing lights seem to be just about everywhere.
So, what are the benefits of wooden toys?
Sturdy & Durable
The age of plastic has led to toys that are cheap and easily breakable. As any parent knows it is not uncommon for plastic toys to not last more than a few days before they make their way to the landfill. Yet it is still quite easy to find the wooden toys of yesteryear. That’s because those toys are still around. If you want something that can last through multiple children as a hand-me-down, then wooden toys are certainly the way to go.
Safe & Simple
For the most part, wooden toys do not have a lot of moving parts or small components that can be dangerous for young kids. In addition, they are not made from cheap plastics and paints, which have been shown to be bad for children’s health.
In fact, in a study performed my IPEN (PDF), nearly half the toys tested were found to have trace amounts of toxic flame retardant chemicals present. That doesn’t sound too appetizing now does it?
Because many of the most popular toys are not suited for young children, wooden toys provide a great alternative that are not only safe but encourage the development of key skills, such as motor functions, hand-eye coordination, shape and color association, and just plain old everyday creativity. Introducing these elements into a child’s play routine early is a great way to see that they have a head start on what will hopefully be a lifetime of learning and laughing.
The problem with handing your child a digital toy, such as a game screen, is that is doesn’t give the child any opportunity to exercise their own imagination. Everything is provided to them through color and shape and sound, so they don’t have to engage certain parts of their brain where imagination lives. Wooden toys are usually quite simple in nature. For instance, there are no rules for playing with wooden blocks. You just play with them.
Children are truly able to exercise the creative portions of their brain. They can become creative thinkers, and that will put them ahead of the game when it comes time to tackle the many challenges of elementary school, middle school, and beyond.
Buyer’s Guide: What To Look For In A Wooden Toy For Kids
The 18 wooden toys that we looked at here represent only a small fraction of what you might be able to find online and in toy stores. Wooden toys are making a big comeback as parents are increasingly looking for ways to shift their child’s attention away from the screen and back onto something a little more productive.
Shopping for a wooden toy shouldn’t be difficult, but as any parent will tell you, every decision about your child’s growth and development can be difficult if you over think it.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to choose what kind of toy to get for your child. While their personal tastes can certainly be taken into account, you can also choose toys based on what they teach, what skills they help develop, and what age group they are designed for.
We’ve put together a brief guide to help you along the way. After that, we’re going to attempt to crown a victor and find the best wooden toy of 2023.
Recommended Age GroupYou aren’t going to find a toy that doesn’t have the recommended age group listed on the front of the package, and for good reason. Some toys can have small or hazardous parts that are a bigger threat to infants than they are to toddlers, and even toddlers can find ways to make their own toys dangerous. While checking the recommended age on the toy package or product listing is an essential step in the process, you can also take a step back to consider what these age groups mean and whether or not you need to follow them to a T. After all, children grow and develop at different rates, and what’s good for one four year old might not be safe for another four year old.
0 to 12 Months Old
Anyone who has ever had a kid will tell you that they’re not going to be doing a whole lot of playing during the first few months. Things like vision and motor skills are so underdeveloped at this point that the baby isn’t going to be able to do much but observe their surroundings. Brightly colored objects are best because they will be the most visible. The best kind of wooden toys for this age group would be:
- Large, brightly colored blocks
- Wooden rattles
- Activity boards
1 to 2 Years Old
Now that you baby’s basic senses have been somewhat developed, they are ready to start observing things a bit more closely. Colors and shapes are no longer the only thing to perceive: the relationship between cause and effect becomes a major part of brain development at this stage. So toys that do a little more are often more engaging. Activity boards and activity centers are very popular with this age group, because the rule-free nature of movement and action that come with them. Essentially, 2 year olds need toys that have no wrong way to play with them.
Here’s what we recommend:
- Colored building blocks
- Activity centers
- Large wooden figurines
- Wooden play trains
- Sturdy music instruments like drums or shakers
- Shape puzzles
- Large wooden trucks or cars
2 to 3 Years Old
This is the age when kids really start to emerge as unique individuals, each with their own idea of how to play and what they want to play with. They become more and more intentional with their toys and games, and start to differentiate from toys they do like versus toys that they do not like. This is also when kids start to imitate the people around them like their parents and siblings, so toys that facilitate playing make believe as a grown up are usually quite popular. Push toys and ride on toys can be introduced at this age, as the child now has the leg strength to move around somewhat freely.
There are a ton of wooden toys for kids of this age group. They include:
- Play work benches
- Play kitchens
- Wooden trains & trucks
- Wooden alphabet puzzles
- Make-believe wooden food items
- Anything that makes noise
4 to 5 Years Old
Now the brain is really cooking. Educational toys that are also interactive should be introduced to prepare the child for the years of schooling and mental development to come. Larger and more complicated construction sets like Lincoln Logs provide a good challenge and creative outlet for kids at this age. In addition, they are also starting for the first time to imagine themselves as someone else, such as a knight or astronaut. Toys that feed these kinds of fantasies are usually quite popular.
- Wooden swords
- Lincoln Logs
- Construction Sets
- Wooden board games
- More complex wooden puzzles
- Playhouses & Pretend Castles
5 Years Old & Up
The wooden toys we featured on this guide are, for the large part, intended for children who are about 5 years of age and younger. While there is nothing wrong with kids who are older than this playing with wooden toys, it is possible that they might not still be interested in such simple playthings. At this age, the child’s individuality is really starting to appear, so things like science kits, sports equipment, and video games become a lot more popular.
However, as we mentioned earlier, wooden toys are making a huge comeback, and there are more and more products on the market intended for older children, teens, and even adults.
The Verdict: What’s The Best Wooden Toy Of 2023?
Because all children are different and there is a pretty wide suggested age range for the products on this guide, it is perhaps impossible to crown one wooden toy as the best among them all. However we did see a few standout selections that are worth mentioning one more time.
The FAO Schwarz Medieval Knights & Princesses Wooden Castle Building Blocks are one of the best update to wooden building blocks that we have seen perhaps ever. This is a great item for the growing mind and could probably be appropriate for ages 3 to 6. Also, I kind of want to get a set for myself, and that is probably saying something.
For the young toddler, however, a simpler toy is going to be necessary. In that case, we have to recommend the Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Center. There is a lot of color, movement, and fun things to do, all without removable pieces or any hazardous features.
Bonus Guide: How To Care For & Clean Your Wooden Toys
Wooden toys can last more than a lifetime if they are properly taken care of and if they don’t get lost. Because they’re natural and durable, they can stand up to gentle cleaning and stay looking great for years and years to come.
Here are a few tips on how to keep those wooden toys clean:
- Use natural detergents whenever possible. White vinegar and apple cider vinegar work well for this purpose, as do non-toxic cleaners that you can get from the store. No matter what you choose, dilute it with water. You don’t need anything too strong, because wooden toys are less susceptible to harboring bacteria than plastic toys are.
- Don’t soak wooden toys for any period of time. It’s better to dip a sponge or towel in your cleaning dilution and then wipe lightly. Wood is quite porous and it can absorb a lot of water, which can lead to warping.
- Wooden toys can be air-dried quite easily and this is probably the best way. Drying wooden toys in the sun can be fast and effective, but take care not to leave them out there too long, as discoloration and cracking can occur a lot faster than you might think.
- If your wooden toy is not covered in paint, then it might be appropriate to apply some kind of natural wood moisturizer. Things like beeswax, olive oil, or linseed oil can provide good protection and a beautiful finish when applied in the correct amounts.