The media frequently covers the many differences between the U.S. and Europe, but one important difference that often gets overlooked is found in children’s toys. Being that I was born and raised in Europe, but have lived in the U.S. most of my adult life, I can attest to the very different philosophies held as far as children’s toys go.
In Europe, I grew up with and around a wide variety of well crafted, natural toys, often simple in nature that were either made of wood or soft fabrics. European toys are not only made of natural materials but also natural finishes that you can feel confident giving to the youngest of children. They are further crafted in a way that they encourage the imagination, creativity, and development of fine motor skills, so important during each age group.
In early adulthood I came to the United States to study, but soon met my husband-to-be and we started a life together. The adjustment process was a very smooth one until I got pregnant with our first child. Like any other expectant mother, I started shopping early for our unborn child and to my surprise noticed that the toys found in stores here were very different from the toys I grew up with. They were mainly made of plastic and often had blinking lights and music at the touch of a button, far from encouraging any imagination or creativity. I was discouraged, but settled for some of these popular plastic toys.
When my son was several months old we made a trip to Europe to visit family and friends. While there I noticed that my friends? children had toys that were very different from the toys we had in the U.S., and so much more similar to the toys I myself had experienced growing up. It made me realize that times hadn’t changed in Europe, as I had previously convinced myself had to be the case, and that the same toys I grew up with were still in high demand. It became apparent to me that the plastic toys were mass-produced and manufactured in cheapest possible manner by a few select American companies, who managed to control the American market due to their cost effectiveness and distribution capacity.
Once we were back home from the trip and my friends were delighted over the natural toys I brought their children, it occurred to me that they didn’t realize that there were safer and more stimulating options. Several of them were becoming increasingly worried about the safety of plastic toys after hearing and reading numerous reports on toxicity and safety issues due to lead contamination. I had in an instant made up my mind that not only wasn’t I going to subject my own child to such toys, but I also wanted to make sure others with the same worries had the opportunity to provide their children with safe toys as well.
I threw out my son’s old toys and replaced them with their beautiful and safe counterparts from various European countries. I decided that a smaller but better selection of natural, creative toys would make up for the price difference, even more so as they can be passed down to subsequent children as well as grand children. While in the process of ridding of the plastic toys for natural ones I also noticed that my son favored the European toys. Not only are they natural and safe, but they’re far more stimulating as well.
My hope is that the simple nature of the European toys that has brought great joy to my son, encouraging his mind and body, will be offered to many more American children in years to come.