When I founded Eric Jacoby Design, I took some inspiration from an NPR How I Built This podcast interviewing the founders of Melissa & Doug who told their origin story. The contemporary toy company has become a household name for high-quality toys, often wooden toys. Melissa and Doug (re)paved the way for a resurgence of wooden toys. Why do we find wooden toys so appealing? It isn’t simply nostalgia; although their retro image makes us realize what older generations played with. In comparison, my childhood toys were Lego, Voltron, He-Man, and NES 8 bit video games.
My theory is that wooden toys connect us with a deeply human part of us. The primal and intuitive part that knows how to build a rudimentary tool, or to craft a hut. Wooden toys resonate with a subconscious yearning to build long-lasting things with our own hands.
Below are several unique aspects of wooden toys that reinforce this connectivity:
Wooden toys have unique natural characteristics in their grain including knots and varying cellular structure. But as they are used, dropped, thrown, stained, drawn and even painted on, they develop a patina that adds another layer of meaning and history.
I somehow ended up with my little brother's play tool box from over 30 years ago. It has seen some really tough love both from my brother and my daughter. The custom paint job is only a few weeks old. I honestly don't know if it's my imagination or hubris, but I'm pretty sure I can see my (brother's) last name scrawled in pencil just under the layer of my daughter's ink drawings.
The image below is of several units I grabbed from a large set of Melissa & Doug blocks we gave my son for his first birthday. We chose these blocks because of their superior durability, but also because they are biodegradable and they aren't coated with (potentially) toxic paints. And equally important, wooden blocks will last as long as we want to keep them around. After I took this photo, I asked my wife where we should keep them since our kids have begun to outgrow them. Her answer was literally, "lets store them away (for two + decades) so grand-kids can play with them someday." I think I'll keep them out; they are handsome and fun, and super relaxing to organize back into the box.
My son has owned these awesome little Plan Toys construction trucks for years. The four yellow vehicles have been broken and repaired numerous times. If you look closely they each wear handsome, but proud scars where I've glued them back together. A portion of the green truck's bumper broke off long ago. If I ever find the piece, I'll glue it back on. I've ordered new rubber tracks for the excavator and bulldozer a few times. Plan Toys has always been sweet about sending me extras.
The image below shows the range of movement for the Tectonic Bison. The design for the pivot points and the wooden cross-link are exaggerated to allow a curious child (or adult) to see how the bison is built and functions.
The image below shows how a mother giraffe (out of frame) has carefully tucked her babies into bed and has tiptoed away for some alone time, but one of them has decided to look around before asking her mom for another glass of water.
The photo below shows the naturally rough environment for the Tectonic Bison, but it also summarizes it's origin story. The first prototype for the Bison is shown on the left (yes, the bison started as an an AT-AT).
The owner of this Tectonic Snake has offered it to her dolls as a bus from the under-bed system.
These Tectonic Animal Toy sets can be used as either sculptural art objects, or play toys.
The image below illustrates an an ultra-simple toy car my son built from a piece of wood he found, and some taped-on shapes he cut out from construction paper.
Read some suggestions for fun wooden toy projects, read our related blog post: how to build your own toys
Read about the design inspirations for the Tectonic Bison
Read how the Tectonic Bison started as an AT-AT , see our related blog post.