Best Wooden Montessori, Waldorf & Free School Toys

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  August 11

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Many people who choose wooden toys often do so because of the durability of the product for the environment or the quality of construction.

The other reason could be to get kids to play with more natural products.

That's where Waldorf, Montessori and Free School come into play.

What exactly is the difference between Waldorf, Waldorf, and Montessori?

Waldorf is what we often call free school, so they are the same, but while Waldorf and Montessori both emphasize the importance of connecting with the environment, Montessori looks for real-world experiences where Waldorf puts the child's creativity and imagination first. .

Both movements therefore look at as many natural toys as possible, ie made of wood, but rubber and such materials could also be used.

Waldorf also often looks at toys that do not really represent anything by themselves, so that your child can give a meaning to.

What is Waldorf or Free School Wooden Toy?

Besides being just natural toys, what actually makes a toy a "Waldorf toy"?

As families have become more environmentally conscious in recent years, toy makers are producing far more environmentally friendly and natural toys to meet increasing demand.

But Waldorf schools, created in the XNUMXs, have always provided children with toys made from natural materials, such as wood, silk, wool and cotton.

Choosing wooden toys is already a good step towards more sustainable and responsible toys, and Waldorf toys are also a step towards toys that are closer to nature, with unfinished wood and sustainable materials.

De stacking blocks from Grimm's in Europe and the Branch Blocks from Guidecraft in America with the bark still on, I think the clearest example of this.

They are anthroposophic toys in which the child can decide for himself what to represent. This stimulates creativity.

Grimms wooden blocks with bark

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Guidekraft waldorf branch blocks

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These irregularly shaped pieces can be played on their own by building, sorting, counting and making shapes.

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They are also an excellent source of loose building pieces that your child can use in any imaginary world they want to think of, such as on top of the images along with the rainbow blocks that Grimm's is perhaps best known for.

Make anything with blocks with bark

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Each block is unique in its shape and sizes and shapes can vary from set to set. The blocks are sanded individually by hand and are therefore free of sharp corners and edges.

Both brands have left the bark on, so they are a more natural kind of toy. That's called Waldorf that way, so play as naturally as possible.

They are all a bit of a different shape, so just a little bit slanted and so you can start building really nice things, so the intention of children is to put as much their own creativity into it.

And because it is nothing in itself, you can really do anything with it. Do you see how stimulating the child's imagination and creativity comes into play here?

I even found the blocks of Grimm's a bit bigger than I expected in the picture and Grimm's is known for fun wooden toys. These are sturdy and of quality and they come in a net.

Wooden building blocks with bark for endless fantasy play

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Definitely nice, something different from normal wooden stacking blocks and we can build a nice arch for the cars to drive under, or have a few cute animals use them as rocks.

So an important feature of a "Waldorf toy" is that it is nourishing to the senses of a young child.

Imagine the sensory experience of a toddler hugging a cold hard plastic doll with synthetic hair and then hugging a Waldorf doll stuffed with wool, covered in cotton with a cup of soft mohair.

Not only is the Waldorf doll more aesthetic, but its softness and warmth will have a calming and soothing effect on a young child.

This is also how it works with Waldorf wooden toys.

Beautiful to see

Waldorf toys also need to be beautiful to look at, because sight is just as important as touch. We want to educate children in a beautiful environment and their toys must also be beautiful.

By surrounding children with beauty, we not only contribute to their sense of well-being, but also develop their aesthetic awareness and appreciation.

Toys made from natural materials, with rich, natural colors and lovingly handcrafted, are inviting and contribute to a child's 'sense of life'.

A child is much more likely to feel reverence for a beautifully handmade toy and take good care of it than for a mass-produced plastic toy.

As Plato so eloquently acknowledged:

"The most effective type of education is for a child to play among beautiful things."

Inspire the imagination

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, suggested that children's toys should be largely undeformed to stimulate a child's imagination.

What does this mean?

Waldorf toys are often simple, without much detail. Waldorf teachers believe that toys should be simple and open.

Baskets of tree branches, play floss, stones, pinecones and shells can all be transformed into a variety of objects.

On a typical morning in a Waldorf kindergarten, you'd likely see shells turn into money; wooden blocks become food; a small piece of tree branch becomes a telephone; silk becomes skirts and veils; and so on.

By giving children objects that are not very shaped and detailed, they can easily become more than one thing and let children's imaginations run wild.

If you are familiar with a Waldorf doll, you have no doubt noticed that such dolls have minimal facial features and sometimes no faces at all!

What is montessori wooden toys?

With Montessori wooden toys it is therefore also about stimulating the senses with natural products, here too a lot of wood is used.

But here we look more at real world experiences and not so much at leaving everything to the creativity of the child.

A toy is therefore allowed to have a clear role, such as a clear father figure and child figure with painted faces and matching clothes, whereas Waldorf prefers dolls without a face or clear role.

You can also see a lot of wooden educational toys in the montessori school.

Best Durable Educational Toy - Montessori Math Toys

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This educational Montessori Math toy is fun and varied and made of wood.

If your little one is a math prodigy or has the ambition to perhaps become one, give him some math fun!

Different ways of calculating are possible which stimulates learning, and a sustainable and educational game for inquisitive children.

Best Montessori, Waldorf & Waldorf Wooden Toy Brands

Most Colorful Wooden Toys: Grimm's

Grimms Wooden Rainbow Stack Set

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The Grimm's rainbows are infamous. They are handcrafted with simple designs before being hand-dipped in non-toxic food coloring.

This gives them an instantly recognizable style; matte, structured and lively.

The rainbow is one of the most famous pieces; available in the original colors, pastels, monochrome or natural versions, they are a classic.

Grimm's, certainly a great choice when it comes to wooden toys!

Did you know that Grimm's is inspired by Waldorf and Montessori education?

It is super durable, ecologically sound and all hand-made toys from Germany.

You may have already considered buying these for your little one. We say do!

Your child can really build anything with it, on the internet you can find a lot of inspiration about play options with these beautiful wooden arches.

Beautiful, but at the same time very simple, this rainbow toy set from Grimm's and that is what the brand stands for.

With this construction set of 12 curved boards you can come up with new constructions and designs. Check out Instagram for inspiration!

De rainbow is made of lime wood and lime wood treated with colored ecological varnish. As a result, the original wooden structure remains visible.

The product matches great with the various Grimm's building sets and accessories, such as the Grimm's Building Boards and the Grimm's Rainbow Balls. These are also available in different color combinations.

It depends on what your child likes and which colors look great in the nursery.

The rainbow is very decorative in any color, so even if it is not played with for a while, it is not wrong.

But how exactly should you use Grimm's rainbow? Grimm's rainbow looks beautiful, but the real fun starts when you let your little ones loose on it.

It's instantly transformed into a series of tunnels and bridges for cars, a stacking set, curves to rock on the ground, or even bits to hit your dad with, if your kid is a bit like mine.

Here's Yael Haller and Levi with a rainbow set trick:

You can also combine these bows very well with other Grimm's toys, for example with the nice 5 math friends in a wooden tray or the Grimm's cars.

Because all toys can be combined with each other!

Cutest wooden toys from Grimm's

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What is really nice about it is that the toy can be used in so many different ways.

What's so beautiful about Grimm's toys?

Grimm's designs are deliberately kept simple. Children have the space with these toys to develop their imagination to the maximum.

Because the wood is only stained, it retains its soft, natural texture.

The stain that Grimm's uses is biodegradable and the natural scent of the wood is retained after processing.

The wood grain and structure are also preserved as much as possible. This wood is suitable for 'tasting' and for biting. The woods used - from European forests - also have antibacterial properties.

All Grimm's toys are carefully sanded by hand into soft shapes. The paint or stain is water based and the items are hand painted and then put in the vegetable oil.

Grimms wooden toys

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It couldn't be more natural, that's why it's not a problem if your little one wants to suckle on these toys.

Do pay attention to the size of a toy, after all, you do not want your child to put something in his mouth with the risk of choking.

With Grimm's toys your child lets his imagination run wild.

Your little one starts, without a real goal, just playing with the 4 pink-purple pieces and sees where the ship ends up.

For example, you have building blocks and puzzles, and it doesn't matter how it is put together!

Grimm's toys: responsible, safe and beautiful

What comes to the fore in Grimm's range of wooden toys are the simple shapes, beautiful colors and natural materials they use.

The shiny, vegetable oils keep the surface of the wood alive and you can still see and feel the structure.

All toys have a slightly rough, yet velvety surface that feels very nice for children.

It also makes building easier, because the blocks of wood don't slide off each other easily.

Grimm's wants a child to just play nicely, without being forced upon it. Their goal is to let children discover the world through simple items.

Open ended play with Grimm's

Letting them play without a real goal in mind; a so-called 'open ended play' experience, that is exactly what Grimm's offers your child. This philosophy stems from the Waldorf, Steiner and Montessori education.

Let your child tinker, build, puzzle and fantasize with these fantastic wooden toys.

Children and adults alike are attracted by the colors and beautiful unpainted wooden toys.

What we really like about this company is that they have a very strict environmental policy, which applies not only to the toys themselves, but also to their packaging.

Strict quality requirements and high durability

The smaller companies that work for Grimm's - in Germany - must adhere to the high standards that Grimm's places on toys and their production.

There is also close cooperation with various sheltered workshops.

Grimm's is one of the most sustainable toy manufacturers we know. That's why we give Grimm's a big 10!

Are Grimm's toys a good investment?

Yes, Grimm's toys are definitely worth it!

When you consider the quality of toys in general, the many uses, the cost and the resale value, this is a toy brand worthy of its price.

It's a rarity to find toys - like Grimm's - that tick all the boxes.

Are Grimm's toys safe?

Hell yes! All colors and oils are completely harmless and non-toxic.

They are certified according to EN 71 and CPSIA / ASTM 963 standards.

Most of Grimm's products are also suitable for therapeutic work in many ways. The following products have been successfully tested in therapy: the octagonal puzzle and the butterfly puzzle.

What are Grimm's toys made of?

What kind of wood is used for their toys? The wood comes only from sustainably managed forests in Europe.

They use alder, linden, beech and maple wood. These are anti-bacterial woods.

The idea behind wooden toys if this is they give free rein to your little one's imagination as they can be used in so many different ways.

I like that the toy will stimulate your child's imagination, it is beautifully finished but it is not cheap.

Check out more Grimm's wooden toys here

Best Wooden Animals: Ostheimer Wood Carved Waldorf Animals

Best Wood Animals: Ostheimer Wood Carved Animals

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For modern consumers, Ostheimer toys may look almost too simple. Their figures and buildings are carved and painted in muted natural tones.

Ostheimer makes some of the most amazing toys you can find.

The company was founded by Walter and Adeline Ostheimer in XNUMXs Germany, and the ethos behind their products remains the same almost a century later.

The child's imagination is central to every toy they make. Shapes are simple, themes are broad. But it's the simplicity of these beautiful handmade toys that make them such perennial favorites.

Being so neutral means that the child can give each piece their own meaning, and that meaning can change every time they interact with the toy.

Here someone plays shows a huge collection of Ostheimer wooden toys:

Children love toys because of the fantasy they attach to them, not the toys themselves. They want to play with it because of what it makes possible for them, not because of what it can do on its own.

Each product is designed, sawn, sanded, rubbed, painted and oiled by a highly skilled craftsman. They have been handmade in the same slow and steady tradition for nearly a century. 

It is this craftsmanship and simplicity that makes a natural product so much fun to play with.

View all wood carved animals here

What makes Ostheimer toys sustainable? 

Ostheimer uses wood from regionally and sustainably maintained forests for its toy products.

All materials used, including the paint, are certified and are processed safely.

The figures are painted by hand and the paint is based on organic oil. In this way, the wood structure remains tangible and visible.

At Ostheimer, they value wood not only for their products, but also use residual wood for heating their buildings. Every step is dedicated to protecting our environment.

The brand has an extensive collection of wooden animals. You will find farm animals such as cows, pigs and chickens, but also wild animals, including giraffes and elephants.

You will also find animals that you encounter in the forest, for example deer, squirrels and rabbits, but also beautiful sea creatures, such as polar bears, seals, penguins and whales.

They are all beautiful wooden animals. The brand also has an extensive collection of trees, shrubs and buildings such as a farm (more nice brands here).

Ostheimer is best known for the classic wooden nativity scene passed down from generation to generation. They even included a real Sinterklaas en piet in their toy collection.

It is their wish to give children a beautiful and pleasant picture of the world with all its people and animals by means of their toy figures.

Children need such images to grow up healthily in our world.

When Margarete Ostheimer, daughter of Walter and Adeline, turned the company from private ownership into a foundation in 2001, it was her desire to support forward-looking initiatives and projects.

It has always been her belief not to make a profit, but to bring it back into the community.

In addition, it has always been a rationale of this toy company that collaboration between people with and without disabilities is an important part of a healthy work process.

This is what gives the toy a special human presence.

Educational wooden toys and children's furniture: Guidecraft

Guidecraft educational wooden toys

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Guidecraft was founded in the year 1966 by Fred Fein in a small wood shop in upstate New York.

The first toy Mr. Fein made was named "Wedgies"; the toy had a wide base and a narrow top, and was designed to be used with unit blocks to stimulate the social and emotional development of children.

Today, Guidecraft is one of the leading early childhood education toy brands with a focus on system based STEM toys.

They also design children's furniture at Guidecraft.

Children and safety are paramount at Guidecraft. All products are tested and meet or exceed international safety standards including EN71, ASTM, Health Canada and AUS / NZ.

They also meet California Air Resources Board or CARB standards and use FSC certified solid wood and wood-based materials such as MDF and plywood. All products are made from environmentally friendly and recycled materials.

The play blocks from Guidecraft are a bit different than you are probably used to. For example, have you seen the rainbow blocks of sand? These play blocks are, as the description indicates, filled with beautifully colored sand!

By stacking the blocks, you can create a colorful whole. Guidecraft also has rainbow blocks with water, which in this case are filled with colored water.

This toy is suitable for kids from 2 years of age.

The Wood Stackers River Stones invite children to build and stack with blocks inspired by the natural, polished shapes of river rocks.

The round, wooden stones are sanded perfectly smooth to emphasize the beautiful, natural grain and tones of the pieces of wood. Different measures help children understand weight, gravity and relationships.

The toys encourage children to build creatively using the natural blocks to create familiar objects and encourage exploration in nature.

The toy contains 20 river stones and inspiration cards in different sizes.

It is advised to keep the toy indoors in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

The toy is intended for children from 2 years old.

Best Wooden Building Toy: Kapla

Best wooden building toys from Kapla

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The idea of ​​the fun toy brand Kapla originated around 1985, when the Dutch art historian and antique dealer Tom van der Bruggen left for France and was looking for a shape for a block to castle (always fun to play with knights) build to scale.

The name of the brand, Kapla, comes from the first few letters of the words KAbouter and PLAnkjes.

Unlike what you are used to from the other building games, the Kapla boards are identical. The precision makes it possible to build larger buildings.

Each board has the ratio 15: 3: 1 and the dimensions are (lxwxh) 11,7 x 2,34 x 0,78 cm. The boards are made of pine and are untreated, although you can also get boards in color.

The toys are available in boxes of 20, 40, 100, 200, 280 and 1000 boards. The sets come with interesting ideas booklets, but don't expect step-by-step guides.

The target group is mainly children. In both the Netherlands and France, Kapla is used as educational toys in schools and childcare. However, more and more adults also find these toys attractive.

To create the most beautiful structures with Kapla, you do not need glue, clamps or screws. With Kapla toys you can build bridges, an entire city, robots (no wooden ones of course programmable building set robots like this one) or build castles.

A child automatically comes up with new ideas. The boards can even be placed as a race track, and then with toy cars to continue playing. Or your child makes a construction for the LEGO figures.

Kapla can be played in many different ways. Kapla can therefore be combined with all other toys and is therefore extremely universal.

Simple but so much fun. The toy has already been awarded several times. Originally the Kapla boards were neutral in color, but nowadays they are available in different colors.

You can choose to make small, cute buildings of cheerful colors. Or do you prefer complicated structures, such as skyscrapers and ships?

The toys contribute to the development of a child's fine motor skills and spatial awareness. In addition, the brain is stimulated in terms of concentration, logic, patience and creativity.

Kapla is fun for everyone from 3 years old!

Always something to do for the holidays or rainy day?

Play Choice now has the ultimate activity book collection, with over 60 pages of fun coloring pages and educational puzzles.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Speelkeuze.nl is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child, he came into contact with everything around games when his mother started the Tin Soldier in Ede. Since 2016, he and his team have been creating helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.