There Is No Such Thing as a Waldorf Toy

simplicityparenting Feb 03, 2020
Child with wooden Waldorf rainbow stacker. Photo from Little Round Schoolhouse.

As a member of many Waldorf spaces both online and in-person, I observe the same scenario over and over again. Members of these communities, especially new members, are very concerned about their child’s toys and if they are in alignment with the principles of Waldorf; if they are “Waldorf enough” or not. Parents are donating and discarding loads of toys to replace them with more expensive "Waldorf upgrades." There is a fair about of confusion and shame over what toys we provide for our children.


I know this concern because I was once in the same place. When I first became a parent, I was enthusiastically against all things plastic and set in place strict filters around the types of toys I had for my children and would allow in my home. When I opened my program over a decade ago, I also had high standards and desires for a classroom full of “Waldorf toys.”  


But why? What was making these toys “Waldorf?” 


After 15+ years of education and learning combined with time living into the philosophies of Waldorf, I’ve realized this:

There is no such thing as a Waldorf toy.

We associate certain toys with the Waldorf movement because of what we typically see in Waldorf early childhood classrooms. But there isn’t a system of certification to deem a toy Waldorf or non-Waldorf. No seal of approval from Rudolf Steiner’s cohorts. 


Because it’s not actually about the toy. It’s about what the toy elicits from the child. 



A good toy is 10% toy and 90% child.

You want to surround your children with toys that elicit imaginative, creative play. These toys are sometimes called “open-ended” as they aren’t rigid in their purpose or use.  


For example, a wooden vehicle can be an ambulance, bus, taxi, van, or police car. That colorful, shiny police car with real life lights and sounds can be a...police car. 


A doll with soft features can be awake or asleep; happy or sad. A doll with a fixed smile and open eyes can only represent so many emotions/states within play. (I’ve heard children say “I just want her to close her eyes!”)


The first examples let your child guide the play instead of the toy guiding the play. And, with more open ended toys, less is more! You don’t need a dozen different specific vehicles when your few, open-ended vehicles can play all these roles and more.

If I were to make a list of “Waldorf Toys” it would look something like this:

  • Natural and earth-friendly (healthy for humans and the planet)

  • Open-ended: invite imagination and creative play

  • Invite the sense of touch

  • Beloved and whole

  • Limited in quantity (clutter overwhelms children and reduces play)

But what about plastic? Should I throw it all away? 

Nah. First, it’s about balance. Let them touch and be exposed to many types of materials and also to the many variations within that material (different types of fabric or wood, for example). 

Personally, I don’t purchase new toys made of plastic but I do have plastic toys and things (especially for outside play and bath play) that I purchased used or got as hand-me-downs. If you have plastic toys, don’t throw them all out in one fell swoop and replace them with expensive wooden versions. Instead focus on what kind of play they elicit and whether they are balanced with toys made from other materials. Keep what meets these needs, even if it doesn’t match those shiny Pinterest playrooms you see online. 


Because it’s not about the toys. It’s about what sort of play they invite and what sort of physical environment they create for your child and family.

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