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In today’s world of fast production to fast waste, it’s hard to envision what we could possibly pass down to the next generation 25 years from now. Consider the world of toys. I recently saw a friend’s picture with her toddler riding in one of those red and yellow plastic cars that were so familiar in the 80s and early 90s. Her parents had been saving it for their future grandchildren. It brought back so many great memories for me, as I adored those cars as a kid.
I wonder to myself what I would be able to give my grandchildren far in the future. Toys today are often of a trendy nature, the latest superheroes recently featured in a Hollywood movie, or pervasive cartoon characters who will be forgotten within the year by our fickle-minded children. Not only that, but the materials are often of a doubtful quality and origin, leaving parents with endless “what-ifs”.
So, when considering what you can pass on to your children and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, there are 3 primary factors to keep in mind: Materials, Craftsmanship, and Design. These elements will guarantee the longevity and relevance of the toy for decades to come.
Material. Children are tactile creatures. They crave stimulation, which can only be satisfied by fascinating textures. So why are we handing them smooth plastic, which does nothing to sate their need for tactile stimulation. Plastic can also be brittle and potentially contain harmful chemicals. Toys which contain fabrics are a good option in many ways, though their downside is that with repeated use, the seams may rip and fabric become tattered and stained. I believe that felted wool is one of the best materials for toys. It is very strong and durable, doesn’t have any seams or edges that can rip and fray, and the best part of all, in my opinion, is its unique and interesting texture. It also naturally repels water, so the inevitable spills which occur with children are not a big threat if treated within a reasonable amount of time, unlike with standard fabrics. It is washable for regular maintenance, although wool is also naturally antibacterial, so smells are typically not an issue, even if your child plays with it constantly.
Craftsmanship. If you want a toy to last for 25 - 100 years, there must be a high level of craftsmanship. Factory-produced toys will rarely reach this level, as their aim is to constantly sell you new toys based on the newest trends. If it breaks in a year, it only means that now you can update your toy to the new coolest trendy character. But of course that’s a waste of money and resources, and landfills are filled to the brim with chucked out toys. Wooden toys often exhibit a very high quality of craftsmanship and perhaps are the longest lasting of all toys. Cloth toys have various levels of craftsmanship with varying durability. One must be more careful with this style of toy that the seams are wide and strong enough to withstand active use without coming undone. Fabric is also created with differing levels of quality, so there are several factors to consider here. With felted wool, there’s little that can go wrong in the craftsmanship. The nature of felted wool is such that many loose wool fibers are forced together to create a cloth. There are no seams which can come undone, and even if one area is rubbed or worn more than another, the wool is many layers thick and much less likely to result in a hole than fabric, where if one thread gets broken, it can be the beginning of an ever-increasing hole. When felting, there is the possibility that the item can be under-felted, but even in that case, the felt is still considerably stronger than fabric and low-quality plastics.
Design. We all know that trends come and go, and, if lucky, sometimes return and fade back again into the background of history. In the history of toys, only a few characters, like Winnie the Pooh, have really stood the test of time, but I don’t see any contemporary classics out there on the shelves today. Take Power Rangers, for example. I remember when they were the coolest. Today’s kids would probably laugh in my face if I tried to get them to play with one now. And have you noticed how monsters have started to appear everywhere? Why do we want to expose our children and grandchildren to such ugliness, especially when the world has enough scary realities without adding to it.
So how do you plan for the next several decades? Choose what has already survived the test of time for centuries - reflections of the natural world. Kids have always and will always love animals and people. Choose classic or humorous representations of your child’s favorite animal. Your grandchild will appreciate having something which was loved by his or her parent. Or something as simple as a cat or a dog can be enjoyed by nearly any child in any time period, now or 50 years from now. While some things are always changing, some things always stay the same.
In conclusion, if you’re a long-term planner like me, and are thinking about what special contribution you can make to your family story in the future, consider the special act of passing down a beloved childhood toy from generation to generation. I make Kandinsky Studio hand puppets with this goal in mind, to create something from quality materials, using a high level of craftsmanship and classic designs that can stand the test of time. I value quality at all levels of production and strive to make items which will be cherished for many years, from childhood through adulthood and then onto the next generation.
Check out my hand puppets here and let me know if there’s a special animal or person who would fit the personality of your child or grandchild, and I’ll be happy to try to fulfill such requests.