Journey to Playtime
by Marlene Luneng
Toys are in abundance in our society. I can recall stories of my father’s childhood in the 1930s where he had no toys but his backyard. Even now my children have more toys than I did. I work on keeping things simple in the home. We began making toys that we had the skill and interest for about five years ago, and now my husband and I have begun making wooden play structures geared for children from creeping age until five years old. Although my nine year old can still be seen climbing on the structures. They are pieces that will last a lifetime.
After the birth of our third child, my husband and I advocated strongly for no plastic toys. When we walked around looking for non-plastic toys, it seemed hard to find any that were not. Shopkeepers would squish their faces up not knowing how to help us. In hindsight, we did not know what we were looking for. What are toys that are not plastic? After discovering Waldorf Education* and its parenting philosophies in approximately 2010, a world of non-plastic toys opened up and I realized I had no idea what toys were until I found what I call Waldorf toys.
When we began changing our toys over to being “natural,” we didn’t have a philosophy behind it. We simply did not want the chemicals in the plastic toys. As these new toys entered our lives, a philosophy or belief system grew. We saw value in making our own toys. Even involving our children when possible.
The first stage began with oral storytelling. When telling our stories orally, we saw our children wake up. Their bodies would be still, eyes wide, as they focused on what we were saying and doing. Stories were simple in the beginning, such as instead of singing “Mary had a Little Lamb,” we would tell it as a story. Then I began to make story props that would also double as toys via knitting and needle felting, always using natural fibre such as sheep’s wool or alpaca. I even use pine cones or rocks to symbolize animals in stories.
Then we were given a toy kitchen. We needed food to go with that kitchen. We began to make some felt food. Next we were dying playsilks. Playsilks are truly something that is taken for granted in our society. Simply offering your child squares of material that can become a cape or to use as a blanket for their dolls. One of my daughters would tie them in a certain fashion and make a purse or satchel to use in her play. Our playsilks are still the most loved toys in the toy chest after five years.
Our ambitions grew. We moved from smaller toys to larger ones. We needed climbing structures. Things to get our children active and still engaging their imaginative play. We began to build wooden furniture that was suitable for young children. The furniture is ideal for infants that are in the creeping or crawling stage up until five years old.
All of our structures are made from pine. It is a lightweight wood, economical, and it has a beautiful grain. My husband and I love to work together on these projects. It has been great for our marriage to have this time to escape. Working outdoors and smelling the wood has being magical. We are putting a lot of great energy into our products.
This is where the business begins to some degree. While making the toys, we learned about the philosophy behind them. The toys come with the idea of letting go and letting our children play. The importance of play in early childhood is truly vital to their development. Often, as parents, we want to get involved. We want to show them how to build the castle. We want to help them climb that structure. We want to remind them to be careful. Creating play structures and toys came with the practice of letting go. Seeing what our children could do. Not getting involved. Stepping back.
We advocate for keeping toys simple and leaving lots of space for children and their imagination. Simple is best. In the near future we hope to host a variety of toy-making workshops so families can bring this joy into their homes.
Marlene Luneng, creator of Uffda Play, is a mom of four daughters ranging in age from three years to 23 years. Her background is in public policy and education, and she now focuses on education, parenting, and toy-making. She has experienced many trends and studied many philosophies related to parenting and education. Her goal now is to be a support and offer inspiration to families. She currently runs a playgroup out of Clavet, SK, and is a toy-maker with her husband on their acreage in Blucher, SK. For more information and to contact her, see the colour display ad on page 13 of the 23.6 March/April
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.
“Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is based on a profound understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.”