For all of you who are aware of the downsides of plastic toys (read more here), you've probably been noticing a trend towards wooden toys - particularly in the friendly discounter super markets with extremely low prices.
Unfortunately wooden toys are not always the better choice!
A test conducted by independent German watchdog " Stiftung Warentest" showed, that a wopping 15 products out of 30 showed an alarming level of harmful substances - such as PAC, nickel, nitrosable substances, organotin compounds and formaldehyde in cheap plywood.
The problem with these harmful substances is that they can have a very bad effect on your babies health and often only show their effect years later! They are absorbed through putting toys in the mouth (oh ya, that lovely phase) or sometimes are transferred through skin simply by touching them. Research has shown them to be potentially carcinogenic, harm genes and impair the ability to reproduce.
Some of the toys that failed the test due to the presence of harmful substances or small pieces coming lose are Lena, New classic toys, Brio & Vedes.
Stiftung Warentest only tested certain wooden toys, not every single toy the brands produce.
What can you watch out for when buying wooden toys for your child?
Sometimes simply having a good look, shake and smell is enough. If the toy smells very strongly or some of the varnish/ paint comes off, better leave it on the shelf.
Harmful substances often hide in varnish. Plywood can often contain high levels of formaldehyde.
Another good idea is to check for quality and safety assurance certificates. In July 2013 new regulations regarding the allowed level of harmful substances were introduced in Europe. You might have noticed this "CE" quality mark on toys. However, different countries still seem to have different allowances, Germany still being quite strict about the allowed contents. Experts argue, that the CE quality certification isn't strict enough in general, as they take harmful exposures for adults as a guideline, although children are obviously a lot more vulnerable.
There are independent organizations which provide quality and safety marks of assurance such as GS which are reported to be more stringent than the CE certification.
Our advice is to go for untreated/ unvarnished solid wooden toys. As boring as you might think they look, they're a lot safer for your child and there are very reputable educational approaches out there, which actually recommend "plainer" toys in order to stimulate children's imagination and avoid sensory overload (Steiner/ Waldorf, Montessori)
After all, "Imagination rules the world" - Napoleon Bonaparte ;-)