This week’s family spotlight article comes hot on the heels of me clearing out my attic. Not a place you’d usually find inspiration for caring for your children but it was during this clear out that I found my now 22 year old son’s wooden train set. Gorgeous little blonde wood tracks with green wood engines and red carriages. There was an engine house and – much excitement – a turnstile that joined up a major rail network.
Not only did Cain play with this for years, but I still have grown male friends (you know who you are GG!) who pine for the days when shopping for my boy’s birthday was an annual treat… for them! I couldn’t help but notice that among the books, the knitted scarecrow, the wooden Noah's Ark and the endless boxes of Lego there was nothing plastic, digital or game console related. (I know lego is plastic… but it has a category of amazingness all to itself!).
Even today, I still like to buy wooden toys for my nieces and nephews. Last summer I picked up a little basket of wooden fruit and veg from Dawn at Precious Sparkle and took it all the way down to London for my friend’s two year old. She loved it, still does. Standing at her wee cooker she whipped up many a creative meal combination for me during my trip.
I know that my nieces and nephews are all whizz kids on their mum and dads’ tablets and phones and I’m also perfectly happy to accept that it is in today’s fast-paced digital world it is vital that engaging with technology becomes a core skill; it’s as important as reading and writing. However, I’m also a huge believer in the power of imagination and for me wooden toys bring something magical to the playtime table that you just can’t get with anything else.
Who better to chat to then, than the aforementioned Dawn Cotton Fuge. Many of you will know Precious Sparkle as the go-to shop for all things beads; some of you will know about her gorgeous Indian print bags and cushions but I’m going to guess only a handful will realise that downstairs in her basement there is a beautiful toy shop crammed full of wooden toys, soft dollies and traditional puzzles, mobiles and wall hangings.
(I say downstairs in her basement although thanks to Storm Frank she is temporarily set up in shop’s kitchen area! Please do go in and see her brilliant ingenuity!)
“Oh I love wooden toys,” Dawn tells me. “I source a lot of wooden toys from Germany where the quality is second to none; beautiful bright primary colours and sturdy well-made toys that are perfect for little hands.
For me, these are the perfect starting point for developing eye-hand co-ordination and fine motor skills. A lot of what we have in stock helps babies and toddlers in such a subtle, fun way that they don’t even notice they’re learning. Toys that involve threading, stacking, puzzles and patterns are all really important when it comes to little minds working out how the world works.
Take our wooden vehicles; a plastic fire engine is a great toy and it will usually come with a siren and a flashing light. Our wooden fire engine comes apart and builds back up and still has a siren. It is a beautiful toy that will be cherished and passed down with now possibility of it cracking or breaking.”
I ask Dawn if perhaps people have the misconception that wooden toys are expensive; now, having spent £14 on a gorgeous pull-along wooden circus truck with three removable animals at Christmas I know this isn’t true but nevertheless, I have witnessed some pricey versions of this in my time!
“I definitely think people expect to pay a premium and it really annoys me when I see wooden toys marked up to ridiculous levels. I think there’s a middle-ground that’s good for the shopkeeper and the customer and I hope that’s what we offer. We have little individual items that start at as little as a £1 and things like the mix-and-match food items are a great way of spending under £10 and handing over a great gift.”
Ahhhh – the mix and match food. My personal favourite as I have already mentioned.
“Oh the food is great! Such good value and so much fun. Kids love make-believe and I think it’s a great toy that can be enjoyed by boys and girls. In fact, you usually find that wooden toys are far less gender-specific and this something that I really wanted to offer parents. Everyone loves a pretend cup of tea from a wooden teapot don’t they?
I love the way imaginations run wild; my own son had a café when he was little and would write down orders phonetically so that Sugar became Shoogr. It’s an amazing way for kids to grow, have fun and learn about the world around them. We have loads of little toolsets and hammers, doctors bags and shopping carts. Its endless really.”
I ask about the other great joy she brings… real cloth dollies and soft toys. I have bought three of the same soft gangly monkey for babies in the past year and each and every time they have become an instant hit. Why is it that some soft toys (it was a handknitted scarecrow called Baby Colin in our house 20 years ago) become favourites and others are relegated to sit on the end of a bed?
“I don’t know. I like to source soft, tactile fabrics that babies and toddlers like to feel against their skin. A lot of our range is made from fairtrade organic cottons and the designs all seem to be created with little hands in mind. I think that makes all the difference to a child – they become part of the family really.”
We’re back to where I started; among my son's knitted scarecrow and Noah's Ark and the wooden trainset that have been carried from loft to loft, too precious to be parted with. These beautiful toys become part of your family’s heirlooms. Little dinosaur puzzles every bit as valuable as your granny’s ring and your Mum’s hostess trolley (okay, more valuable that the hostess trolley!).
We love the memories that have been created because they are crammed full of funny words and make-believe cafes and green lions with pink manes and blue eyes.
If you’d like to find something a little different, that might fuel many happy hours of imagination and fun then drop in and see Dawn for a chat. She may even let you play a while and make some memories of your own.
See more about Precious Sparkle on our Perth Indies Directory>>>
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