Wood is a great material to build toys out of for many reasons; durable, low cost, accessible, repairable, and I could go on. With this being said, there are also some safety concerns that must be addressed in order to maximize enjoyment and minimize disappointment.
To design the best possible toy, you must ask the best possible questions. Here are some questions that might help you design your own pull-along toy:
Who is this toy for?
Pull-along toys are made for boys and girls, ages 19 months and up. Interest for this toy will peak once children are able to control their walking and start experimenting with running. Clearly it is not limited to this age group. Crawling babies like them just as much as older kids do.
What is the main purpose/function of this toy?
To be pulled around and to motivate toddlers to learn to walk. There is often other functions such as movement, stacking, transporting, etc…
What is not working well with existing pull-along toys?
- Some pull-along toys have a narrow base and tend to get a little top heavy, causing the toy to fall over. At which point the toy gets dragged around on its side.
- Some pull-along toys have multiple connecting parts, like a train with multiple cars. The attachment points between the pieces is not secure enough and parts get left behind.
- Some wheels do not get enough grip on smooth surfaces to spin.
What is working well with existing pull-along toys?
- As mentioned before, some pull-along toys have secondary functionality. These seem to keep kids interested in the toy even after they are exhausted from pulling the toy around.
- The pull-along toys that take advantage of the mechanical movement provided by the child moving the toy across the floor seem to really excel!
What is something fun and unique that would improve pull-along toys?
Being able to customize the pull-along toy would be fun… Having interchangeable parts or an ability to decorate your own.
What should my pull-along toy look like?
Whatever you would like!
What safety concerns should be taken into consideration?
Beware of small pieces, especially with homemade toys. This includes the pull string. This is a real choke and strangle hazard. I would suggest a thicker pull string, about bungee cord thickness. Also, in areas that you have a material change ensure they are fastened together securely.
Ensure the surface is smooth and the corners are rounded. Treating wood products is important because their finishes often wear out over time. Treating them with a natural oil helps to prevent splintering. Even painted finishes will wear out over time. In addition to this, keep in mind that some finishes, even natural ones, may be toxic if toddlers ingest them, so pick a finish that you feel comfortable with.
Make Baby Stuff
shares some very valuable information about the best natural oils to use as a finish for your wood toys.
"Normal use and cleaning can dry out surfaces on wooden toys. This can allow bacterial growth in the cracks and pits that are a natural part of wood construction. Periodic oiling of wooden toys fills the cracks and pits and helps to prevent the growth of bacteria."
Beeswax, tung oil, almond oil, walnut oil, linseed oil, orange oil, and lemon oil are all great natural oil finishes.
Acrylic (AP non-toxic seal), milk paint, water colors, food coloring
Please comment with any design or safety tips you may have. What do you like or dislike about certain pull-along toys? What wood finishes do you prefer? What other questions will help us design better wooden pull-along toys?