It’s the time of the year when parents dig deep into their pockets to assure their children have a memorable holiday season. In the west we call it Christmas. In Japan, it’s New Years day.
The harsh reality is that many of the items marketed at children are mass produced, and assembled by kids, children who are exploited as cheap, and disposable labor for corporate shareholders who demand immediate profits on their investments, while at the same time turning a blind eye as to the manner in how those revenues arise. Ironically, the exploitation of child labor is worse today than at any time during the industrial revolution; a time when Upton Sinclair penned, The Jungle, a novel that exposed the cruel, and dismal realities that the average factory worker endured on the assembly line.
If you’ve patronized any of the well-known chain stores in your quest for the perfect gift, you probably noted that quality items have become difficult to obtain. The fact is, if you want something original, and unique, you won’t find it at those places. Most toys are quite generic, and generally offered by only a handful of companies that license the same old images that we’ve seen for the past century. The shelves are lined with products that are made with nothing more than cheaply produced plastic, which is then bubble wrapped in a hard coating, thereby making it unattainable to any of the senses. What I’ve discovered is that I don’t want my child spending any of his time with any of that. Children seem to be turned off to it as well, choosing natural material over that which is manmade.
Recently, my attention was drawn to a video that was filmed of second grade students at St. Edmund’s Academy, a private school located in Pittsburgh. Children were asked to make comparisons to a well known mass marketed doll, and one that had more realistic features. The children overwhelmingly chose the realistic doll.
The average child today watches approximately fifty TV commercials each day. The toy manufacturers know this, and mass market their products to them, relying on the same tactics they’ve used for decades, inundating children with aural, and visual teasers through the medium of television. I don’t want my child to be an average kid. Why should you?
When I began researching quality items for children, my goal was to discover toys that were unique, aesthetically pleasing, and would stand the test of time. I sought responsible manufacturers that understood a dilemma existed between balancing sustainability, fair labor practices, and reaping reasonable profits.
The companies that fit the criteria were mostly from European nations. Very few originated from the U.S., or Canada. I address some of these products below, and hope that you, as parents, will support their efforts, and give their products a chance to become part of your child’s imaginary world of play. I highly suggest going online, and looking over the line of products these companies are producing. I’ve provided a link to their online stores so you have an opportunity to see their entire product line yourself.
Atelier Fisher GMB http://atelierfischer.ch
Atelier Fisher GMB is a Swiss family-owned enterprise established in 1975. The company’s head office is in Schwarzenburg, which is a beautiful region located near the foot of the Swiss Alps. The company offers superior-quality games, and handcrafted products that are manufactured with attention to detail. Each product is unique with a distinctive design, produced through top quality workmanship, and perfectly printed on choice woods. All products are Swiss Made, and produced at Atelier’s own workshops. Atelier games have a timeless quality, and are both educational, and entertaining. They promote children’s creativity, but are also enjoyed by adults as well.
Wild Animals is a cube puzzle consisting of six different animals.
Memo Natura is memory game that trains and challenges the memory.
I grew up addicted to toy cars. I spent much of my youth gluing together Revell hotrod, and show car models, or racing Hot Wheels down the hallway with my neighborhood friends David, and Mike. I still have an original first run set in mint condition; along with the first run Hot Wheels carrying case. Back then my favorite toy car was the chromed Boss Hoss Silver Special, which was a Mustang Mach 1 that could only be obtained by cutting out cereal box tops, and mailing them to Mattel along with a quarter. I got the quarter, and stamp money by collecting soda bottles that littered the roadside of Biscayne Boulevard, which was located near our home. Today, there‘s a new toy car manufacturer that I wish was available when I was a kid. Automoblox!
While Patrick Callelo was studying Industrial Design at Carnegie Mellon University, he began to develop a novel toy car concept created out of wood. That initial idea became the catalyst that led to creation of the Automoblox line of toy cars. The idea was to inspire creativity in children by allowing them to visualize, and assemble cars of their own design. Automoblox are the perfect toy car for children as they aid in the development of planning, and motor skills, and promote a child’s ability to coordinate precise hand, and visual movement, aiding in the development of dexterity. Children care little of the actual physiological benefits they obtain when it comes to playing with Automoblox. They’re too engrossed in the ecstatic sensations they receive when putting together their very own creations. Automoblox come in two sizes, the full-sized concept cars, and the mini line, which is a scaled down version of the full-sized concept cars.
The image above features an Automoblox A9S, and an assembly sample.
Bloco Toys is a family owned business that designs, and manufactures high quality construction toys. Bloco pieces link together, and rotate at any angle making it easy for children to create fantastic 2D or 3D toy models. Each Bloco kit provides illustrated assembly guidance that allows a child imagination run wild in the creation of individual, and unique creatures. Bloco Sets can be combined to accommodate the building of even larger, and more complex creatures. Anything is left to the imagination when it comes to Bloco Toys. A child can easily create monsters, robots, dinosaurs, dragons, ogres, super heroes, cute animals, and much more. Children can build several different characters at one time, as each set contains ample pieces. One of the coolest things the company offers is an online gallery for children to send in photos of themselves showing off their latest, and greatest creations. Check out the gallery at the following link. http://blocotoys.com/Bloco2012/pages/YourMasterpieces.html
An endless array of creations are possible when using Bloco Sets.
Janod was founded in 1970, focusing on the design, and sales of traditional toys such as spinning tops, and yo-yos. In 2004, the company expanded, setting up a full-scale design department utilizing a team of designers, and computer graphics artists, creating one hundred and fifty wooden games, and toys. Janod hope is that their products provide an emotional bond between children, and their toys. Crafting timeless toys, while inventing new features are the challenges Janod takes on when creating its new collections. Janod’s playful, elegant, and sturdy creations forge unique connections between children, and their toys. The not so easily defined soulful component drives Janod designers, and the French Touch has enabled Janod to hold a special place in toy chests around the world!
Janod’s famously beautiful wooden alphabet puzzle.
Janod’s magnetic plane. One in a series of wooden painted vehicle creations.
Georges Le Van Toy is a Frenchman who moved to London, and thereafter, set up his toy company. His young son came up with the name of the company. Le Toy Van was set up in with the intention of producing high quality painted wooden toys, initially for the UK market. Positive reception by retailers, and the public led to the company expanding globally. Le Toy Van is now one of the premier painted wooden toy producers in the world, and on a year on year basis, continues to diversify, and innovate in the field.
Le Toy Van products are manufactured at an ICTI approved factory based in Indonesia. The UK based Le Toy Van design, and management teams regularly visit to ensure the quality of the product, and ethical conditions of the workforce.
All Le Toy Van toys are designed at the head office in Surrey. The highly experienced design team strives to create the innovative, and colorful style that Le Toy Van toys are acclaimed for. Many of their designs have gone on to receive awards from nationally recognized bodies such as the Right Start Magazine Best Toy Awards. Le Toy Van painted wooden toys are safety tested for ages 36 months, and up by accredited organizations around the world. In Europe, Le Toy Van toys adhere to the stringent EN71 guidelines and are regularly tested to adhere to the EC declaration of conformity.
Le Van Toy Pull Back Racers really do sound like a racecar when operated.
The Le Van Toy Red Sky Flyer.
Lilliputiens is based in Belgium, with its toys handmade in Asia. The design team consists of all mothers, who are keen to the importance of safety, which is instilled in every designed toy. Materials are carefully selected with each toy tested by independent labs, ensuring they are both durable, and meet stringent safety requirements. Each toy is certified to prove it has satisfied all European, and international quality standards. The designs, and fabrics chosen by the company necessitate hand sewn, hand made results. Awards include, Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year, and Creative Child Magazine Top Toy of the Year Award.
Lilliputiens Rolobot Transformer.
One in a series of Lilliputiens beautiful cloth books.
P’kolino (pee-ko-lee-no) was founded by two fathers that wanted to improve play at home. P’kolino design studio, and headquarters are located in Sunrise, Florida. With the help of friends, family, and a global network of designers, P’kolino has created toy products that are loved worldwide for their playful style, and smart functionality. P’kolino’s innovative line offers children playfully smart solutions. P’kolino founders, J.B. Schneider, and Antonio Turco-Rivas, started with a clear goal: to make better products so as to improve play at home. This mutual goal was realized during their MBA studies at Babson College. At Babson they began an intensive research, and development project with 20+ international design students from the Rhode Island School of Design. From this collaboration came the P’kolino Play Table, and with the help of family and friends, they created an award winning, globally recognized, Play Table.
With the continued collaboration of an international network of designers, and homegrown talent, P’kolino has expanded to offer playfully smart products that are enjoyed by children and families worldwide. Through the insight, and passion of the founders, and designers P’kolino has developed a playfully smart design philosophy. “Playful” means designing products that have a fun, and engaging style that children are drawn to but that parents can also appreciate for their aesthetic value. “Smart” means designing products that have superior functionality to safely support children’s developmental needs, and extend the life of the product through multiple uses.
P’kolino’s Balancing Plane.
P’kolino’s wonderfully crafted multi-solution puzzle.
Petr Horacek’s Animal Opposites http://walker.co.uk
Turn the pages, lift the flaps, and see animals of all shapes, and sizes spring to life in the world of opposites. From slow snail to fast cheetah, heavy hippo to light butterfly, Horacek’s pop-up animals encourage early literacy, language, and communication. With its beautiful illustrations, and interactivity, learning has never been so much fun.
Horacek was born in Prague in Czechoslovakia. He studied at the High School of Art in Prague. At 19 he worked at a state advertising, and design agency. “In communist Czechoslovakia there was nothing much to advertise or design. But the experience was fun and inspiring.” After that Horacek studied at the Academy of Fine Art. In 1989 there was a revolution, which resulted in new studios, new professors, and new inspirations at the Academy. An English girl, Claire arrived at the Academy, and they have been together ever since. In 1994 Horacek received his Master of Fine Arts, and moved to England. Soon he had two daughters, which was the inspiration to his books. Horacek received the Books For Children Newcomer Award in 2001.
Petr Horacek’s, Animal Opposites is the one must-have pop up book for your child.
Quercetti is an Italian company that has been proudly manufacturing toys in Italy for over sixty years. The company started in the 1950s from the sheer determination of founder, Alessandro Quercetti. Quercetti remains one of the few toy manufacturers left in Italy, so the company makes safety a top priority. Today, Quercetti enthusiastically carries on the family tradition under its original principles of producing toys that speak kid’s language, and address their natural developmental needs.
The company has full control over the technology, and materials used in their production. At all stages Quercetti aims to achieve the highest quality standandards. “We have been manufacturing toys for children around the world for quite a long time. We try to do it as best as we possibly can, because we believe that the first years of a child’s life are critical for laying the foundation of all future learning—the skills and know-how that he or she will keep on building in life.”
Quercetti considers the use of commercials directed to children under twelve unwise, and unethical. The company strongly believes children should not be exposed to marketing operations that may induce irresponsible consumerism. Sweden adopted strict restrictions in its legislation regarding this matter, and it is in this respect that Quercetti likes to consider themselves more Swedish than Italian.
Quercetti carefully checks all phases of production according to their high quality standards to ensure the products comply with strict International safety regulations. Quercetti products are tested by recognized external labs meeting the international toy safety regulations EN 71 part 1, 2, 3; ASTM; and CPSIA. Quercetti employees work in a safe, and healthy work environment that meets workplace ergonomics policies as well as our strict national safety legislation.
Quercetti Georello Kaleido Gears. The author’s personal favorite.