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Early childhood teacher, author, and mother Sarah Baldwin wants to change the way we think about how children play in the 21st century. Baldwin is the owner of Bella Luna Toys, an online and retail store that offers simple, beautifully made toys such as wooden animals, dress-up clothing, puppets, and games that are reminiscent of a time before four year-olds had iPhones.
Baldwin bought Bella Luna Toys in 2009, when it was a smaller online store. By 2015, she’d also opened up a retail shop in Rockland, ME, and had grown the business to over $1 million.
“I was ready to make a change in my life, so I resigned from my teaching job,” says Baldwin. “Almost as soon as I did, I received a newsletter about this website that was for sale that sold Waldorf toys and crafts— these were toys that I knew well and was passionate about. I was excited to introduce them to new parents.”
“Waldorf toys” refer the the types of toys that are used in Waldorf education. Waldorf schools encourage children to engage in free play with natural materials to help cultivate their intellectual and creative abilities.
Baldwin says Waldorf toys should be “open ended” and “leave a lot to the imagination.” Consequently, none of Bella Luna’s toys are electronic, nor are they very intricate.
“My goal is to help shape future generations and raise creative thinkers, rather than just passive consumers seeing other people’s ideas.”
—Sarah Baldwin, Bella Luna Toys
They also lack the plastics and toxins often found in conventional toys. Baldwin avoids plastic toys because some types of plastic, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can be harmful after long-term use because they contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Other toys can contain lead, arsenic, and cadmium, all of are harmful if they are ingested.
Baldwin has one guiding principle when deciding what toys to sell at Bella Luna: “I don’t buy a toy I would not give to my own children or to my students, even if I know that it is a popular toy, and it will sell.”
Instead, she buys toys that are made with natural materials such as wood, cotton, and wool, with nontoxic finishes and vegetable dyes. Some are even 100 percent organic. All are built to last—and be handed down to future generations.
Baldwin also screens suppliers for ethical production, and she seeks out fair trade toys, ensuring fair wages and healthy working conditions for workers. In addition, Baldwin buys green electricity for the retail shop and uses carbon-neutral shipping.
“Studies confirm that imaginative play in early childhood leads to creative thinking later in life. My goal is to help shape future generations of creative thinkers, rather than generations of passive consumers seeing other people’s ideas,” says Baldwin.
“I had a vision that Bella Luna Toys wouldn’t just be an e-commerce site—it would be a platform to promote the importance of play, and preserve the childhood right to play.”