All too often the educational value of a toy feels like an afterthought. Instead, superficial fads, glitzy marketing and transient entertainment value are the order of the day.
Thirty years ago, while on vacation, two hard-working British school teachers decided enough was enough. Liz and Peter Ireland quit their jobs and committed themselves to creating toys that motivate young learners and promote genuine early educational values.
In its early days, their fledging business was run from Peter’s Garden shed. He put in long way and lonely hours crafting a range of wooden jigsaws by hand that he and Liz then sold at craft fairs all over the UK.
In the decade since, their company, Bigjigs Toys, has grown into an enterprise selling more than a thousand products into over one hundred countries worldwide. The garden shed also is long gone. The company now operates from a large warehouse in Folkestone, Kent.
Wooden jigsaws remain an important part of Bigjigs’ catalogue; however, they’ve been joined by a myriad of other popular toys categories including educational nursery and role play toys, plus a wooden railway system with more than 200 individual components.
The Bigjigs Toys is committed to using eco-friendly and sustainably sourced materials wherever it can. For example, its wooden railway system actively minimises the use of plastic. Unlike many of its competitors, most Bigjigs Rail components are still made entirely from wood. In fact, if it can be safely made using timber, then it is.
Each component is also compatible with most major wooden railway systems, including those found in many Australian early-learning centres. This means it’s easy to expand or add to an existing rail set using available expansion track sets, trains, ready-to-play rail sets and accessories.
For early childhood educators, wooden rail offers a host of educational benefits. Building a rail circuit can help children develop social skills, promote basic problem solving and improve their fine motor control. Pre-schoolers can start with an entry level circular track or a slightly more advanced ‘figure of eight’ set. Then, when they’re ready, these little creative minds can use a compatible expansion pack to extend a simple circuit or migrate onto a more comprehensive 120+ piece set.
Three decades on, Liz Ireland remains active in the business today. She still personally visits the company’s production facilities in the Far East, taking great care to ensure that these facilities are operating ethically as well as delivering dependable quality at an affordable price. Although, it’s fair to say her travels have been somewhat curtailed in recent years by the ongoing pandemic.
These days, when Liz does travel, she is often joined by other family members. Her two sons, Sam and Tom, became Directors of the company in 2017 and are now actively involved in its day-to-day management. Liz’s grandchildren, Arthur and Edith, are also in on the act – they’re real-world testers for every toy!
Bigjigs Toys really is, and continues to be, a family affair.