The wooden toy company setting minds in motion

In a world where many children reach for remotes, swipe across screens and upload YouTube videos, it’s a quiet comfort to know not all is lost to the web. Cue Matador NZ, the Australasian wooden toy company whose educational ethos and clever construction models have withstood the wave of technology.

The strength of Matador is its open-endedness,” says Matador director, Hans Weichselbaum. “All sets come with building instructions on how to build many different models, and when you watch children playing many of them want to create their own ideas too, or they start off with a given model and then change it try to improve on it.”

Weichselbaum believes it is this vital free-form element of educational play and toys that has fallen under the table with today’s more common theme-based construction sets and tech devices, and he’s not the only one, with many parents turning to the tried and true to break the world of pixels.

"Fortunately, there is an enduring trend to nurture the old, traditional hands-on toys, the more open-ended the better,” Weichselbaum explains. “Another strong point alongside educational wants, is finding products that use natural materials.

“At Matador our wood is pure, untreated beech wood and this is important to customers in terms of longevity and passing down the generations.”

Having personally grown up with Matador, Weichselbaum says he played with it for more than eight years and “still hasn’t grown out of it.”

“I initially thought that such an old-fashioned toy may be boring for today’s 21st century children, but they seem to have as much fun today as our grandfathers had,” he says. “We have three product lines for all age groups from 18 months up and it is just a matter of addressing the right user groups.

“Currently, Matador is enjoyed in diverse places across Australia and New Zealand, from kindergartens to old age homes; it has enthusiastic fans in the Gifted Children Society and in facilities for people with special needs.”

As with some things in life, the beauty and charm of Matador lies in in the ability to traverse years with little or no change, an achievement the company is proud of.

“Nothing fundamental has changed since Matador was invented by an Austrian engineer more than a century ago,” explains Weichselbaum. “Having said that, three years ago the packaging was redesigned to make the sets more attractive, and we have introduced a couple of smaller kits to open up the concept of Matador to newcomers.

“Personally, I want to see Matador integrated with modern electronics. Once you have designed and constructed your model, what could be more exciting than to see it moving and to control it? So we will have to wait and see.”

Weichselbaum has many a Matador story to share—such as the two brothers who saved their pocket money for months to buy a Matador set and the couple who bought a large set to keep them challenged in their retirement—but the stories he likes best of all involve parents telling him that their children don’t get tired of playing with Matador and it’s used more often than all their other toys.

“Parents recognise that the current wave of computer games is not the best way for their children to spend their time—you don’t learn about the world by pushing pixels around on a computer screen,” he says.

“Nor is computer-based learning the solution every teacher has been hoping for. Children are the same all over the world: curious, eager to learn and always wanting to have fun. Matador toys are all about channelling and expanding children’s creativity.”

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By Dee Ellwood, editor of Gift Directory