Twelve years ago, I entered a Waldorf Kindergarten for the first time. It was in the White Rose Kindergarten at Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm that my daughter had her first Waldorf experience. This kindergarten was unlike any other. It was alive with an “organic” feel and was a completely new world that my four-year old had stumbled into. She was immediately engrossed and knew what to do without explanation. The true beauty of this experience was that my daughter intuitively knew how to play with these toys that shockingly came without batteries, instructions or even a computer chip. One of these toys that caught my attention was a play stand with silks draped across and held in place by these amazing wooden clips. Fascinated, I found out that the Waldorf Play Clip was created by Bill Bluhm, a famous Northern California natural toy maker and owner of Heartwood Arts.
Heartwood Arts was founded in 1981, inspired by the Waldorf Education and the artistic and architectural indications of Rudolf Steiner. Created with the needs of the child in mind, Bill’s toys nourish the imitative and imaginative capacities of the unfolding child. They warm the heart and engage the hands in healthy play and are found in homes and schools throughout the world. Bill Bluhm is the inventor of the Waldorf play clip, each one made by the same hands that create beautiful gnome homes, play stands and wooden treasures. Bill is a down to earth and sagely wise man who is so incredibly thoughtful in his work. He is an artisan who creates toys that honor nature and allow children to fully explore where their imagination takes them. He is the “heart” of Heartwood Arts. His artistry in wood handwork is phenomenal. Bill’s handmade wooden toys represent the epitome of the Waldorf philosophy in toys, “natural and simple”. Each of these heirloom quality pieces is hand carved by Bill and made to last generations.
It was many years later that I had the privilege of meeting Bill and hearing the story of the creation of the play clip firsthand. It turns out that he had made clips in different sizes to use in his wood shop to clip notes and anything else around his place. One day while working in his shop with a colleague, a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher came and saw them and said they were perfect for use in the Kindergarten as the children often use fabric pieces in their creative play. She then asked him to make 40 of these clips for her. The man working for him at the time helped Bill sand the clips for this order and as they did so he told Bill this was going to be a great product to make available to children everywhere.
They worked to get the perfect sizes to fit little hands. Putting on the rubber bands on the hundreds of clips ordered was very hard on their hands and fingers so Bill invented a proprietary device to put the rubber-bands on and the clips took off from there. These now classic wooden play clips are an original invention from Heartwood Arts and can be found in virtually every Waldorf early childhood classroom.
The original Waldorf Play Clips are still made today by Bill. These rubber-band-powered play clips are wonderful for building forts and draping silks or play cloths over play stands or chairs. Made of pine wood, the natural finish allows the beauty of the natural materials to be seen and experienced. The simple design and practical utility make them a favorite among open-ended toys. They are simply a must for every serious builder as they are easy for little hands to use. Hand carved wooden clips gently yet firmly fasten fabric, blankets, or giant silks to tables and chairs to enclose a play space or secret hideaway. They are ideal for ages 3 and up. All of Bill’s creations are hand-made with care, the wood locally harvested and milled at his workshop. We are proud to count Bill as a member of the Circle of Hands Waldorf Cooperative.