Grandparents have always been an important part of the Sylvanian Family.
Since Sylvanian Families were first created in the 1980’s, Grandparents have always played an important role in the village of Sylvania. When a new Family is released often there will also be a set of Grandparents, the most recent being today’s Sylvanian Chocolate Rabbit Grandparents, Rhys and Patricia.
Equally, there are some real life Grandparents who have played a special role in the developing of imaginary Sylvanian Families villages around the world too. It’s been inspiring to chat with some of those Grandparents throughout Australia and New Zealand who actively collect Sylvanian Families alongside their grandchildren, sharing a hobby together that provides hours of enjoyment and creates lasting memories.
Sylvanian Families creating a special bond
Caroline, a Grandmother from Adelaide, acknowledges that discovering Sylvanian Families 10 years ago was one of the best things she ever did. "I found a hobby that I could share with my grandchildren, each enjoying it as much as each other for a decade. We can look back on many wonderful years of “growing up with Sylvanians” together.” Caroline has her own collection at her place, and admits that she loves to set them up and play around with them just as much as her grandchildren do. Her granddaughters are on the brink of becoming teens and Caroline says she knows the day will regretfully come when they'll decide they’ve grown out of their Sylvanians and this era will be history. But she consoles herself with the thought, “I’m sure when they are adults, every time they see Sylvanian Families they’ll fondly remember their Sylvanian childhood years with Nan.”
It all started with a Sylvanian Families advertisement
Cathy, from Caloundra, ventured into Sylvanian Families when her grandson, Ollie (age 6) saw some You tube video advertisements of the Sylvanian Families Lighthouse when it was first released.
“So that’s where we started” explains Cathy. “Now the entire toy room is covered in Astro Turf and Sylvanians. Still not big enough and we have run out of room!” Ollie, who lives with his Grandma Cathy, even wanted to make his own Sylvanian videos, which she admits are unintentionally hilarious. They also enjoy shopping online together for Sylvanian Families and then share the mutual excitement of waiting together for them to arrive in the mail.
Grandma Cathy and Grandson Ollie's collection, Caloundra
Sylvanian Families versus Transformers
Agi, a grandmother from Cronulla, NSW, first noticed Sylvanian Families in shops and fell in love with them when her family emigrated to Australia from Hungary in the 1980’s. “Our boys were more into Lego and Playmobil then, so we never actually bought any Sylvanians at the time” But Agi fondly recalls, “I used to have a little play with them whenever we were at toy shops”
Transformers or Sylvanian Families?
However, 30 years later Agi has her wish. Last February, her second grandchild was born and Agi started collecting Sylvanian Families on the very same day! First came the Sylvanian Families Hedgehog Family, then the starter cottage. She says “The funny thing is, now my 6 year old grandson loves the look of them, so much so that he puts aside his transformers when he comes to my house. It’s my granddaughters first birthday party on Sunday and we bought her the Treehouse along with the Koala Family. She might be a bit young for them, but I’m not waiting any longer! My daughter-in-law loves them too, so we will all have lots of fun for years to come.”
Learning to look after special Sylvanian Families
Pam, from Kensington, Victoria, has chosen a Seaside Sylvanian Families theme, which is set up at her place for her granddaughters to play with. She recently purchased the rare Sylvanian Families Columbus Seabreeze Rabbit Family (A Japanese exclusive set which come dressed in a nautical theme) to add to their Lighthouse, Houseboat and little rowboat and says they look great together. Her granddaughters know that this set is an extra special family and play very carefully with them and think that the sailor costumes are wonderful.
The rare nautical-themed Seabreeze Columbus Rabbit Family
Building Long Distance relationships with Grandchildren
These days children’s entertainment seems to be more and more reliant on-screen time or battery operated toys, however, Sylvanian Families have remained refreshingly simple. The only real nod to technology is the required battery in some sets, such as the deluxe TV set with a lit up TV screen and the ceiling light in the Beechwood Hall house.
However, one Central Coast NSW grandmother, has inventively combined technology with Sylvanians to overcome any long distance barrier to playtime with her granddaughter.
Living in a different state to her granddaughter is no obstacle to Lisa when it comes to playing Sylvanians together. Lisa’s granddaughter sets the phone up inside her Sylvanian Families cottage, so that Grandma Lisa can see and help act out Sylvanian stories with her over FaceTime. Lisa can see exactly what the Sylvanians are up to and joins in the role-playing all in real time. “It’s like being in the same room” says Lisa. “We talk about what the Families are going to do that day.”
Grandma’s Sylvanian surprise scenes
Jan, from French’s Forrest, NSW, is another Grandma whose grandchildren live quite a long distance away. When her granddaughters come to visit she loves to set up a scene that will surprise and delight them. She recently spent several weeks collecting Sylvanian Families items especially to put together a High Tea on the Terrace scene for her granddaughters’ next visit. Acquiring a Tea and Treats set, Butler set, along with lots of little Sylvanian cakes and pastry sets, including the Chocolate Shop set with tiny little macaroons in a variety of colours, and even bought especially handmade clothing to fit the Sylvanian figures, so that they would be dressed in fitting High tea style to set a delightful scene for her granddaughter's to discover on their arrival.
"It takes them a whole day of travelling, if they come by public transport," and Jan says, “Their visits are very special and we have a wonderful bonding time, setting them up, re-dressing the Sylvanians and playing all sorts of imaginary games with them.”
Three generations of Sylvanian Families collectors
Davida, from Brisbane, first started collecting Sylvanian Families for her own daughters around 30 years ago. As the girls grew older, the Sylvanians were packed away in a large box in the garage and forgotten about until her daughters married and started families of their own. Davida recalls that when Sylvanian Families made a reappearance in toy shops again a few years ago, it rekindled her interest in them and she decided to collect them for her granddaughters. Now her three grandsons love them too. She has them set them up in the room her grandchildren stay when they come for sleepovers. “When the girls come over for school holidays we usually go shopping and end up looking for more Sylvanians”. Davida has quite an extensive collection and has some pieces that the grandchildren don’t even know about yet. “I have five pieces that I keep on a shelf, which aren't to be played with, however, one day it will all be theirs.”
Sharing a love of Sylvanian Families
Some of Nanna Jo's collection, Werris Creek
Nanna Jo, from Werris Creek, has always loved Sylvanians since they were released in the 1980’s. Although her grandchildren have their own Sylvanian Families at home, Joanne has set up an area at her place where all of them, both boys and girls can play with her Sylvanian collection, which includes some rare sets. “They have plenty to play with when they come over, but they also know which parts of the collection are off limits.” Joanne has approximately 55 different animal families. The rare items are in boxes, or displayed in cabinets, but most of them are for the children to play with. She recently bought a Sylvanian Families Rose of Sylvania Canal boat for her granddaughter, Rosie, as they share the same name.
Rose of Sylvania Canal Boat
Nanny’s stylish Sylvanian set up
Michelle, from Brisbane, has an amazing Lalaloopsy Doll collection for her grandchildren. These lucky dolls happen to reside in a multi-level book shelf mansion that’s stylishly and tastefully decorated with an impressive array of Sylvanian Families furniture, each piece carefully curated over time. Michelle admits that she couldn’t resist a recent interior decorating splurge on a couple of miniature Persian rugs and a mini Monet painting for their Sylvanian-styled mansion!
“I just really want them to love coming to Nanny’s” she explains. “I was a real dolly girl when I was little and have such lovely memories of all my dolls and toys, so I want to pass that on to my grandies.”
Lalaloospy Dolls enjoying their Sylvanian-styled mansion
A Grandma’s effort to buy Sylvanians
Tina, from the rural Queensland town of Wondai, started collecting Sylvanians for her granddaughter, Amber, in 2016. Tina drove an hour and a half each way to buy a Beechwood Hall to give her very first Sylvanian set to her granddaughter for Christmas. “When I first took it out of the box and showed her, she showed no reaction at all, just looked at it then turned to her other presents. I was so dismayed, I can tell you, after all the effort I had gone to get it. While Amber was looking at her other presents, I set Beechwood Hall up on my coffee table and started putting the Hedgehogs and furniture in it. This caught her attention and she hasn’t stopped playing with it since!”
Grandma Tina' Sylvanian camping scene
Last year Amber (5) had been carefully studying the Sylvanian Families Catalogue and had her heart set on The Caravan and Car set. Again, Tina drove an hour and half each way to secretly buy a Sylvanian Families Car and Caravan for her for Christmas. “Her face when she unwrapped the present was a picture. I don’t think she could believe she had got her wish.”
Starting young – and becoming creative
Deborah, from New Zealand, is a grandmother to two. Her two year old granddaughter already has her own large wooden house filled with Sylvanian furniture. As Deborah has quite a considerable Sylvanian Families collection, she plans to one day set up a Sylvanian Families village in the garage, to display the sets, create different scenes and show the grandchildren what they can do with their Sylvanians.
Deborah believes it’s important for children to use their imagination and create items for the scenes themselves, teaching them that they don’t have to buy everything. “When they make items themselves, then they’ll appreciate it more.”
Susan, from Swan Hill, Victoria, also fairly recently became a grandmother. She has set aside a small collection for her 6 month old granddaughter and already she plays Sylvanians with her. Susan, who loves crafts says “I want to be the kind of nanny who plays with the kids and makes things with them. I think kids need more imaginative play these days, rather than being stuck on a device.”
Sylvanian Families bridging the Generation Gap
Vera, a grandmother from Ipswich, Queensland, feels that many grandparents, like herself, can sometimes feel disconnected from the younger, technology-geared generation and that often it’s difficult for grandparents to find common interests that bridge the generation gap. She’s glad her granddaughters have an avid interest in collecting Sylvanian Families and love all the little details.
Vera sums up Sylvanian Families for many of us “They’re such a beautiful, timeless toy. Whether you’re 7 or 70 you can enjoy them together.”
Thankyou to all of the Grandmother's who made contributions to this article and for making it possible by sharing your Sylvanian stories and experiences.
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(Special thanks to Sylvanako for permission to use some of his fabulous Sylvanian Families photography)