This holiday season, I have a challenge for parents who are searching for the perfect Christmas present: skip the remote control car that breaks the first time it's used, and choose toys that stimulate problem-solving and creativity while meeting higher safety standards.
High quality play stimulates children's development and good quality toys can enrich children's play in powerful ways. But choosing the perfect toy isn't easy. Not all toys are created equal.
So, as an early childhood educator, I set out on a mission ... locate toys that engage children in high quality play, that are sturdy enough to withstand children's busy play, and that are made with non-toxic, sustainably sourced materials.
What I found is 9 eco-healthy toys that would be perfect Christmas presents for children ages 3 to 8 years old. Many of them have been "field-tested" in our own classrooms, and others reflect activities that we have tried with our kids but that are packaged for use at home.
For your convenience, the links in this blog take you directly to Amazon where you can purchase these items. There is no additional cost to you, but your purchase provides for a small commission to our school. (First Discoveries participates in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide funding for websites that link to amazon.com.)
Fire Trucks ... Oh, Yeah!
What is more appealing to young children than a fire truck? Very few things that I can think of!
In fact, one of the favorite toys in our young preschool class is the big, red Firetruck made by Green Toys. If you haven't seen their products, they are brightly colored and they easily hold children's attention. Both toddlers and preschoolers love to play with these sturdy trucks, and even after a year of active play, the three fire trucks in our preschool class are still in amazing shape.
Eco-friendly? Oh, yeah! Green toys are made from recycled milk jugs, which means less trash in landfills. And according to their website they have already recycled over 39 million milk jugs! Green Toys are BPA and phthalate free, and they are the only plastic toys on this list of eco-healthy toys.
(If you are considering plastic toys for your child, please research carefully! Many leading toy manufacturers still use plastics that contain BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to a host of health issues. To learn more and better protect your child, see the CEHN's article on Plastics and Plastic Toys.)
By the way, Green Toys makes lots of other amazing toys for children. Check them out if you are looking for safe plastic toys!
I Can Build!
At First Discoveries, we understand the importance of block play in young children's healthy development. In fact, if we had to offer only one material for children to explore, it would definitely be wooden unit blocks. Building with blocks stimulates problem-solving and creativity, and because children can build something new every time, children are never bored with blocks.
How many blocks should you buy? Our general guideline is that a preschool or kindergarten age child will use 100 to 200 blocks in a complex structure. Remember that wooden blocks are a great investment. They are durable, they stimulate healthy development, and they are a high-interest toy for children of all ages.
So, which blocks should you buy? With a quick search online, you will find lots of companies selling wooden blocks, but our favorite eco-healthy blocks for home use is the untreated, all natural beech wood blocks made by Haba.
Haba blocks are based on European measurements with multiples of 4 cm, which is actually slightly larger than the standard unit block made in the United States. (So, if you already have Melissa and Doug blocks, then you might want to expand your set with their natural rubberwood blocks instead of purchasing the Haba blocks).
Why do we like Haba? First of all, Haba blocks are produced in an environmentally conscious manner at a plant that utilizes renewable energy and sustainable practices. Secondly, the blocks are completely natural and are safe for children. Finally, they come with some amazing accessory kits ... great gift ideas for the grandparents!
Here are three of our recommendations from Haba, but you can find lots more!
Stimulate problem-solving with the Wooden Marble Run by Haba (26 blocks and 12 dominoes). Marble runs are a huge hit with our kids, and this wooden marble run coordinates well with the unit blocks.
I Can Pretend!
We love Plan Toys for their eco-healthy wooden toys that stimulate creativity and imagination. Young children benefit from lots of pretend play experiences, and Plan Toys offer lots of great options that are both interesting and eco-healthy.
The Solid Wood Fruit and Vegetables feature wood pieces that are attached with velcro. Children use the wood knife to "cut" the produce in half ... last week our preschoolers played with a similar set for over an hour! I love the materials (wood with non-toxic finish), and I love that children love to play with healthy foods.
Plan Toys is definitely committed to sustainable, eco-healthy toys. They use organic color pigments and never use toxic chemicals.
I Can Problem-Solve!
Today's kids need toys that challenge their ability to problem-solve and Hape has several great appealing options.
I recently tried out the Hape Totter Tower and was impressed with how the pieces felt in my hands. It's an appealing toy with lots of potential to hold a child's interest. Made from bamboo and lined with felt, the pieces stack in interesting ways, challenging children to explore them in many ways.
All Hape toys are sustainably made, with renewable wood and nontoxic finishes.
I Can Create!
Looking for eco-healthy choices for elementary age children? The Artterro art kits are a great option, starting with the Artterro Bead & Wire Kit.
Kids can use the materials in lots of different ways, making up to 20 items from sculptures to simple jewelry.
Besides providing an open-ended, creative activity for children, these kits are great for another reason. Artterro is a company committed to sustainable practices. They print on recycled paper, using vegetable-based inks, and they package their materials in recycled packaging with reusable boxes.
Elementary age children love working with beads, wires and other materials, We know that these kits will be a hit!
I Can Play!
The holidays are approaching, and children are eager to discover what's under the Christmas tree. I hope that you take my challenge and choose toys that stimulate high-quality play ... while protecting your child's health and the health of our amazing world!