Make it fun to go green
Children often put toys in their mouths, and yet many on the shelves today are made with toxic materials. Natural toys, on the other hand, are made from materials that are safe for the child and the environment. They can also be one of a child's first connections to nature. A wooden rattle in a child's hand comes from a living tree and feels familiar and nurturing in a way that man-made materials can't match.
- Do it yourself. It's easy to make wooden blocks, for example, by cutting and sanding scrap wood. Or you can take a child's favorite outgrown dress and make it into a rag doll or stuffed bear. Homemade toys are inexpensive and save natural resources by utilizing materials you already have around the house.
When shopping look for
- Good wood. Choose toys made from sustainably logged wood that is painted with vegetable, water-based, or beeswax finishes.
- Healthy cloth. Toys made with natural fibers, including cotton, silk, and wool are an excellent choice--organically grown if possible.
- Recycling. Avoid waste by using recycled toys or new toys made from clean reclaimed or recycled materials.
- Toxic toys. Check labels carefully before you buy, and stay away from any toys that do not declare themselves free of lead, which can damage children's nervous systems. Also avoid vinyl, a plastic that releases phthalate fumes your child can inhale. Sometimes vinyl also contains toxic metals such as lead and cadmium. In addition, toys made of pressed woods, such as plywood and particle board, can give off toxic fumes, and some wooden toys are coated with toxic paints and finishes.
- Imports. Because the natural toy movement began in Germany, most natural toys sold today are manufactured in Europe. Shipping those toys all the way to the United States requires abundant energy and makes them less green, even if they are made from the best of materials. Look for and purchase natural toys made in the United States. They do exist.
- Some of the simplest and most child-pleasing non-toxic toys include props for plays and role-playing, such as capes, crowns, fancy slippers, magic wands, and so forth. Kids also love non-toxic art supplies made of all-natural materials, including colored pencils and beeswax crayons. Colored modeling beeswax can be used as an alternative to plastic clay to make any shape your child can imagine.
...to you and your child
Choosing natural toys can protect children's health and, by keeping them away from toxics, even save their lives.
...to your wallet
Making your own toys from reclaimed materials is great for the wallet. And while some store-bought natural toys initially cost more than conventional toys, they are made from durable materials that can be passed down from child to child.
...to the Earth
If you avoid toxic materials you help the environment as well as your child. Natural toys are biodegradable, for one thing, so, unlike plastics, they won't be sitting in our landfills thousands of years hence.
Having too many toys. A child's world is very small. He or she will be happy with only a few playthings, and buying more than you need increases emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
You are more likely to find natural, non-toxic toys in local stores than in big-box chains. There are also good choices on the Internet if you search for "natural toys."