Tag Archives: toys

How to Choose Eco Friendly Children’s Toys

Children in the United States as a general rule have a lot of toys. I mean a lot. Often more than they can realistically play with. By the time you add in all they toys that you as parents choose for them, that grandparents provide, toys from other relatives, plus from friends at birthday parties, you’re talking quite a number of toys. How on earth are you supposed to keep that even remotely eco friendly?

It’s not easy. But with a little discussion with family and friends, and some good choices on your own, you can do it.

Start When They’re Young

It’s never too soon to start thinking of how eco friendly your children’s toys are. It’s even more important in many ways that you pick eco friendly toys for your baby than it is for your older kids. Who’s more likely to regularly put toys in their mouth, after all?

Buy and encourage others to buy toys that are free of phthalates if they must buy plastic. Be open about your preference for wooden and organic toys. If you’re clear about what you’d like to have in your home, many people will listen. There’s only so much you can do about the ones who won’t listen.

When it comes to painted toys and jewelry, you’re going to have to think about what’s in that paint too. Standards have gotten stricter for lead content in paint, but cadmium is also an issue.

Encourage Toy Trades

If you have family or friends with kids just a bit older, younger or right around the ages of your children, talk about handing down or trading toys. It’s a great way to keep kids using toys while giving them a fresh assortment regularly.

This can be challenging as kids get very attached to certain toys. If you’re doing a trade, beware of kids getting too attached to a toy that you had planned on trading back or to another child. Expect that trading and handing down will work better with some toys than with others.

If you can get this started when the kids are young, they are likely to be more matter of fact about handing down toys that they’re bored with. If they’ve never had to do it but you’re suddenly insisting, of course you’ll face resistance.

Buy Used Toys

There are many resources to buy used toys. Craigslist, thrift stores, garage sales and eBay are wonderful for getting toys relatively cheaply, and you can’t forget Freecycle for freebies. I bought my kids an old Atari 2600 so that they could play video games, and they’re quite happy with it. No need for a modern system, and the cartridges are really cheap, especially in comparison to more modern gaming systems. Yet the games are highly engaging and loads of fun for the kids and for us.

All kinds of toys and games can be acquired used. You will want to be aware of any potential recalls or safety issues.

And when your kids are done with them, you can sell the toys off too if they’ve lasted.

The Plain Cardboard Box

When you’re thinking eco friendly toys, you cannot forget the plain cardboard box. You may get one when you buy a new appliance or you may have to go to Home Depot to ask them to save a box for you to pick up the next day for your kids. However you manage it, a cardboard box can be made into a great playhouse.

Don’t Forget Outdoor Toys

Some of the best toys you can get for your kids will be the ones that encourage them to play outside. Kids need to get outdoors more than many do these days. Skates, bicycles, scooters, balls and so forth at appropriate ages encourage a lot of activity. Don’t forget shovels for encouraging them to help you in the garden.

You can also take the time to teach your kids to play classic childhood games that don’t require any accessories. Think about tag and hide and go seek. Outdoor play doesn’t need to revolve around a toy at all.

Should Happy Meal Toys Be Banned?

I’m not a big fan of the toys that come in children’s meals at fast food restaurants. Actually, I’m not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in general or rather, the really unhealthy food most of them serve. But I don’t think the ban of toys included with Happy Meals and other kids meals that Santa Clara county is enacting is the answer.

I just don’t think making them drop the toys is the answer to the obesity issue that they’re focusing on.

I understand that they will allow restaurants whose kids meals meet certain nutritional guideline to continue to offer the kids toys. Fine, whatever. I’d be much surprised if that changed the menus.

You see, I don’t think the toys are enough of the attraction. This is something I’ve discussed with my daughter, who is about to turn 8.

She tells me that the play areas are an even bigger part of the attraction for her. We talk pretty often about health, eating right and being active, so she knows that fast food isn’t good for her. But those play areas!

I can’t say I blame her for loving them. Many times I’ve wished I could fit in them comfortably. What kid doesn’t love climbing around?

Aside from my rather quiet son, that is.

Of course, no one is going to suggest that they can’t have play areas unless their food is healthy. No one wants to make things even worse by saying that if you want to eat unhealthy food then you can’t be active at the restaurant because play areas aren’t allowed there. That’s just silly.

I do understand that other kids do go just because they want the latest cool toy that is included with their Happy Meal. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are great for getting in toys that kids will want for at least 5 minutes after they actually receive them. But I think it’s important to remember that the toys aren’t the only draw.

Besides, fast food places aren’t the only ones serving junk to kids. I found this link to a Cupertino School District lunch menu for April. Looks rather problematic to me. Now who’s promoting unhealthy eating habits?

Parents Need to Step Up

But the simple truth of the matter is that kids can’t get fast food when they’re young without the help of parents. Parents who are often in a rush and just want something quick and easy for lunch or dinner when they take the kids for fast food.

The first thing to do is focus on healthy eating at home. Think about the snacks you provide. Think about what you cook and how often you eat out. These are things you have control over.

I don’t have a problem with eating unhealthy food some of the time. It’s when it’s a constant thing that it becomes a problem. You don’t have to go to a fast food restaurant just because the kids start begging for it.

Schools try to teach kids about healthy eating to a limited degree, but then they mess it up with menus like the one I linked to above. They’re stuck too, with tight budgets for food and the only cheap enough stuff isn’t that good for you.

That’s why parents need to take the time to learn these things themselves. The schools aren’t going to teach enough about healthy eating. You can.

You can start a garden with your kids. Have them help prepare meals. Take them grocery shopping and focus on the fresh foods, not the convenience foods. Find healthy recipes online.

Just work with them on really thinking about their food and what goes into making it healthy.

And don’t forget to send them outside to play every day possible. Food is not the only cause of weight problems.

Don’t Focus on Obesity

My oldest daughter is the only one of my kids who is really aware of the social pressures to not be obese. I’m working hard on teaching her and my son that it’s not about your weight, it’s about healthy habits. I’ve talked to her about people we know who are probably considered obese, but who are probably in better shape than others who are thinner.

It’s hard to give kids a realistic view of weight, healthy eating and fitness when society focuses so much just on obesity. And while obesity is certainly a problem, you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they eat healthy foods and exercise, but happen to have a metabolism that is just at a particular weight.

You can’t tell by looking if someone who is skinny really eats well and exercises or just has one of those really fun metabolisms.

I’d rather teach good habits than teach my kids to obsess over numbers on a scale. It’s hard, when the rest of the world tells them otherwise, but I think that’s a better lesson.

But What About the Toys?

I said it at the start, I’m not so much a fan of the toys. How many kids play with them much at all the next day? I know mine don’t.

My mother decorated her Christmas tree last year with Happy Meal toys she got from her various grandchildren. Probably the best use I’ve seen for them.

But wow, all that plastic!

I don’t favor making laws getting rid of them, whether the reason is environmental or to discourage kids from wanting unhealthy kids meals. I cringe to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think legislating the problem away is a real fix.

Cheap plastic toys, no matter the source, are going to be with a for a while. And while they may attract kids to unhealthy food, it’s up to the parents to say no. I can handle that.

If you want to do your part, convince your kids to reject the toys even if they do get a Happy Meal. Difficult, but they might surprise you sometimes. This is something you can do on your own.

I know the commercials can make this difficult. Kids see the current toy offerings on television and sometimes that inspires them to beg for a trip to Mcdonalds for that toy.

Don’t just say no. Take a moment and discuss why you’re saying no. Point out the many other toys they have if that helps with your kids.

Or just say no, not today. You’re the parent and you can do that.

4 Great Children’s Toys You Can Make Rather Than Buy

Children’s toys can get really expensive fast. That’s one thing parents learn pretty quickly. There are some great toys out there, but the expense can be hard to deal with.

Add in that many are plastic and really not so environmentally friendly, and it can be a bit of a problem.

But some toys you can make rather than buy, saving money and even reusing things that might otherwise have been recycled or even thrown out. Here are some ideas to get you started that don’t require a ton of sewing or construction skills.


What child doesn’t love a good playhouse? The popular ones are plastic and can be left outdoors in all weather or kept indoors. And they’re pricey, ranging from about $30 for a cardboard one they can color on, to a few hundred dollars for the fancier ones.

Even that $30 for a cardboard one is expensive when you realize you can get the cardboard pretty easily for free.

My children for a couple of years had a cardboard playhouse that was made from a double thickness box my husband got from the blinds department at Home Depot. He worked there at the time, and just had the night crew save him one. Not a hard thing to ask for, as they’re going to dispose of it anyhow.

That house was strong enough that the kids climbed on its roof regularly as they played. No problem. It tolerated pretty much everything they could throw at it, sometimes literally.

It took some time with a utility knife to cut the doors and windows, but it worked out really well. And being free was a great bonus.

When the box finally broke down enough it went into the recycle bin. We’ll be doing the same soon with a washer or dryer box we happen to have handy.

Play Kitchen

Play kitchens are also very popular with children, and once again can be rather pricey. You can make one on your own fairly easy, however.

My sister made one from a short dresser she bought at a garage sale or some such for her daughters. All she had to do was paint the burners on there and the kids were happy. That’s just enough for imagination.

You could also make one from a cardboard box, obviously a smaller one than you’d use for a playhouse. Draw on what they need, maybe cut in an oven door and there’s a play kitchen.

Bowling Set

You’ve probably seen the plastic bowling sets at the store. While they’re not all that pricey, relatively speaking, you can make your own.

All it takes is soda or water bottles (20 ounce or 2 liter size, your preference) and a ball. If you don’t drink much soda in your family and don’t buy bottled water (yay!), you can always talk to friends about giving some to you. You probably know someone who would have bottles available.


Kids love to be just a little bit taller. You can buy plastic stilts for fairly inexpensive, but they’re really easy to make. My daughter’s preschool had these, and the kids loved it when the teachers pulled them out. There was usually a line for them.

Take two coffee cans and two pieces of rope. The rope should be long enough that, doubled up, it can reach from your child’s hands to the floor with just a little to spare for knots and of course growing room.

Punch two holes in each coffee can, on opposite sides, a short distance from the bottom. Thread the rope through each hole and tie a knot on the inside end. This will form a loop for your child to hold while walking on top of the cans.

Any of these toy ideas can be painted or decorated as you like, but I think it’s best to let the kids decide how to decorate them. It’s just one more part of the play for them.

If you’re really into making homemade toys, consider buying Learn and Play the Green Way: Fun Activities with Reusable Materials or getting it from the library.

Bringing Kids Down From the Christmas Crazies

Even when you keep your own Christmas fairly simple, kids get really wound up around all the presents they get at Christmas time. If you’re like me and have a lot of family giving presents, it can be hard to control just what happens.

With the new year, kids need to recover from getting so much fun new stuff and really taking a look at what they have that they really don’t care about.

This is the time of year to go through the old toys and get rid of any that aren’t really played with if you didn’t do that before Christmas. Send them off to charity. Teach your kids about giving to those who have less!

Honestly, my kids resist the clean out and then love giving the toys away. I don’t hide the process from them at all. I could, very easily. Especially this year with so many of their toys still boxed away in the garage.

But I don’t do that because it’s a great lesson.

They get to do the first sort, which is to get the toys they are absolutely not interested in keeping into the give away pile.

Then comes the challenging sort, when my husband and I get to decide if they’re keeping things we know they really won’t use. This one generates a number of protests often followed by an admission that yes, it’s really not used that much. But it’s special, you see! And they just know that they’ll start using it more soon!

That plea works some of the time but not that often.

We don’t aim for tears or a lot of frustration or anything, and it rarely goes that badly. Talking about the children with very few toys who might be able to get their old toys works pretty well. Children can be amazingly sympathetic if you play it right.

What’s the Fuss Over Zhu Zhu Pets and Antimony?

There’s been quite the fuss online about Zhu Zhu Pets and the results the Good Guide published with regards to the amount of antimony in them. They claimed the results were higher than allowed.

Turns out, however, that the Good Guide used an invalid testing method. The Smart Mama does a great job of explaining that what they found was total antimony, when soluble is what matters for safety. The Good Guide has since admitted they used the wrong form of testing.

Dealing with total versus soluble quantities can be a difficult thing to understand. There’s that urge to say “if it’s there, it’s a problem” that I’m seeing quite a bit of.

There’s a comment on the Good Guide’s blog that explains why they look at “soluble.” By looking at soluble, they’re looking at what would come out in the process of being digested by a human. That’s an important number to be concerned with.

All that said, I have other reasons to be disinterested in buying a Zhu Zhu Pet for my kids. Not the least of it is my refusal to buy into the latest consumer frenzy. It’s a cute toy and all, but I won’t bet on how long it will really be interesting to kids. Then there’s all the plastic in the accessories.

I much prefer toys that encourage creativity and activity. They tend to hold my children’s interest much longer. There are so many great toys you can buy, and you won’t have to stand in long lines or pay higher than retail just because the demand is insane. Try shopping at Magic Cabin or eBeanStalk.com for more interesting toys.