While my child has proven that he can entertain himself for significant chunks of time with nothing more than a couple of Tupperware containers and an empty cardboard box, I still haven’t given up on toys. But in our house, toys have to not only provoke the imagination but also be super cool. That’s right, cool. I believe a toy should be as impressive to adults — the way it feels, the way it looks, what it does — as it is to the little one they’re hoping to distract ... I mean, excite!
If the toy in question is not worthy of taking up a featured spot in my kid’s room — front and center on a shelf or in a highly visible corner — it most likely will not be coming home with us.
How does a toy make the cut? The fastest way a plaything can win me over is to be constructed from materials found in nature, treated with nontoxic paints and finishes and run by nothing more than kid-power. This means no plastic. This means no garishly colored, music-blasting plastic.
From age zero until about 3 or so (my maternal guess, nothing to do at all with actual child development), kids explore the world with their mouths. This means that everything — rusty nails, cigarette butts, Cheerios from last month — will be tasted before it is gratuitously manhandled. And since most toys are going to be licked, sucked and otherwise drooled on, I’ve been doubly inspired to purchase gear made from safe materials. That those components are also environmentally friendly only adds to their appeal.
As my son leaves infancy behind for the wobbly, exploratory days of toddlerhood, there are a handful of eco-conscious toys that we both can’t put down. Here are some of our favorites:
What’s childhood without a good dump truck? Sprig’s truck — also check out the Excavator and the Loader — made from recycled wood and reclaimed plastic, is a hefty and eco-friendly addition to any sandbox. And each truck and car is fueled by nothing but kid energy, so there are no batteries to burn out and recycle.
Who needs seven shades of blue when you can wrap your hand around the smooth lines of a crayon shaped like a rock? Crayon Rocks are made from soy wax and tinted with natural mineral powders. This means that they can be nibbled upon without calling the Poison Control Center. And as an added bonus, their unique shape strengthens the muscles your kid will eventually use for handwriting. A bag of eight primary colors makes an awesome gift.
Blocks that are beige and block-shaped? Bo-ring. HABA’s Cordoba Building Blocks (pictured above) add a new dimension for budding architects with brightly colored (water-based, nontoxic paints, of course) arcs and cylinders and other odd but intriguing shapes. These are blocks 2.0 for sure.
While there’s something undeniably cozy about a bunny or bear, sometimes you’re in the market for a stuffed animal with a bit more punch, something that will teach the other animals a thing or two. Enter Kallisto’s organic-cotton dragon, a luxuriously soft, green-and-yellow creature that will definitely stand out among the usual stuffed suspects.
If there’s anything left in the toy fund — organic dragons don’t come cheaply — check out Plan Toys Fruit and Vegetable Play set made from organic rubberwood, nontoxic glue and water-based dyes. Each item can be split in half (thanks to strategically placed Velcro) with the accompanying wooden knife — a perfect lesson in sharing.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.