Or, more accurately, my rules for toys. If you read this post, then you will have come to understand that I operate based on very specific rules when it comes to my child. Now, please know that I can be a flexible individual and don’t adhere strictly to all my precepts at all times, but for the most part these are the ways in which I strive to create what I believe to be the optimal environment in which to raise my child.
I am very opinionated about toys. For people other than myself it takes a lot of the fun out of buying toys for my son, or so I imagine it does. The rules are actually pretty simple, though. Here they are:
- Nothing requiring batteries. In these early developing years I very strongly believe the more active the toy, the less active the child. I want my child to be active, not his toys. I don’t want him to be entertained. I want him to learn how to use his imagination to propel his entertainment; to create something out of nothing, rather than strictly relying on the toy’s capabilities and functions to limit his play. I watched my son struggle to play with a battery operated toy that a friend received for Christmas. It was a very frustrating experience that he needed me to constantly intervene in because he couldn’t get it to work properly. The toy was very limited in what it could do, and was itself a limiting toy for my son. I also wonder if it is maybe possible that hyperactivity and attention disorders are at all related to the constant barrage of sounds, lights, action and stimulation these types of toys provide to the very young, developing brain (don’t even ask me my opinion about T.V….that’ll be a future post). And last, but certainly not least, I don’t believe I can possibly stay sane with the obnoxious and annoying sounds that active toys make compounded by the fact that children like to do and hear things over and over and over again. No thanks. I’ll take my sanity. Call me selfish.
- No plastic. Okay, so I don’t strictly adhere to this one, but I try. Clearly there are things that are just better when plastic, like sand and water toys, and what boy could live without Legos? I have made an effort to be selective in where the plastic comes from, though, since plastic toys very commonly contain harmful substances that can off gas toxic fumes (vinyl, like bath books, for instance). If it smells, it probably is toxic. Another reason I like to avoid plastic is that it will stay in the environment forever. I am happy to see the growing number of toy makers that are creating great playthings out of recycled plastic. This is something I like to look for when opting for a plastic toy. I also look for companies that advertise their products to contain no PVC, phthalates or BPA in the product, very common toxic substances in plastics.
- Age appropriate. If I have to do anything to the toy, or show my son how to use it in order for him to play with it, it sort of defeats the purpose of having the toy in the first place. My husband and I sometimes get excited about all the various toy options and bring them home only to realize what we just purchased cannot be properly used for another year or three. Grrrr. We have very limited storage space in my house, so having to find a place to put toys that are way out of my son’s developmental capabilities is definitely a bummer. It can be nice to have some more mature toys tucked away to be used in the future, or for when older kids come to visit, but it can also be very easy to fill my house with these sorts of toys. So I check the labels for the target age-range of the item.
- Open-ended. This one is just a bonus. Not all his toys are open-ended. We do have some planes, trains and automobiles, but I try to have a good mix of toys that don’t have one specific function. I have learned through my reading of RIE materials the value of “anything can be anything.” The imagination really opens up with multipurpose, non-specific items. Play silks are a good example of such an item. A child can make an ocean for his boat out of a blue play silk, or wrap it around like a skirt or shawl for dress up. It can be a towel to dry off play dishes, or a handkerchief to tie at the end of a stick to carry treasures discovered in the garden. I want to encourage as much use of my child’s imagination as possible.
Pretty simple, right? Personally, when I shop for my son 95% of the time I look for something made out of wood, preferably from sustainable sources with a non-toxic finish. It is possible to find such items, and they don’t always cost a fortune. Here are some of my favorite toy makers, and some of the items my son really enjoys:
Haba – We love all things Haba. They use sustainable wood sourced locally (to their site) for many of their products, and stick to solvent-free, water-based stains to color their toys. We have the Magica clutching, triangle wooden clutching, Croo-ak clutching, Salto rattle, and got him the Ball Track for his birthday. Every child that has visited our home has gravitated in utter delight to that last one.
Plan Toys – This company is as green as it gets. I would own everything Plan if money grew on trees. And even though it doesn’t, we do own a few select beautiful Plan items. Hands down, my son’s favorite Plan toy is the Dancing Alligator.
Equally beautiful and even more fun in its movements is the Pull-Along Snail. I love the Walk N Roll as a fun alternative to the ubiquitous corn popper push toy. I am not real serious on teaching shapes, numbers and letters yet, but we have this Geometric Sorting Board and he picked up on the shapes real quick and I love the thinking required for stacking it back on the pegs.
Green Toys – Plastic? Really? Yes. I admit, I own plastic. But this company is a plastic-toy-loving parent’s dream! Okay, maybe they are just my dream plastic maker. They make a long line of classic children’s toys from recycled plastic and other “environmentally friendly” materials (according to their website). I was first introduced to Green Toys by gifts from friends and relatives after my child was born, and have loved them ever since. The size of their Dump Truck is perfect for hauling and dumping, the Stacker toy is a great size and the easiest of its kind that I have seen my toddler handle, and the Tugboat is a perfect bath toy that has yet to mold or mildew after two years of use in the water. We also have the Tool Set which is just now starting to gain some interest as my child grows nearer and nearer age three.
iPlay / Green Sprouts – The two reasons I like these guys: BPA and PVC free. They use plant starch and plant fiber for many of their products, and continue to research better, safer ways to make baby products. I can appreciate that. Their Stacking Cup Set was the perfect bath toy for months, with its tiny holes in the bottom to watch the water trickle out of. The small sizes of the cups were also perfect for his little hands. Foam bath toys probably aren’t the healthiest quality material for baby, but Green Sprouts happily makes a PVC-free version of bath time Sea animals. I love the feel and look of their Plant Fiber Plate and gladly shop their items first when in need of baby-safe kitchen items.
Anamalz – Every child needs animal friends, right? And keywords like *sustainable wood, child friendly paint, and formaldehyde free glue* have got me sold. Okay, maybe there are lots of sources for wooden toy animals out there, so the kicker here for me is the moveable parts! Limbs to shape and move, or stand and stretch! I love the options, and the variety of animals is fabulous, from a prehistoric T-Rex to zoo favorites like the Zebra.
Under the Nile – I have a secret love affair with Under the Nile. Actually, I am more like a stalker of Under the Nile than a person in an actual relationship. I fill up my cart with Under the Nile objects, fantasizing about the feel of these beautiful clothing items and toys in my hands, then close down the browser in order to save my bank account (and marriage!) from certain disaster. Two words: biodynamic agriculture. If you are familiar with this term, than you are feeling me right now. If you are not, you can read their brief description here. I feel about Under the Nile the same way I feel about Plan Toys. I would own everything they make. But since I can’t, I’ve had to pick and choose a few select favorites. This Fruit Basket is perfect for fostering a positive relationship with produce, something every parent strives for with their budding solid food eaters. To my surprise, my child actually took to having a “lovie” and I was happy to have an organic option to offer him.
Uncle Goose Blocks – These simply must be in everyone’s childhood. Hand-manufactured in the USA using heavy metal free paint without any harmful coatings or sealers. My toddler adores the animal pictures on each block, and could name each and every one of the 28 animals by the time he was a year and a half. I love the wagon option, and so does my toddler. Another fun pull along toy!
Sophie Le Giraffe – What would a review of kids toys be without Sophie Le Giraffe? The “most famous teething toy” according to their website. I believe it. I have seen this toy everywhere, and if you have a teething baby and don’t have one, buy it. Today. I tried all sorts of teething toys, such as wood rings and terry cloth (stopping short of anything plastic or liquid-filled), and hands down this was the only one my son would actually chew. And he chewed on it. All. The. Time. He loved it so much, I bought another version from this company, the Can Pie Gnon, just to mix it up when he got bored of Sophie. I look back on this toy with a lot of fondness. I got that very satisfied parent feeling, you know the one where your child actually uses and enjoys the toy over and over and over again? Literally, every day? And seriously, this one in particular is a dream because it is a teether! Aaaahh, what mother doesn’t pine for the perfect teething toy for their screaming baby? If you still aren’t convinced, then maybe the fact that she is made of 100% natural rubber and food paint will sway that skeptic? One piece of advice, buy it on Amazon, or shop around online. Baby boutiques typically charge a lot. I have seen them going for $40 some places! Outrageous. Amazon sells her for just over $17.
I admit that for most of these items you can’t run down to Toys R Us or Target, but a lot of online stores offer free shipping with a minimum purchase. The wood and cloth toys feel awesome to the touch and offer a richer tactile experience than most plastic toys. Another bonus is they are less of a toxic risk and are more environmentally friendly. Lastly, they are beautiful to pass down to your future grandchildren!