Have you ever navigated the toy aisle at Target with your kids in tow? We seem to frequent the toy aisle often, even though we may not necessarily be getting anything. But the last time we walked through all of the toys I was baffled as to what some toys even were. My 7 ½ year old quickly explained all the latest and greatest while informing me that we also NEED these toys at our house.
I couldn’t wrap my head around all the different sets of toys for this book series and that TV show and figurines that I wasn’t even sure WHAT they were from. With everything so brightly colored and making noise, I could see how kids could begin to feel sensory overload and become overwhelmed. My girls are no exception and I think this is why they normally just hone in on the doll clothes and accessories and plant themselves there.
While they played, I looked around at the aisles upon aisles of toys wondering how long my kids would even play with some of these little sets or figurines. Then I remembered an article that I had read by Janet Lansbury who talks all about open ended toys. These are basically non toys that kids use as toys.
One of the examples she gave in this email newsletter was the idea of small wooden discs as toys. These discs could be anything to a child; from cucumber slices to play coins to stepping stones for a stuffed animal. But these small wooden discs are not ONE specific thing. This being said, if you give a child play money, that’s what it is. It doesn’t have the ability to change into whatever they may want.
Now, maybe I’ve set myself up for this problem, but my kids still do this with things around the house. Their creativity is always on high as they take things from my kitchen and linen closet to use in their playing. (We often have the conversation, “Is it a tool or a toy?”. And if it’s mom’s tool it gets put back!). That being said, so many toys up and down the aisles are not open ended, and what’s more is they are made of plastic, painted with toxic paints or contain flame retardants.
So before you do your Christmas shopping this year, I wanted to share with you some of my top picks for non-toxic toys and give you a guide to help you shop in a way that keeps kiddos safe, healthy and creative.
WHY TOXINS MATTER IN TOYS
First, let’s recognize that toys are VERY different for different age groups. The toys you may buy for your one year old niece are very different than what you might purchase for your seven year old daughter.
So first I want to layout WHY toxins in toys matter immensely when it comes to the youngest group of players. Babies and toddlers (and yes, even preschoolers) seem to constantly have their hands and toys in their mouths. It’s normal and part of how they learn, but that also means we need to be hyper aware of WHAT they are puting into their mouths.
Toys with toxins either in the materials, in the paint or on the surface that quickly make their way to a baby’s mouth get a one way ticket to the bloodstream. Anything ingested gets the fast pass lane compared to things absorbed into our skin. This is the exact reason WHY what we give babies to play with really does matter in terms of materials.
Another reason it’s especially important to be aware of what our kids are playing with is body burden. If you think of the body as a cup and toxins that we come into contact with as water, you’ll see that once the cup is at capacity for water it overflows if more water is poured in. This overflowing represents our bodies becoming burdened. Once the body is burdened systems begin to malfunction and we see things like fatigue, headaches, skin issues and decreased immune function in the body.
With this same example, imagine an adult’s cup is the size of a large coffee mug and a child’s cup is the size of a small juice glass. If you put the same amount of water (or toxins as we are pretending) in each up, the child’s cup will overflow and hit “body burden” status much more quickly than the adult’s cup. It shows that kids are affected by toxins and chemicals on a much greater scale in comparison to adults.
NATURAL MATERIALS FOR TOYS
Now that I’ve shared with you all the things you want to avoid and why, let’s delve into the easier side of this and look at what some good options are for toy materials.
WOOD: Wood is a great choice for toys and to be honest, the options are plentiful. You can find a lot of wooden toys to replace a plethora of plastic in your toy bin. And if you want to be REALLY save, opt for unpainted wood toys to ensure there are no VOCs or solvents in the toy.
If you’re uncertain about the sealant or stain of the wood, it never hurts to ask either the manufacturer or do a little research before giving it to a child who will have it in their mouth.
COTTON OR FELT: Organic Cotton is obviously the best choice, but it’s not always easy to come by. The second best thing is finding a toy that is made of 100% cotton or 100% wool, which are both natural.
100% Natural Rubber: Rubber comes from a rubber tree and is a great option for toys, especially teethers or anything that will end up in a child’s mouth.
100% Food Grade Silicone: This is a last resort in my opinion, but it is safer than plastics. Food grade silicone that is 100% pure does not contain fillers, which makes it a great option. Finding out if silicone in toys or teethers is 100% silicone can be difficult, however.
THE POWER OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY
As I mentioned earlier, allowing a child to be imaginative with open ended toys is such a great way for them to learn. I personally think that items that aren’t necessarily toys, things found in nature and generic craft materials are exceptional ideas when looking for open ended toys.
Allowing kids the creative power to make a toy whatever they want is a way that they’ll learn and develop their problem solving skills. Janet Lansbury has a lot to say about open ended toys and how kids play in general if you’re looking for more about “yes” play spaces and more.
MORE THAN TOYS
If you’re here in hopes to get some good gift ideas for kids, then I don’t want to forget to offer you ideas that aren’t necessarily TOYS. While toys are fun and what kid doesn’t like opening up toys, there are other things you can give them that will be just as fun.
I know for us, we end up with A LOT of toys and kid “things” over the course of one year. I love when we get something other than toys or something my kids can DO rather than PLAY with. My girls love getting things that aren’t necessarily toys, and so I don’t feel like I’m cheating them out of presents or their childhood by giving them something either more practical or more useful.
Here is a list of things we’ve used at our house when trying to avoid the “toy gifts”
- Arts & Crafts
- Experiences (Museum Passes, Theme Park Tickets, etc.)
- Books or Magazine Subscriptions
- Lessons (Swimming, Dance, Karate, etc.)
- Decor for their Rooms