making good choices in the big bad world of toys...

So yesterday I was freaked out about the lead, the phthalates, the cheap plastic toys that seem to overflow our shelves.... but I think I've gotcha covered. By being just a tiny bit selective, it's really quite simple to buy better stuff. You'll be happier too, since it seems like these playthings are just better quality and are better designed and promote great play. So you've got options.
One important point to make, however, is that we've bought very few of the toys in our house. We didn't even give our kids Christmas presents until last year. We rely on the grandparents and aunts and uncles to keep our shelves stocked. They've been really good to us, but part of that is because we've made our preferences clear and (in the case of my parents in particular) have provided ideas of specific items and places to shop for the kinds of toys we like to have around. Also, at this point, we've decided to ask for gifts that include one toy item and a cash donation to their Education IRAs since we have enough to clean up, er, play with already!

Buy handmade toys:

It may take a bit of looking, but shops like Mahar Dry Goods, and Etsy are stocked with lots of clever toys for little ones. In addition to knowing what your toys are made from, you can feel good knowing that you've supported a craftsperson in their the person who made this cool felt pizza set over at Mahar.

Make your own play:

When Josie was a little pumpkin I did a lot more actual toymaking than I do now (wonder why). Still, it's personally rewarding and you can produce something truly special for your child. Here are some ideas for you:

Make games. Josie and I have made a whole selection of board games that we pull out and play over and over. Some are really simple with just a die and a path of stickers to follow to the end. Others are really complex with many pieces and random rules from the mind of a five year old. We'll have these for-ev-er.

Make dolls and snugglers. Hillary at Wee Wonderfuls and Teresa at Sewing Stars have a variety of patterns and kits to produce sweet little things. If you're new to the whole idea, try the
Lavender Baby
pattern at Molly Chicken. It's super simple and CUTE!

Involve your kids in household tasks. Josie and Jasper are super-experienced in the kitchen. At just 2 Jasper was helping chop veggies with his little safe chopper from Montessori Services (below), and at 4 Josie could make pizza crust with a tiny bit of assistance on the food processor. It's something we've always enjoyed doing together and although it might take me a little longer than if I were alone it really, really cuts down on the whining and fussing. That and we get a lot more treats that way! They also help with folding laundry (even if it's just by building forts out of my sheets or playing hopscotch on the washcloths), emptying the dishwasher (making drums out of my pots and cymbals out of the lids), and cleaning the walls around the bathtub at bathtime (whilst I clean the toilet).

Buy good-quality mass-produced toys:

Toy standards are vastly different in Europe and restrict use of things like PVC (known for its nasty phthalates) and actually test for lead (and although some of them produce their toys in China, they own the factories and control labor practices and sourcing of materials). These places are full of fun toy choices that you can feel good about:

Magic Cabin carries a lot of fun Waldorf-inspired doll kits, wooden toys, and other lovely things. Their prices are surprisingly reasonable, like this crazy-fun looking 'sand mixer' for under $20
And this felt bird on a nest, which I love.

Hearthsong is Magic Cabin's sister store. They have some items you may want to be wary of, but a lot of mainstream options for potentially picky older children.

"Green Toys" section at Amazon. They've substantially improved their offerings of 'safe,' sustainably produced toys, and are now stocking a lot more toys from HABA and other European manufacturers. I was surprised!

Willow Tree Toys supplies
a variety of Waldorf-style toys like this wooden wave stacker.

Oompa Toys carries many HABA toys which are, hands down, the favorites in our house. It seems like they can't make a bad toy, and have a huge range of board games for a variety of ages.

Montessori Services supplies Montessori schools with the tools children need to do their 'work.' Turns out my kids think that this 'work' is a lot like 'playing.'

Other than that, I can only suggest that you buy more books and music. Enough said :)
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