We come back to the subject of natural toys often. When the main motivation for choosing toys is to make them plastic-free, I see three main options for materials: wood, natural rubber, and cloth. There are so many great, natural toys available that no child needs plastic toys. It’s just not necessary.
Before there was hard plastic for toys, there was wood. When I lived in western New York, a friend of mine worked at Fisher Price. I wasn’t that keen to hear about her work because I wasn’t about to use the plastic toys. I remembered their classic wooden toys from my own childhood, though, so I poked and prodded her about that every once in a while asking, “When are you going to start making wooden toys again?” She told me about the wooden prototypes made now to test new toy ideas. “Can I get those?” No, sadly, even those toys that had been classic wooden toys were all made out of plastic and I was not allowed to see, touch, or take home any wooden prototypes. What’s the mental block against a return to the toys that worked so well for so long?
ByNature.ca carries a lot of clicky, clacky, colorful Haba toys. Most of them are rattles and chew toys or both. We also carry the simplest baby toy, a wooden egg shaker, and quite a few little wooden cars and wheeled animals.
When my daughter was very young, I realized that her rubber ducky wasn’t rubber. It was made from stinky, cheap old plastic. I was very unpopular when I removed the Plastic Ducky from bathtime for all time. Long after the sting of removing the toxic toy wore off, my daughter found a natural rubber duck (the one shown above) and embraced it as part of her healthy pre-teen lifestyle. She told me that a rubber duck was one toy she had always wanted. As a therapist friend of mine says, it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
Natural rubber is what early soft plastics were trying to be. Then there was the plastic goo we call Silly Putty. I wrote about the development of rubber-like plastics and the benefits of natural rubber toys last year. Sophie the Giraffe has been handmade of natural rubber for over 50 years, and she’s gaining in popularity. We’ve come full circle back to natural rubber, which never actually went away.
Ah, that new doll smell. Your child falls asleep hugging her doll and sniffing that vinyl chloride. No, that’s not a pretty picture. It’s easy to replace plastic dolls with fabric dolls appropriate to any age. ByNature.ca has a collection of organic cotton teething toys and stuffed animals, whose knotted and firm feet and hands are perfect for chewing babies, and we also have small (12″) Waldorf natural baby dolls. The doll my daughter loves and adores for all time is a cotton and wool Waldorf doll of this size.
One of my favorite natural alternatives to common plastic toys is felt play food for playing house, restaurant, store, and so on.
Play cloths are everything in my family. They are wings, capes, rivers, Halloween costumes, decorations, gift wrapping, and more. They aren’t really a replacement for a plastic toy, but I guess they could be seen as an alternative to one-time use or single-purpose off-gassing Halloween costumes or plastic hats or so many other toys that require a little less imagination in play. Having a cape and a collection of silk play cloths around means that you have a huge variety of costumes and toys that take up almost no space. No space means great for travel, by the way.
There is a place that plasticizers used to sneak into children’s toys, before certain phthalates were banned in children’s products in the U.S., where parents didn’t necessarily think to look for them: art supplies. Kids eat glue and paint, they suck on crayons while they dream of their masterpieces. It’s important to have non-toxic children’s art supplies. ByNature.ca stocks a beautiful collection of Clementine art supplies.
I’ve written a lot about toys made with natural materials as alternatives to plastic toys. It might help to completely throw out ideas about toys and start over with games and natural toys that nurture imagination rather than just trying to find a substitute for a plastic toy.
This week we’ve also suggested plastic-free feeding and plastic-free sleeping products for children. These are Eco Baby Steps, but this is still a STUFF-oriented approach. At the end of June, I will write about how and why we need to make much bigger changes to leave plastics and their toxic chemicals of concern behind us.