Playtime For Tomorrow

By Isabelle Lipkin

October 3, 2008 5 min read


Toys teach children about caring for the world

Isabelle Lipkin

Creators News Service

Little hands pick up just about everything they can ? and often move it straight toward a mouth.

It can be hard enough to make certain that young ones aren't being exposed to unhealthy toxins or environmental pollutants. But you want to feel comfortable that your kids' everyday toys are not only safe to play with since recent recalls, but also teach kids how to care about the environment.

Giving a toy made from recycled materials is not only fun, but also shows children about how they have helped the earth.

"They feel really important when they can make a difference in their own little way," said Laurie Hyman, one of the co-founders of Green Toys. "It ties into what kids are learning about with how to take care of the planet -- it really completes the circle for them.?

Their "classic" toy sets include a tea party set, sandbox tools, an indoor gardening kit and a cookware and dining set -- all made entirely from recycled milk containers.

"I think people are just ready for something they can trust," said Hyman, "and all of our products go through intensive testing -- with no BPA, no phthalates, no lead, no paint."

As educated consumers are more aware of global warming and what's happening with the environment, they want to give their children an early start. "Consumers want to do what they can without changing the way they live," she noted. "When you're making a choice about a product -- you want to do what you can. Making simple choices which help the planet makes people feel good about themselves."

Along with offering toys made of recyclable or green materials, teaching kids about energy and power is another way to convince kids that "green" toys are cool.

Helping students to learn about reusable energy is one goal of the LEGO Education eLAB series. Budding engineers, environmentalists or any kid with an interest in understanding how things work will want to play with the LEGO System sets, which includes a motor, solar panel and capacitor. Scientists-in-training can investigate how to generate, store and use sources of energy by building and testing models of wind and water mills or making a solar-powered Ferris wheel.

The toy was introduced in 2000 and, according to Debra Smith, market communications coordinator for LEGO Education, is still going strong. Targeted to middle school-aged kids and up, she said the line was introduced when LEGO's education department realized that, although schools often taught about recycling, students weren't learning enough about energy.

Smith said the toy was developed to help students realize how power is converted into potential activities and then actually construct something to figure out how it is working. "It's a way to get the concept of energy into the hands of students," Smith said.

Pitsco, partnered with LEGO for Northern American distribution of their products, will release their next catalog with appropriate products marked "green" that focus on energy saving or alternative sources, or are related to recycling, general energy or environmental awareness.

Not offered through retail stores, parents or students can purchase the eLAB series at LEGO Education's website,, by clicking on the "Home School" button to access to all of the activity packs and supplemental guides.

Sometimes teaching kids about recycling or finding green toys can be as simple as raiding an older sibling's forgotten attic stash. Classic kids' toys such as wooden blocks, pull-toys on wheels, sock puppets, hand-made dolls and even jacks and a bouncy ball are experiencing a revival. The website not only features green toys, but also offers a selection that seems downright retro, with brightly colored stacking blocks and organic cotton dolls.

When considering whether or not a toy seems "green" enough for a curious child's handling, watch for a few key elements:

*Avoid anything that mentions use of lead, cadmium, or mercury.

*Embrace anything that uses natural and organic materials, such as wood, rubberwood, bamboo, organic cotton or wool.

*Consider where toys are made and through what manufacturers.

*Ask yourself, once they've lost interest, can the toy be reused in a more creative way?

*Contemplate how durable the toy will be when subjected to your child's enthusiastic play.

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